David Bowie: “Aladdin Sane” (1973)
Now we get to what I think will be a common trope in Bowie’s catalog, namely the valleys between the peaks of genius.
Granted, this album is considered a classic by many, and it’s one of Bowie’s biggest-selling albums; ZIggy fever was at it’s peak and Wikipedia claims there were 100,000 pre-orders for this album.
That said, I’m not a big fan of this one. Silly as it sounds, back when I was a teen browsing the bins at Rolling Stones on Irving Park, I was always put off by the cover. I found it weird, and the only track I recognized was “The Jean Genie”. AntKnee had bought a copy, and we’d howl the lyrics to “Panic in Detroit” now and then, but otherwise this album was just not on my radar.
There is some good music here, though, such as the aforementioned “Panic…”, big single “The Jean Genie”, “Watch that Man”, and a spirited cover of the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, but none of them capture the energy of the tunes on “Ziggy”. Thankfully, there is still a goodly amount of raunchy Ronson licks present.
But the addition of pianist Mike Garson — who is amazing, honestly — bring us a lot of piano-heavy numbers that veer into pure cabaret. Sometimes it works for me (“Lady Grinning Soul”), but sometimes it doesn’t (“Time”, “Aladdin Sane”). And, jeez, the sheer about of campy doo-wop (“Drive-In Saturday”) just gets annoying.
Wikipedia says Bowie summed up this album as “Ziggy in America”. Most of it was written while Bowie toured the States behind “Ziggy Stardust”, each song apparently inspired by a different locale (and noted as such on the original album sleeve). I suspect that Bowie was spread a little thin this whole time, and perhaps the Ziggy persona was wearing thin, ergo the songwriting is just not at the level it was for the previous two albums.
But that’s okay! The tour behind this album proves the be the last for Ziggy, ending when Bowie gives his famous announcement at the final show of the tour that “not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.” Bowie’s chameleon-like nature kills Ziggy Stardust not even two years after his arrival, and moves on… another common trope we’ll be seeing more of.