Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Freak Out in a Moonage Daydream

In 1971, David Bowie was an avid admirer of the cast of Andy Warhol's Pork. Enamored with the film and its cast, Bowie couldn't get enough of Warhol's entourage, indeed several crew and cast members ended up at Mainman working as office assistants and Bowie flunkies; it was mutual admiration. There was something extraordinary about the Warhol scene, the exploits of big-city artists and junkies and queens; Ziggy was fascinated. London was a distant, morose place in the early 70s, having lost that glam spark of Mary Quant and The Fool, not to mention the Stones and a sense of identity to America; New York and Warhol were new, exciting and mysterious. Post-industrial London was a symptom of the age and Ziggy Stardust was its cure.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (AM10) takes the musicianship and experimental bent of Bowie's Hunky Dory to a new level, on which Bowie forges a distinctive sound that prevails despite every new incarnation. Although a concept, Ziggy never seems forced or repetitive; it is but a grand parade of songs which collectively tell a story. The lyrics are deep and emotive, albeit tragic; the musicianship fuzzy and warm or brash and abrasive.

An off-beat drum pattern by Mick Woodmansey fuels the opening song "Five Years." Moody and low key with a definite influence from the Plastic Ono Band, the character of Ziggy Stardust is introduced in dramatic yet elegant fashion with profound lyrics, such as;

"my brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare/ I had to cram many things to store everything in there…"

"Starman" is classic Bowie hearkening back to the same groove thematically as his first major hit "Space Oddity." An acoustic ballad accentuated by space-age transitional effects, orchestration, and great post-chorus riff by Mick Ronson, the song is that pivotal point in the album's concept where the protagonist morphs from being manipulative to delusional.

The moody piano of "Lady Stardust" starts off side two with a ballad of nearly Taupin/John proportion and structure. There is little to no guitar presence on this tune loosely dedicated to Marc Bolan of T. Rex and the "glam" scene in general. "Hang On to Yourself" comes off like early proto-punk with a definite glam twist. "Suffragette City" reminds the listener that David Bowie is, in fact, a rock star first and foremost, no matter how out there the bulk of his material may drift. The song was originally offered to Mott the Hoople before they chose "All the Young Dudes" for their own project.

After the frantic, top-notch electric rock of "Suffragette City," the album closes with the calm and acoustic "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," which documents Ziggy's collapse as a washed-up performer (showing an amazing sense of self-awareness at a time when rock was still relatively young). The song gradually builds through subtle, tremolo electric guitar effects and into full orchestration as a dramatic coda for the album.

Ziggy catapulted Bowie into the big time, and rightly so - it is a fascinating concept executed to an endearingly accomplished standard. Quite simply, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is one of the most important and essential rock albums ever made. And because it's Bowie of course, it rises above the genre as well and becomes an essential piece of science fiction as well, not of a dystopian society, but of a real world, a dysfunctional London unraveling at its seams.