Saturday, September 8, 2018

Aladdin Sane

Aladdin Sane (AM8)
Artist: David Bowie
Released: April 13, 1973
Produced by: David Bowie, Ken Scott
Tracks: 1) Watch That Man (4:30); 2) Aladdin Sane (5:06); 3) Drive-In Saturday (4:33): 4) Panic In Detroit (4:35); 5) Cracked Actor (3:01); 6) Time (5:15) 7) The Prettiest Star (3:31); 8) Let's Spend the Night Together (3:10); 9) The Jean Genie (4:07) 10) Lady Grinning Soul (3:54)
Band Members: David Bowie – guitar, harmonicasaxophone, vocals; Mick Ronson – guitar, piano, vocals, arrangements; Trevor Bolder – bass guitar; Mick "Woody" Woodmansey – drums; Mike Garson – piano, synthesizers

By the winter of 1972 Bowie was bored. Ziggy Stardust had caught the attention of a society in decline, touching the nerve of an England in meltdown and winning serious critical acclaim along the way. Eager to capitalize on this success Mainman targeted America. A U.S. tour was arranged and in a marketing technique to exaggerate Bowie’s status, no expense was spared. Despite the extravagance, less cosmopolitan states remained cautious and the poorly attended shows drained money. As the financial implications of the tour sank in, a depressed Bowie returned to England to confront the deadline for the next album. After the success of Ziggy, the music press were sharpening their knives expectantly. However, in a move that became typical, Bowie absorbed the pressure, channeling the nervous energy into a schizophrenic self-portrait for his new project, Aladdin Sane.

The schizophrenic nuances found on Aladdin Sane gave an insight into Bowie's mindset as he and the Spiders entered Trident Studios in January 1973 to record. Although Ziggy (the character) had achieved mass critical acclaim, the actor playing him was living in poverty. "A lad insane," as it became known, dealt with the stark contrasts dividing the life of an artist for whom impending stardom was inches out of reach. Although the U.S. tour had been anti-climatic, several switched-on American cities had been captivated by Bowie and, as he pondered the direction of the next record, America dominated his thoughts. 

The influence of America saturated the album, with several tracks rooted lyrically in Bowie's American experiences as the bus groaned across the vast wastelands of the land of the free. This is clearly evident on "Panic In Detroit," which channels into the anxieties plighting the streets of Detroit in a Motown-esque call-to-arms, but also in "Watch Than Man" (New York), "Cracked Actor" (Hollywood) and "Time" (New Orleans). The title track with it's cryptic dates (1913, 1937, 197?) allude to the years before the two World Wars, with Bowie anticipating a third. 

The most distinctive track on the LP (and certainly the most talked about due to the piano solo by Mike Garson) is indeed the title track. Bowie reportedly rejected Garson's initial solo attempts, one of which was in a blues style, the other with a Latin beat, instead asking for something akin to "avant-garde jazz." Garson thus decided to improvise, and the solo was recorded in just one take. Garson commented in 1999: "I've had more communication in the last 26 years about that one solo than the 11 albums I've done on my own, the six that I've done with another group that I'm co-leader of, hundreds of pieces I've done with other people and the 3,000 pieces of music I've written to date. I don't think there's been a week in those 26 years that have gone by without someone, somewhere, asking me about it!"