Classic Rock Review

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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 | | Leave a comment

David Bowie Station To Station (1976)


It was as though the weakly blue-eyed soul guy from Young Americans suffered a heart attack and died, and then a mad scientist came along, stole his corpse, and turned him into Robocop. Except David Bowie doesn’t fight crime; he sings rock music! (He could probably fight crime if he wanted to, though.) Station to Station is very much the same sort of funky R&B album that Young Americans was except this is far weirder. And when it comes to David Bowie, the weirder it gets the better. The beats are far more mechanical and European, the melodies are more distinctive, the atmospheres are thick and drugged up, and Bowie’s vocal performances seem more natural and passionate. You know what else, the most important thing? This album absolutely rocks.

Yes sir, David Bowie had successfully taken R&B and melded it into his own twisted image, and the result is one of the most uninhibitedly enjoyable albums that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through. And this is easily one of my favourite albums of all time to sit through. There are only six songs on here, meaning that most of them are insanely long, notably the 10-minute title track. But holy hell, all of these songs pick up so much incredible steam that they are unstoppable. Even the ballads. Not even Superman could stop these songs. I mean, Superman might have been able to reverse time by spinning the earth backwards, but he’d be powerless against the sheer rockin’ power of Station to Station. (Superman probably would love this album, though. Logically, I would assume that Superman had super-good taste in music. He’d have no reason to stop it. Logically.)

The thought of listening to a 10-minute David Bowie song might be a harrowing idea when you first read about it. After all, the previous song he wrote that lasted about that long was “The Cygnet Committee” from Space Oddity, which I’m sure we all remember was charming but dull. …However, “Station to Station” is the sort of song that draws you in right from the moment that stilted groove begins to play, and it doesn’t let go until the fade out. The thematic idea of that song was (…wait for it…) trains; the track begins and ends with an extended soundbite of a steam locomotive! But the groove itself, all chugging and mechanical, sounds like the R&B interpretation of that train. Cool idea!

“Golden Years” was the hit single, a song that Bowie had originally intended for Elvis Presley. But good thing The King didn’t take it; he wouldn’t have sounded quite as cool singing it as Bowie would have. (Not that Elvis wasn’t cool; he just didn’t have it in him to give it quite the extra-terrestrial kick.) Also, “Golden Years” is by far one of the hookiest songs that Bowie had ever done, so it’s nice to hear it surface so predominately on one of his albums! “TVC 15” is another rabble rousing mechanical classic with bizarre lyrics about a television set gobbling somebody up. Who other than Bowie would sound convincing singing a song about that?. Bowie takes a moment to croon at us on “Word on a Wing,” but it’s a different sort of crooning than Bing Crosby; it’s more like crooning from a space-alien. I gotta assume a Roxy Music influence here! …Yeah, these songs are pretty weird.

And the album ends with what’s certainly his greatest cover of all time, “Wild is the Wind.” I had been listening to Station to Station for at least a couple of years before I even realized that was a cover! Bowie hadn’t been very well known for his covers, but he treats this song as though it were his own. In keeping spirit with the rest of this album, he incorporates a mechanical drum beat and a drugged-up atmosphere, but ………. Wow. Bowie’s vocal performance is so stop-dead-in-your-tracks fantastic that I can hardly believe it! By the end Bowie’s singing so passionately and gut-wrenchingly that I can’t help but feeling it right in the centre of my chest cavity. I can’t say that Bowie ever does that too often. He probably gave better vocal performances on “Heroes.” And also on “It’s No Game (Pt. 1).” But that’s about it.

Is Station to Station the greatest David Bowie album of all time? Nah, I don’t think so. Give me Ziggy Stardust over this anytime of the week. If it’s for no other reason, Ziggy Stardust was the more diverse and more joyous record. But I also don’t hold it against people who think Station to Station is superior. After all, Bowie had a lot of great albums each of a vastly different species, and it’s quite a chore for anyone to pick out a favourite. And then there are rumours that David Bowie was so hopped up on cocaine that he doesn’t actually recall recording this album. If that’s true, then this is a pretty glowing endorsement for cocaine!!!! …………But in all seriousness, don’t do cocaine. It’s bad.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | David Bowie Station To Station | | Leave a comment