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A novelistic montage of kaleidoscopic imagery and Bowie's masterpiece ?
on 7 July 2008
Although Hunky Dory has always just shaded this as my favourite Bowie album, listening to Aladdin Sane again thirty-five years later, I'm convinced that this could be his masterpiece. It almost doesn't quite hang together as an album but its sheer brilliance and breadth, and its assortment of angles and images, make for a very impressive body of songs. It is as rewarding as a great novel with its multitude of references, and echoes of other times and places from thirties Berlin to the golden age of Hollywood, as well as to the contemporary street hassle of seventies America. Each song triggers the imagination and seems to resonate beyond itself into a greater mindscape. Bowie's singing is at times incredible, and the band, arrangements and production are as good as it's ever going to get. Special mention of course must go to the inspired guitar playing of Ronson (it's a guitar masterclass) and the brilliant addition of Mike Garson that takes the album into the stratosphere - where did Bowie get him from ? Nobody else could pull an ace out of the pack the way Bowie did with Garson.
Opening with the pounding Watch That Man and its wonderful lyrical rhythm, the album never lets go, and perhaps even the Stones at their very best could rarely match this arresting power and energy. From that to the decadent lounge jazz of the title track, all swirling piano chords and lost romanticism suddenly intercut with Garson's superb free-jazz solo that takes the song to another level altogether. Drive in Saturday is a paean to the old movies that Bowie so loves and is packed with fabulous imagery. Panic in Detroit is pure Stones again but Mick and Keith never quite "jumped the silent cars that slept at traffic lights". Time melds the Threepenny Opera with one of Bowie's most affecting show stoppers that kicks anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber into the front row of the balcony. The fey Prettiest Star is the album's Kooks and could so easily have come from Hunky Dory while over a simple blues riff, The Jean Genie is Bowie's tougher and harder edged Walk on the Wild Side. As other reviewers have already said, Lady Grinning Soul is perhaps Dave's finest moment - ice cold beauty with Ronno and Garson sharing equal honours - a stunning finale. You can probably tell I like it.