Pazz and Jop 1971 – #10

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

I’ve never been much of a Bowie fan – loved the singles but rarely felt compelled to buy the whole album. Maybe it was a hangover from his Christmas duet with Bing Crosby sticking in my ear when I first became a serious member of the record-buying public: the man couldn’t be trusted since he might just do something that would annoy me enormously. Bowie’s vocals are never gentle, his lyrics (even on the singles) not easily accessible, and his style shifts from track to track.

I can’t really see myself playing this end-to-end again – too many tracks ended up not sitting right with me in one way or another – but there was a lot here that I loved. It starts with “Changes”, still great, of course (“Breakfast Club” shoutout), and the other single, “Life on Mars?”, never fails to move me with its swelling chorus. “Oh! You Pretty Things” mixes gentle verses with a rollicking chorus to distract from the Nietzsche-inspired notion of the new casually brushing away the old. (Check out Peter Noone’s uninspiring version for the sad answer to the question “What if Bowie had been in Herman’s Hermits?”) The vocals on “Kooks” (dedicated to his newborn son) first brought to mind Robin Gibb, and it’s a sweet, thoughtful tune with gentle strings and horn and a sort-of ragtime piano. The piano usually stands out, lending a jaunty barroom feel, especially on “Fill Your Heart”, despite the often eccentric vocal stylings. I really like the guitar sound on “Andy Warhol”, until the last minute when it becomes an assault. “Queen Bitch” is a frolic, the one true rocker on here, and, outside of “Kooks”, the only song here that I would label as fun. It closes with “The Bewlay Brothers”, an acoustic guitar forward, lyrically nonsensical epic that feels like it would fit in just fine on a Pink Floyd record.

Spotify does this thing where, when an album ends, they continue into what their algorithm thinks is a comparable artist. When “The Bewlay Brothers” ended, I was treated to The Cure’s “In Between Days”, followed by Roxy Music’s “More Than This”. These are two bands that I’ve listened to a lot more than Bowie, though I suspect I’ll be seeing more of Ziggy than Robert and Bryan on this journey. Since the point of this is discovery (with a touch of nostalgia), I’m okay with that.

(Originally posted on Facebook, April 3, 2021)

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