Of all the people in the world to age, get a bus pass and retire, I didn’t think it’d be David Bowie. Then again, maybe this ability to be properly popstar fabulous and completely human is why he’s so awesome. At the risk of sounding a bit ballsy, if you’re yet to take a voyage to planet Bowie, do not let this talk of retirement put you off. You’ll learn that it’s impossible for Ziggy Stardust to ever return to Mars without a trace, his music is as relevant as ever.
Though I purport to be an expert on this music sort of thing, I admit I was a little late to the Bowie party. Make that – a lot late. This was no case of being held up by Tube signal failures, I was held up by 23 years of brain signal failures. Till last year (breathe), he was just the guy that sang “ch-ch-ch-changes”, often at one in the morning as I pranced about some indie club, the guy with chevrons for eyebrows that played the Goblin King in cult movie Labyrinth (1986). Yep, last year, the legendary DAVID BOWIE meant nothing to me bar sticky dance floors and bricking it behind the couch, 6-year-old style. If you see yourself in this at all, it’s time to do something about it. Turn and face that strain.
My Bowie-piphany happened one fateful, unsuspecting day. While dodging the office mice, I hear this tight, hot rhythm section on the Q Magazine stereo, followed by an arresting, frightening vocal. The hectic guitar riffs sound better than Foo Fighters’ latest, the title track grows more dystopian than Joy Division, the lyrics – something about a European canon – are more spacy and insane than even Muse. I’m finally hearing Bowie’s 10th album – Station To Station for the first time.
While editing the reissue review, I’m discovering that, long before juggling crystal balls surrounded by Jim Henson puppets, David Bowie recorded this album under the influence of red peppers, milk and cocaine exclusively. He has no recollection of how this LP came to being. Given the circumstances, he was out of his intergalactic mind. So much so he wasn’t even him, he had appointed himself the Thin White Duke. I wash down some M&S carrot crudités with chocolate Yazoo thinking, This behaviour is absolutely more rock’n’roll than Kurt Cobain, Rihanna and Marilyn Manson put together.
Over the next 40 minutes, I hear gut-wrenching ballads, delicious pop, heavy rock, foot-stomping funk, disco – all in an album of six songs. I cast aside my double-CD version of Lady Gaga’s one-and-a-half-hour, 22-track debut album, shrieking THIS IS AMAZING! Soon enough I’m telling everyone “DAVID BOWIE’S AMAZING! Also, check out this film Star Wars. I’d say – cult classic.” Don’t even get me started on the art, the hair, the outfits. Up until this moment in time, I’ve been seriously visually impaired. What am I saying? I’ve been blind.
Now converted, I’m all about the Bowie – Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, Young Americans… All these albums make me realise there’s nothing stopping me from being Elton John, Mick Jagger and Lou Reed at once. Everything makes sense where it didn’t before (Mika, at least). Station To Station is one of the most exciting records I hear in 2010, and it landed in 1976. I can’t frickin’ wait for all the Bowie I’m yet to discover. There’s so much in the Bowie Canon of Amazing, I never need to worry about running out…
Or so I think until David Bowie’s biographer – Paul Trynka – nukes me with an A-bomb: Bowie’s off to sit in his armchair, watch Countdown and eat baked beans on toast till the end of days. And deservedly so – God only knows the guy’s influenced nearly everyone who’s succeeded him in the charts. He’s even influenced the people who influenced him.Well impressive. But here’s hoping he’ll do a Jay-Z, following this announcement with several albums, a global hit a la Empire State Of Mind, a Glastonbury headline slot and the biggest musical collaboration since Madonna kissed Britney.
As he once profoundly stated: “Time may change me/But I can’t trace time.” Check out these five tracks below and prepare to have your mind abducted by an artist who transcends time, space and cosmic universes…
- Ashes To Ashes. Unfortunately once sampled by Samantha Mumba, this electro gem is felt all over Duran Duran, Hurts and La Roux’s In For The Kill. Bowie scored a Number 1 here with a single he described to NME as, “a popular nursery rhyme about space men becoming junkies.” How quaint.
- Drive-In Saturday. A doo-wop, Christmas-y number about watching porn. The notoriously controversial Morrissey loves a bit of it, he even did his own version despite the fact Bowie’s no longer a vegetarian. I know – Morrissey actually liking something, it must be better than… well anything really.
- Moonage Daydream. From the Ziggy Stardust album, this rock behemoth of a song really is quite mental. It’s merely one track on a concept album where the messiah is an alien who does a lot of drugs. One-hit-wonders Babylon Zoo may as well have called their chart-topper Spaceman – We Love You Bowie. This is four minutes and 35 seconds that form the blueprint for Lady Gaga’s career.
- Oh You Pretty Things. One listen of the Beatles-y piano pop melody and Bowie’s falsetto and there you have it: the invention of Britpop. Indeed Blur, Pulp and, in turn, Franz Ferdinand, Scissor Sisters, Wild Beasts and Muse owe their life to this classic from 1971’s Hunky Dory. Brett Anderson? You’ve got some explaining to do…
- “Heroes”. Written by Bowie and Brian Eno, the title track from his so-called “Berlin era” was influenced heavily by German exports Neu! Dark, brooding, experimental electronica, The Killers, LCD Soundsystem and New Order live between the synths.