on 3 December 2002
I have to admit that, musically this is probably one of my fave albums of all time. The stark, ambiguity of "Width of a circle" sets the tone for the whole album. The set itself has a dark, brooding, menacing feel which challenges the listener to explore new musical directions and rewards in abundance. This is rock as it was intended. No nonsense, no posturing, and pure. I defy anyone to listen to "All the madmen" in the dark without the hairs on the back of the neck standing to attention! Indeed there are homages to Hendrix but Mick Ronson manages to pull it off and still sound the way that only Ronno can. Truly an album that still stands the test of time and still sounds more honest than virtually anything else that has come along since. Maybe "Ziggy Stardust" is more important but this is a reminder of how rock should be played. No BS, no frills, just undiluted rock performed by a band that is obviously still trying to find it's way and the nerves and agression shine throughout. I'd have given it 10 stars but I'm limited to just the 5. Buy it!
on 26 April 2009
An unusual departure for Bowie into heavy rock, but nevertheless a powerful album. Worth buying for the epic Width of a Circle alone, but there's also the sweet and sad After All, the spooky title track, Bowie's killer impression of Marc Bolan on Black Country Rock, and a reworking of his earlier pretty Ching A Ling on the not-so-pretty apocalyptic Saviour Machine, to savour too. Oh, and of course the guitar wizard Mick Ronson works his magic again.It's often shamefully underrated, but much more interesting than later lauded works like Young Americans.Plus, Bowie's lyrics are darkly poetic.
on 19 January 2008
One of bowie's more overlooked albums - think more deep purple than scott walker. Tony Visconti (who would produce Bowie later in the decade) plays bass, Mick and Woody from the Spiders from Mars here as well. Buy this edition as it has the bonus tracks and the remastering is as good as any of the later versions! Who needs 24-bit remastering?!?
I view this as a stepping stone album towards the greatness that was to follow. Bowie was defining his style. He was almost there, almost achieving his aim of taking on the rock world. Some of the songs are mini epics in their own right.
The album gives the feel that Bowie was evolving his songwriting style. It is a stark album that would eventually lead to collaborations with Eno and his German experimentation period. The album starts with another epic in the form of the Width of the Circle which showcases Mick Ronson's extraordinary guitar work and also makes us realise that the 1970s are upon us and threatening to bring something frighteningly good in the world of music. The cosiness is being wrenched out. There is madness within this track and the album as a whole. To see an illustration of this just listen to the wierdness of All the Madmen. It is on this album that we first get an idea of the depth of Bowie's vocals, sometimes sung and sometimes snarled. And of course the cover changed. My early LP version has a young looking Bowie doing a high kick whilst playing his guitar. This was changed to the famous cover of Bowie in a dress. It was almost as if Bowie was battling with his demons, his sexuality and what ultimately would be his musical genius. After the early Anthony Newley style songs this came as a bit of a shock.
There was plenty of rock songs - indeed this was probably Bowie's heavy rock opus. It is a thumpingly good album. When I returned to it after a number of years to write this review I was absolutely gobsmacked by its power and sense of direction and its sheer power. The title track remains one of Bowie's best songs - and was even recorded by Lulu!
David Bowie's 1970 album The Man Who Sold The World is one of the series of (eleven) albums that the man made between 1969 and 1977, starting with Space Oddity and ending with Heroes, which, for me, represent the most outstanding (and diverse) set of recordings in contemporary (certainly 'pop'-based) music (OK, so I would have to exclude the relatively sub-standard Pin-Ups). Along with Young Americans, it could be argued that TMWSTW, with its oft-cited heavier rock overtones, represented the most significant deviation that Bowie made during this period from his otherwise more mainstream pop (glam rock?) style and sound. However, whilst there is undoubtedly some truth in this idea, it is also true that the sound introduced on TMWSTW (largely as a result of the addition to Bowie's band of guitarist Mick Ronson) was also carried through onto later albums, in particular on Aladdin Sane (Cracked Actor, Watch That Man, etc) and Diamond Dogs. Of course, the album was produced by Tony Visconti and, along with Bowie's Low and his work with T. Rex, ranks as a high point in Visconti's production career.
Whilst, for me, TMWSTW has no weak tracks, there are, of course, ups and downs, and the album's consistency cannot mask the fact that it opens with the two standout songs - for me, two of Bowie's greatest ever. The Width Of A Circle opens the album with a deceptively mellow piece of feedback from Ronson's guitar, followed by his fretboard descent, before launching into the full-on riff which underpins this eight minute masterpiece. Listening again to this song, and marvelling at Bowie's (nearly) indecipherable (but brilliantly poetic) lyrics - only surpassed in these respects by those penned around the same time by his erstwhile (alleged) friend Marc Bolan - it is difficult to (even attempt to) recapture the impact a song like this must have had back in 1970 (indeed, I admit to not hearing this album until after I'd acquired Ziggy Stardust in 1972). There was certainly no precedent on Space Oddity (apart from maybe some of the guitar licks on Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed).
All The Madmen follows in the wake of The Width Of A Circle and, amazingly, surpasses it. This is Bowie's paean for insanity ('I'd rather play here with all the mad men, for I'm quite content they're all as sane as me') and is full of soaring melodies, searing guitar and beautiful, quirky vocal touches, concluding with that memorable line (reinforcing the song's message), 'Open the dog' (or, actually, 'Ouvrez le chien'). Although, for me, not quite matching this opening pair of towering songs, the remainder of the album is full of (rather more minor) gems. There are beautiful melodies and poetic lyrics on the (Hunky Dory-esque) After All and the famous title track, whilst Black Country Rock and Running Gun Blues, both have infectious guitar hooks and a rather funky feel to them. Glam-rock (with its new guitar hero Ronson) then resurfaces with a vengeance on Saviour Machine, She Shook Me Cold and the Nietzschean The Supermen.
If, like me, you haven't (or, in my case, hadn't) listened to this album for some time, I recommend you give it a go. You may be surprised just how brilliant it is.
on 2 August 2007
What always struck me about The Man Who Sold The World was "wha?, where did that come from?". Bowie has stated that he cannot do personal, I think a tad tongue in cheek because this album is about experiential and personal as it can get, as stated in reviews here. Oh by jingo indeed!
I loved this album from the off, having had Hunky Dory first then this one then Ziggy and then Oddity. If you haven't got it yet, get Bowie At The Beeb. You can see this album grow from his late 60's excursions through Space Oddity to this album and onto Hunky Dory.
This is Bowie with major influence from Visconti, Ronno and even Bolan - listen to the vocal inflections on Black Country Rock. Mostly it is Ronno on a long leash who dominates this album. Brian May has always admired Ronno - you can hear Ronno's influences on May on Black Country Rock, for example, and it was heart-felt when May stated Ronno would have not been out of place in Queen.
After All is a link between Space Oddity and this album, albeit with a darkness. I can imagine this existed in some form around Oddity. The melody is sublimely haunting. From this song you can see why/how Bowie was drawn to Brel's My Death.
The title track stands the test of time, whether Lulu (!) or Nirvana or Bowie as recently as the Reality tour. It's just a great, great song and Ronno shows great control/restraint.
Fave track? The Width Of A Circle. This was the track that finally galvanised me in to getting a guitar and I am still playing 35 years later. Cheers Bowie, Visconti, Ronno et al.
on 23 September 2007
So goes the lyric in the Width of a Circle, and this is a monster album. Not easy listening, but a deep, dark monster of a recording to really get you into another world. The intro to Width of a Circle is superb, but the highlight of the song is the thudding 'heavy metal' section towards the end where Bowie screams, 'His nebulous body swayed above - his tongue swollen with devil's love.' The best track on the album is 'All the Mad Men', Bowie's reaction to his half brother Terry's mental illness and admittance to Cane Hill mental hospital in Croydon. 'I'd rather stay here with all the madmen - for I'm quite content they're all as sane as me.' What sort of a line is that? I love the play out of 'Zane zane zane - ouvre le chien.' It stays with you and was clearly important to BOwie as he recycled it on The Buddha of Suburbia 23 years later. The rest of this set is great, though the Supermen has always been one of my least favourites. 'After all' is beautiful, and the title track, well, what can you say about it? Lulu and Nirvana knew enough. All this, and a beutiful cover of Bowie in a dress, playing cards strewn on the floor of Haddon Hall. The album artwork is beautiful, too. If you are a BOwie fan, this is absolutely essential, and a classic beyond doubt. Get it.
on 23 December 2005
Reading the other reviews of this album, I wonder if I heard the same album.
For me, many bands/artists have released ONE great album. Very few have managed more than that. Bowie managed two (and a lot of very good ones). "The Man Who Sold the World" and "Low" (which I think is one of the best albums by anyone - ever) still bring shivvers to my spine.
The only really poor track on this album is "She Shook Me Cold". Uninteresting, unwritten, unrehearsed drivvel!.
But the rest of the album is pure magic. "After All" is haunting, whistful and enormously sad. "The Width of a Circle" rambles a bit and contains a number of inelegant changes but still retains attention. "Running Gun Blues" and "Saviour Machine" are short and punchy and "The Supermen" makes a fine, heroic (though again, sad) ending/climax.
For me, the absolute highlight of the album is "All The Mad Men". There is so much going on in here. Wonderful synth parts, Ronno at his best and Bowie singing about insanity in way that makes you wonder if he really knows......
This is one of Bowie's earliest and best albums. Although considered heavier than most of Bowie's work - except Tin Machine of course - this is still an album of considerable musical and lyrical class. Standout tracks include the opening Width of a Circle, featuring some incredible guitar work, and the enduring, and quite wonderful title track, as well as the haunting musical beauty of After All, and the all round magnificent All the Madmen.
From here Bowie went on to record some of the greatest albums ever made, including Hunky Dory: Remastered, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars: Remastered, and these have rather eclipsed this work in their fame. However, this is an outstanding album by any measure and deserves to be in your collection
If you don't have this, or haven't yet updated from vinyl or cassette - do buy it now - you won't regret it
on 14 December 2011
One of the very first vinyl albums I ever bought - and still one of the most memorable. The cover featured Bowie in his silver jumpsuit, rather than his Camilla Parker Bowles-alike frock coat/dress thingy, and was no worse for that in my opinion... Stylistically, TMWSTW is miles away from Space Oddity and Hunky Dory, and a great example of Bowie's career-spanning risk taking and inventiveness. Midnight black shade to Hunky's light, Bowie goes large on the mythology/mental illness/human extremes front in this dark and powerful set. Tony Visconti's production is doom'n'bass heavy, but it's lit up by Mick Ronson's scintillating lead guitar (that's enough of the light and dark contrast b*ll*cks - ed.) Standouts are Width of a Circle, featuring Ronno's extended work out, Running Gun Blues and She Shook Me Cold - you can see how this album influenced future generations of heavy rockers. Highly recommended.