Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

David Bowie Station To Station (1976)


Ever heard about ‘transitional’ albums? Well, here you have a perfect illustration. This record shows Bowie standing with one foot in the past and the other in the future. More exactly, about half of this record sounds like it was destined to be a sequel to Young Americans, with generic soul vocals and everything, and the other half sounds as if it belonged to the Berlin trilogy. Actually, if I’m not mistaken, David had already moved to Berlin at the time, and was probably busy studying the works (or, should we say, ‘Werks’?) of Kraftwerk, which explains all the synthesized stuff on here. So, actually, my point was to say: ‘Hey! What an appropriate album title!’ Because this is, indeed, David caught in the process of traveling from one station to another…

People usually know this as ‘the one with the Thin White Duke on it’, as it was another change of face for David: the period where he completely dropped all his Ziggishness, began flirting with Nazism and assimilating various German influences (yeah, like Kraftwerk!). In case you’re wondering, The Thin White Duke is that dude who’s pictured on the back album cover… oh, wait, that’s David. Well, I really can’t say any more about it than can be obvious from the lyrics to the title track that tell about his return.

More interesting is the very construction of the title track itself – a lengthy ‘progressive’ epic that goes on for ten minutes but rarely becomes boring, as it’s multi-part and practically always catchy and engaging. First, you have trains running in all directions, then you get that nagging, clumsy rhythm that’s almost ‘ugly’ in its addictiveness, and finally, we shift onto a proto-disco dancey track, you know, the kind of ‘perverted dance music’ that Bowie mastered so perfectly in the late Seventies. So a bit of intellectual listening first, and a bit of dirty dancing next. Vote For It!

There are but six tracks on the whole record, but none are bad – and I fully agree with those who rate the album among David’s best. These songs are catchy and addictive as hell. David uses complicated, funky rhythms that will have your feet tapping in no time without any possible feelings of remorse, and the backing band, led by the guitar hero Carlos Alomar, rips it up mightily almost everywhere. ‘Golden Years’, ‘TVC15’ and ‘Stay’ are all personal favourites of mine, in fact. The first one tempts me to play air guitar all the time – that gruff little riff that holds the melody together is so cute as it tears through my left speaker! And the funny handclaps! And the backing vocals – ‘gooooolden years, goooolden years’… I’m not much of a funk fan, but this is funk with a tiny bit of David’s perversity thrown in, and it’s so dang funny…
And ‘TVC15’? It’s hardly possible to describe the song, with Bowie assuming a weird, dissonant tone, and chanting lyrics about how his girlfriend got eaten by his TV set (in the literal sense, no less). Hilarious, yes, but also completely subduing – every piano and guitar note are so sharp, so hard hitting, so completely in place, so thoroughly immaculate that it’s impossible to resist the song. And in any case I don’t see no reason why I should resist it. Is this weak half-assed funk? No, no and no. This is pointing the way to the future.

This is the direct predecessor to… to… to everything. This is one of those rare cases when Bowie actually precedes things: this stuff reeks so much of paranoid New Wave rhythms that if you wanted to find a counterargument to the proposition of David always jumping on other people’s bandwagons, well, it’s right before you. Not too many of those counterarguments; this is one of the most obvious.

And, of course, there’s ‘Stay’ – yet another ‘dirtied down’ dance number; here, though, it ain’t David, but rather Alomar, who’s the main hero. That riff may be one of the best dance-style riffs in existence, and the whole performance blazes and smokes. Do not miss the bonus live version of it, too, with an extended guitar solo that practically annihilates the audience and me as well. Together with ‘Hot Stuff’, this rates as my best bet for ‘best disco performance by an old fart’.

Now the ‘souly’ stuff which I was mentioning early is represented here by two pathetic ballads, ‘Word On A Wing’ and ‘Wild Is The Wind’ (kinda similar-sounding, aren’t they?). Both are side-closers, apparently on intention – to end your listening experience with something calm and relaxed. They are nowhere near as groundbreaking or, indeed, as attractive as the funkier, ‘dancier’ numbers, but they’re good anyway. Not enough, though, to make me award a 10 to the record. I still can rarely endure ‘Word On A Wing’ to the very end (maybe it just seems too watered down to me), and ‘Wild Is The Wind’ (the only cover on the album) is a bit too sappy and overblown even for Bowie.

I swear, in fact, that the beginning of each verse reminds me of Jesus’ ‘I Only Want To Say’ air in JC Superstar! (I actually love that air, but that’s another thing and another subject). In any case, it’s obvious which station was the departure and which was the destination on the album. Welcome to Berlin, mr Bowie!

As usual, good bonus tracks for good album. You might think that the live versions of ‘Word On A Wing’ and ‘Stay’ are just superfluous – don’t. They easily blow the originals away, with lots more passion, and
much more effective and concentrated guitarwork from Alomar (as if he was idle in the studio!) Especially ‘Stay’, of course. That solo brings me to ecstasy. These bring the album’s rating to a near-ten. A near-ten, though – hear that, a near-ten. Excellent as it is, the ballads still bring it down, whether they be personal or not personal. They lack hooks and are somewhat below David’s usual songwriting capacities. But if you prefer to hear from a real Bowie junkie, please check out Jeff Blehar’s comments below and maybe you’ll come to trust him more than me.

Why the hell should you trust me, anyway? I’m not a Bowie fan! Heck, I even hate his make-up on the photos on here.

April 27, 2013 - Posted by | David Bowie Station To Station |

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