Friday, August 4, 2017

Top 100 Albums of the 1970s - #77 - David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1973)

The third of four Bowie albums on this list, Aladdin Sane represents the hardest thing to do in music, to follow up a smash hit without either copying it or losing momentum. Bowie manages to avoid both these pitfalls, but only just.

Here we have Bowie attempting to build on his Ziggy Stardust persona while still treading new ground. And even if few of the individual songs have the catchiness or immediacy of the previous record, it's still an impressive feat of songwriting, musicianship and production.

Personally, I think the album shows a few signs of fatigue with glam genre, even though Bowie had only been treading that terrain for a year. He seems anxious to move on, to avoid repeating himself. While some artists are content to churn out album after album of similar material, Bowie’s restlessness is palpable. And indeed, he followed up Aladdin Sane with the arguably disastrous, but at least different Pin Ups, an entire album of covers from the 1960s.

The good news is that this means Bowie is in full experimental mode here, stepping into a variety of genres to see which ones fit. Time is influenced by German cabaret, but also seems to show signs of the Krautrock influences that would become dominant during the Berlin Trilogy phase. Watch That Man and Cracked Actor are hard rockers as good as anything else he has ever done. Prettiest Star and Drive in Saturday attempt to lighten the mood.

Avant garde piano flourishes are meshed together with tight pop melodies. It's clear that what Bowie is going for here is artier than a mere rock and roll record. Perhaps that's why his most straightforward attempts at rock music sound the most hollow in the context of the album.

For example, the only real misstep on the album is cover of Let’s Spend the Night Together. It's a sped up version of the Rolling Stones classic, and yet somehow feels less energetic than the original. It also feels out of place amongst Bowie’s more complex originals.

Ultimately, Aladdin Sane is a transitional album (aren't all of Bowie's records in one way or another?) building the bridge between the Ziggy Stardust era and the more adventurous period ahead, including the moody Station to Station, and the aforementioned Berlin albums. As a collection of songs, it has plenty of highlights, but to my ears it lacks the cohesion necessary for a truly great album.

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