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"Who'll love Aladdin Sane?"
on 18 August 2016
The schizophrenic cousin to '...Ziggy Stardust...' & sometimes referred to as 'Ziggy goes to America', this follow up to that seminal album is almost as good - some might say better - than its illustrious predecessor. There's no denying that it has a harder, rockier sound & the lyrics are far more cynical than on '...Ziggy...' In many respects, 'Aladdin Sane' depicts the harsh realities of stardom, where the previous album was very much the wide-eyed dream. It boasts much the same line-up as that masterpiece of popular music, with Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder & Mick Woodmansey all returning but the addition of Mike Garson on piano gives 'Aladdin Sane' a jazzier, avant-garde & perhaps more authentic feel. Most of the tracks are wonderfully sleazy & decadent, with a jaundiced Bowie commenting on what he saw beneath the glittering façade of fame & the American entertainment industry. The album's final trump card is its cover; surely one of the most iconic record covers ever!
1. Watch That Man - I wasn't keen on this song when I first heard it but it has grown on me over the years. I think the main reason it took me so long to appreciate it was because I could barely make out the lyrics as Bowie's voice was so low in the mix. Apparently, it was done to give the song a rawer, Stones-like feel. The lyrics themselves seem to refer to some decadent, drug-fuelled party.
2. Aladdin Sane - One of my favourite tracks, largely due to Mike Garson's brilliant, utterly deranged, avant-garde piano solo mid-way through the song. What it's about, I'm not entirely sure but it seems to hint at society's decadence before the outbreak of war with (1917-1938-197?) suggesting that Bowie was anticipating a further outbreak in the not too distant future.
3. Drive In Saturday - Fusing 50's doo-wop with a futuristic soundscape, the song reached number #3 in the charts, yet it seems to be the forgotten Bowie single as it rarely features on a greatest hits compilation. Shame, as it's a wonderful song!
4. Panic In Detroit - Tales of revolutionaries in Motor City, propelled by Ronson's bluesy guitar & soulful backing singers, it has a wonderful opening line... "He looked a lot like Che Guevara, drove a diesel van..."
5. Cracked Actor - Bowie's harmonica & Ronson's guitar sound downright sleazy, which is appropriate for a song about an aged actor, well past his sell by date, paying for sex in some Tinseltown back-room.
6. Time - Arch, theatrical & brilliantly bonkers! It's yet another wonderful song in which Garson's piano playing distinguishes itself. From the lyrics, I have a vision of Bowie & the Spiders, bored out of their minds, waiting in the wings for some terrible act to get off stage & allow them on. Also includes drug references & a certain rude word - oh, my!
7. Prettiest Star - Some more 50's doo-wop, nostalgic lyrics & a great guitar solo from Ronson, in what is one of the more pleasant sounding tracks from the album.
8. Let's Spend The Night Together - A camp, dazzling, deranged & speeded up cover of The Rolling Stones classic, which manages to do what all good covers should do & that's to be different from the original. It is also completely in tune with the album's pervading air of decadence.
9. Jean Genie - One of Bowie's biggest hits, reaching number #2 in the charts, it is a perfect slice of glam rock. Rumoured to be inspired by his great friend Iggy Pop, it has an irresistibly catchy guitar riff that bears a striking resemblance to The Sweet's number #1 'Blockbuster,' which was released at around the same time. Apparently, it was just a coincidence that they sounded remarkably similar.
10. Lady Grinning Soul - Beautiful song with a gorgeous arrangement; rippling piano & flamenco guitar. I don't think it would have been out of place as a Bond theme, as Bowie paints a vivid picture of a sensuous seductress who is always one step ahead of you. It's a great song on which to end the album.
In many respects, 'Aladdin Sane,' marks the end of the Spiders, with Mick Woodmansey being effectively sacked over a pay dispute & Trevor Bolder & the brilliant Mick Ronson dropped after the next album, 'Pin-Ups.' Bowie, easily bored & restless for change, wished to take his music in a new direction & so he did.