Wednesday, June 27, 2007

No. 35: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

Band: David Bowie
Album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Easily Bowie's best record, the concept album about an alien rock star messiah epitomizes a lot about the glam rock '70s. It was huge, it touched on just about every popular 70s topic (glamour, drugs sex, etc.) and it referenced several music genres. In a lot of ways, Ziggy is the glam-rock 70s.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Bowie is mostly style, not a lot of substance. Those who worship at the altar of Bowie find him interesting because he merged the theatric with rock and roll, which doesn't float my fancy at all.
Best song: "Suffragette City" is a lot of fun and "Moonage Daydream" is a cool track.
Worst song: "Lady Stardust" is mediocre. "Soul Love" isn't all that good.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

While not in the same category as U2 and Bruce Springsteen, I'm not the greatest fan of David Bowie. His style doesn't excite me (I don't find androgyny entertaining or intriguing and his recent futurish nonsense is boring and nerdy) and his music is just OK. His singles are nice, but that's about it. I have a close friend who calls this type of artist a "Greatest Hits Band" and Bowie is the picture of that.

Ziggy Stardust, to me, is the only real great record of Bowie's. The concept is kind of muddied (The world is going to end in five years, there's a god/alien in space who is sending a messiah/rock star down to Earth to show people the way, he enjoys earth, he dies on stage), but the songs all stand alone. "Starman," for example, is reminiscent of the Who's "Pinball Wizard" in that it furthers the plot of the record while still being able to be its own song.

"Moonage Daydream," for example, was released as a single and remains the standout song on the album. The hard rock guitars take from Bowie's friend Marc Bolan (of T. Rex) open the song while the soaring melody bounces off the acoustic guitars. It's an exciting song, built around the start/stop rhythms that would later invade popular culture in the 80s and 90s.

The songs stand up remarkably well when covered. Everyone under the sun has covered a song or two from this record and the Seu Jorge acoustic performances in Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" are excellent re-imaginings of the record.

Ziggy Stardust is certainly Bowie's best work and his only really fine album. The subsequent tour really showed glam rock off to the public, which had huge implications. Without Ziggy Stardust, there's no glam metal, there's no Kiss and I imagine 80s fashion would be a little different, no?

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