Sunday, December 5, 2010

Aladdin Sane (1973)


1. Watch That Man: Half ‘Brown Sugar’ and half Lou Reed’s ‘Wild Child’ ( one took their eyes off Lorraine), everything’s up front on this track except Bowie’s vocal which ends up buried deep in the mix, ‘Exile’ vintage. I love that about it though. Written on the road in the USA, it shows. This one is New York, very suitable. 7.5

2. Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?): Masterpiece #13. Garson’s discordant solo is a highlight of the album and this the title track with it’s European decadence (written aboard the RHMS Ellinis) is an enormous leap forward from Bowie in the experimental realm, more so than anything that came before it. Amazing stuff. 10.0

3. Drive-In Saturday: Another Mott the Hoople rejection (which led to the shaving of his eyebrows), this sci-fi doo-wop single was a hit but rarely made it onto any Bowie 'greatest hits' compilations. Written on the way down to Phoenix from Seattle, it’s a wonderfully atmospheric song deserving it’s place in Bowie’s ‘underrated classic’ canon. 8.0

4. Panic in Detroit: Ronson outdoes himself yet again, in fact this album would be his second-last with Bowie, but his peak and a guitarist and arranger. Salsa meets hard blues in this recount of the 1967 Detroit riots, although never really sounded great live. 7.5

5. Cracked Actor: Continuing the theme of hard rocking Stonesy numbers, the glam stomp of Cracked Actor throws trashy Hollywood imagery our way via Ronson’s crunching guitar and some best ever drumming from Woody. 7.0

6. Time: Masterpiece #14. Echoes of European cabaret, this soaring masterpiece was written in New Orleans and is simply the highpoint of the album. Bowie’s vocals are some of the best of his career so far, a theatrical performance of heroic levels (including his heavy-breathing solo). Influence of Brel and Brecht clearly heard here and Ronson’s multi-tracked guitar shines. 10.0

7. The Prettiest Star: Re-recorded and trying again to make this work, this track is somewhat out of place as it was written in Gloucester Road and recorded with Bolan around the time of Hunky Dory. Hasn’t improved a lot here and remains somewhat lightweight addition to this rocking album. 6.0

8. Let’s Spend the Night Together: Glammed up cover of Stones rocker, Bowie whoops it up here and a hilariously enthusiastic performance, and just a little bit tongue in cheek. Belongs here. Sounds right here. Was an integral part of the Ziggy set-list for the final leg of the tour and points towards (and would’ve just about been the best thing on) the forthcoming Pin-Ups album. 7.0

9. The Jean Genie: One of Bowie’s most famous songs, rarely missing a showing on the Bowie tours over the decades. Written in Detroit and New York, this song came out of a Bo Diddley jam session with Mick Ronson. Chugs along beautifully (including the false-start 1st chorus) and was already a hit well before Aladdin Sane hit the shelves. Lyrically associated with Iggy Pop, Jeff Beck supposedly plays on this (he certainly played at the final Ziggy Hammersmith show, although that was oddly left off the album and film). Falls just short of Masterpiece status only due to over-familiarisation. 9.5

10. Lady Grinning Soul: Masterpiece #15. Back in London now and a superb finish to this album. Always been a personal favourite with is expansive vocals, flamenco guitar and cascading piano, the otherwordly Lady Grinning Soul was inspired by a meeting with American soul singer Claudia Lannear (as is the Stones’ Brown Sugar). 10.0


VERDICT: A fine forty-five minutes of classic rock. A great party record. This album, according to some, was “written too fast, recorded too fast, and mixed too fast”. You can hear it, but you could say the same thing for a lot of great albums, like the Bowie produced ‘Raw Power’ (1973) - one of the greatest rock ‘n roll albums of time. Amazingly recorded and released less than 12 months after ‘The Rise and Fall..’, this album has exactly the same lineup of musicians (and producer) although this time with horns, backing vocals and Mike Garson’s extraordinary avant garde piano work, would’ve benefited further with the addition of All the Young Dudes (9.5). First album Bowie had released from a status of superstardom. The theatrical pieces work beautifully alongside the rockers, even if it all was thrown together too quickly. The album cover has now become one of the most iconic images in rock history, and one of Bowie’s best ever.

NEXT: These Foolish Things…no wait!

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