David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
For reasons unknown (to me – Robert Christgau certainly knows), there was no Pazz & Jop poll in 1972 or 1973. I was going to skip these years, but instead hunted down an alternate source – Best Ever Albums. It isn’t ideal, since it doesn’t match the zeitgeist feel of Pazz and Jop and has a heavy non-critic component, but we work with what we have. For comparison’s sake, had I used this source for 1971, I would have been spared Jeff Beck and Mahavishnu Orchestra (but not, sadly, Jethro Tull), but would have missed out on Joy of Cooking, Janis Joplin and, most tragically, the Kinks. I think I came out way ahead (even with having to listen to Jethro Tull – I can’t slam these guys enough).
So we begin with Bowie, whose 1971 offering didn’t overwhelm me. Consider me now overwhelmed. You know that feeling when you finally do something you’ve been putting off and it turns out great and now you’re full of regret that you didn’t do it sooner? That’s how I feel about this record. Like, WTF was I thinking by never even once giving this a spin over the last 40+ years? I am now on my fourth listen of this record and it won’t be my last. All is forgiven – even Little Drummer Boy. (Well, maybe not that.)
This is a sort-of concept album – Earth has five years left and Ziggy is coming to save us – but that’s really just a pretty wrapping for individually great songs. Piano is still prominent, with some serious rock guitar familiar to anyone who knows the “hits” (because there weren’t any at the time of release) like “Suffragette City”, “Moonage Daydream” (forever linked in my mind to “Guardians of the Galaxy”) or “Ziggy Stardust”. Starting with a simple drum like a heartbeat, the anthemic “Five Years” sets the tone – this is not your older brother’s Bowie, assuming your older brother was cool enough to notice an artist who’d had limited commercial success to this point. I love the line “All I have is my love of love” from the deceptively sad “Soul Love”. I have a new appreciation of “Starman”, which is a great listen with the car windows down on one of the first warm days of the season. “Star” is mostly a romp, but it has nothing on the next track. “Hang on to Yourself” is a blast, a cleaned-up precursor of what the Sex Pistols and other punks would get up to 5 years later. I nearly broke out dancing on the boardwalk during my morning walk, which would have been awkward AF without someone else in my company. If I hear nothing else I like on this journey (spoiler alert: that ain’t happening), it would be worth it for having finally “discovered” this jewel. And now I’m excited to hear more Bowie.
(Originally posted on Facebook, May 15, 2021)