Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Man Who Sold the World (1971)


1. Width of a Circle: Masterpiece #2. This is one of the great opening tracks on any album, let alone a Bowie album. Having said that, listening to this back to back with one of it’s hard rocking contemporaries (eg: Led Zeppelin IV or Black Sabbath’s Paranoid), the band (including producer Visconti on bass and Ronson on guitar) sounds razor thin and almost a little lightweight. Still, the lyrics slaughter anything Zep ever came up with. I don’t recall them singing about having sex with the Devil in Hell. 10.0

2. All the Madmen: It’s about his brother and he seems to be questioning the whole idea of ‘sanity’. A great song. The little spoken word interlude after the soaring chorus gives it a beautiful demented quality (“..they followed me home..”). Fared well when trotted out on the Glass Spider tour. 8.5

3. Black Country Rock: “Pack your packhorse up and rest up here…”. Cool Bolan-esque vocal effect and a decent guitar/bass rocking number without peeling the paint off the wall. Riff-heavy blues based rock. 7.0

4. After All: This creepy little gothic nursery rhyme ballad fits into the general theme of the album quite nicely. Bowie’s voice is rather delicate and lovely, tackling some disturbing themes that would be revisited later on the following album’s Quicksand. 7.0

5. Running Gun Blues: Bowie’s strangled voice and demented, paranoid lyrics along with the off centre mix and bass-heavy blues rock make this track one hell of a tongue-in-cheek riot. Hit and miss stuff coming from Bowie at this early stage, but he was definitely on the right track. 6.5

6. Saviour Machine: Who has ever written a song like this? Heavy apocalyptic track and downright frightening as Bowie sings from the POV of the machine before it destroys humanity… or something. Thought provoking stuff and amazing vocals. 6.5

7. She Shook Me Cold: Masterpiece #3. This track kicks all kinds of ass. Ronson isn’t Clapton and Visconti isn’t Jack Bruce, yet this is as awesome as 70s hard rocking blues gets and the mind-blowing, tackle out, instrumental interplay suits Bowie’s twisted, sexed up lyrics. Never been played live. 10.0

8. The Man Who Sold the World: Ambiguous meaning again but contains my favourite ‘cheese grater’ moments ever. Not quite a certified Bowie classic and like Dylan, other artists seem to have had more success with his track. The definitive version remains his 1979 SNL Klaus Nomi performance. 8.5

9. The Supermen: Great finishing to the album but not my favourite song ever. Bowie pretending to understand Nietzsche. The whole “ softly a supergod cries” with Mick Ronson harmonising (especially live) wears a bit thin and has become highly irritating. By no means a Bowie classic but a suitable closer to this album. 6.0


VERDICT: It’s a concept album about a shaven headed transvestite, as opposed to a concept album about a flame haired Martian rock star. It is a logical precursor to Ziggy Stardust but still a long long way off it’s brilliance. The whole production on this album is a bit of a let down and Visconti would soon relinquish bass and production duties and return several years later around Young Americans. I don’t think newly-wed Bowie was fully behind it, and was left a bit thin rather than a fully formed, fleshed out masterpiece. Having said that I still hold a special place for it (and it’s many albums covers – but none as good as the original) and consider it the start of the classic Bowie phase.

NEXT: Greatness!

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