The ZIGGY STARDUST Companion
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Terry Atkinson - Phonograph Record Magazine (July 1972)
If you believed more in life, you would devote yourselves less to the moment. But you have insufficient capacity for waiting - or even for laziness. Everywhere resound the voices of those who preach death, and the earth is full of those to whom death must be preached. Or "eternal life": it is all the same to me - provided they pass away quickly! - Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
Turn and face the strange changes. Like - ho, ho, look out you rock "n" rollers - Apocalypse. Is rock and roll the baby of the current apocalyptic concept, with its supermarket variety of possible manifestations? How's it gonna come? When's it gonna come? Marc Bolan says he's got less than ten years to live. David Bowie gives everyone five, tops. In the meantime: The Last Mad Dash...the hanged man's hard-on. Boys, toys, electric irons and TVs, a girl my age went off her head, cops, Cadillac's, news guys, violence, sex, dope and rock n roll! Which just gets zippier and zippier, especially when the blokes doing it think they're gonna die soon - this is the end - so that you get just-in-case-this-is-the-last-one ultimate works of art and craziness like David Bowie's THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS. Uh huh.
Bowie's rampant schizoid brilliance is along the same zig-zag lines as that of the artists he admires: Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Iggy Stooge, Syd Barrett. And like that of some others he may or may not admire: Vincent Van Gogh, R.Meltzer, William Burroughs, Don Rickles, Ken Russell, Wild Man Fisher, Kim Fowley, Jackson Pollock, Ludwig Van Beethoven. Men whose conscious states hover around the line between genius and madness, between creativity and a wild, scattered sort of super-perception, some slightly on one side of the lines, others just across it on the opposite side, many flying back and forth. Bowie, with his last three albums, and especially with ZIGGY, has implanted himself quite solidly on the genius-creative side. And yet he has not strayed too far from the line: the wildness is still there. Unlike Van Gogh and Barrett, he has not let his ardor burn without control and self-care; and unlike Bolan, he has not allowed a system of order to cramp his powers. And David Bowie's just as smashing on his album. Why not? After all he is Ziggy Stardust, the rock n roll Starman.
Ziggy played for time
Jiving us that we were voodoo
The kids were just crass
He was the nazz
With God-given ass
He took it all too far but, boy could he play guitar!
Actually to be Ziggy, who "really sang" and played that guitar that way, sort of your total fave-rave, Bowie - being in some respects mortal - called on the help of his own Spiders from Mars, and boy can they play. In the Drone-Chord-Riff Olympics of '72 Mick Ronson, the man behind the man on Bowie's last three albums, might have to give up the gold and silver medals to Townshend and Page, but I think he'd be a good bet for third place over the other competitors who come to mind (even Beck, Tommi and Blackmore). Bowie and then-producer (and bass player) Tony Visconti gave Ronson practically free rein on THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD, and Mick (not unlike Bowie at the time) came off erratic - mostly brilliant but sometimes sounding completely lost. So on HUNKY DORY he got a muzzle put on him and he plunked away most humbly except on "Queen Bitch." ZIGGY is for him, as well as Bowie, a peak of effectivity. Mick Woodmansey has also been along for the ride, and is too better than ever sounding much like the clean ratatat of T.Rex's drummer which is just fine. When Bowie and Visconti severed ties after MAN, Trevor Bolder was added on bass, and he's up to it.
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD, HUNKY DORY, and ZIGGY STARDUST have proven David Bowie to be the Master of the Nice Touch. The albums are jam packed with Nice Touches, and you put enough of those together, and you've got immortal music. (Bowie's first two albums, LOVE YOU TILL TUESDAY - also issued as THE WORLD OF DAVID BOWIE - and DAVID BOWIE, are merely good). For example, the crowning Nice Touch used to be the superbly haunting repetitive code ... the "zane, zane, zane - ouvre le chien" of All the Madmen" on MAN and the "please come away" of the "Bewlay Brothers" (on HUNKY), sung by a multi-multi-voiced Bowie (he always does all the voices, which represent varying characters in imitation or spirit evocation) in what must be the most purely mystical and brain-melting fade-outs in all of rockdom. The best batch of many types of Nice Touches on ZIGGY is the Perfect Rock Exclamation. David always knows just at what time, and with what volume, and with what tone to deliver an "oh yeah" or "oh" or "ooh" or whelp or sigh. He makes his own alterations and amendments to traditional interjections too, as with the substitute for "one more time" in "Suffragette City": "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am". Note also the magnetized swishy-brat two-syllable repetitions that serve as the matrix of "Suffragette City" ("Hey Man") and "Hang Onto Yourself ("come on"). Neo classic. Which shows in the structure, too. Some of the songs, as in the past, are homage's, semi-imitations, employment's of admitted styles: the Who in "Star" (hear the Pinball Wizard opening?), Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys in "Suffragette City" T.Rex and Ray Davies and Velvet Underground and who else in "Hang Onto Yourself" among others.
And, its a concept album! The story of how into a despairing, dying world, a star from the stars and his band come and thrill all and then Ziggy gets bumped off - rock n roll assassination - by envious-adoring fans. Actually, only the second side is story proper. Though the songs on the first side relate, they are mainly separate entities. Side One is made up of five excellent if somewhat subdued songs which serve as a tasty prelude to the almost continually zapping second side and even go beyond the role of appetizer in two cases: "Soul Love", which is a description of how love is all important, multiform, and too often degenerate ("idiot love") yet not without worth even in that form, set in a lovely and haunting melody and featuring a Bowie plastic-sax solo; and "Starman", a blissfully hopeful ballad-boogie about a very modern mystical revelation (via radio!), with a scrumptiously Ronson guitar tune following the vocals twice, lastly to so gorgeously fade. The other three songs on Side One are the album opener, "Five Years" stating the despair that gives excuse for ecstatic creation as well as tears, thereby setting the scene: "Moonage Daydream", a sci-fi sex three-quarter-speed rockers - very spacey electronic echoes and squeaks; and the only non-Bowie-penned song Ron Davie's "It Ain't Easy" well done indeed but a slight mistake as an end to Side One, seemingly a filler after "Starman's" right finish fadeout. (Ed. As it happens "It Ain't Easy" was cut during the HUNKY DORY sessions.)
Then Side Two: on one level, Ziggy's story; on another, hopeful-fearful autobiography. "Lady Stardust" is the wondrous image of the rock star, the composer-singer-player, as animus ("his animal grace") and anima ("Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and disgrace") and animus ("he sang all night long") all mixed up with beauty and without care. The song is a ballad-tempo prelude to four straight super-rockers:
"Star" THIS IS IT, The first three seconds tell you this is the kind of song that rock's all about. Absolute energy and happiness. A nonchalantly ambitious song about how nice it might be to be a rock n roll star, Well it would be a change...
I could make a transformation as a rock n roll star
So inviting to play the part
I could play the wild mutation as a rock n roll star
I could do with the money....
Knock-you-off-your-seat stops and starts, tap-dancing-up-and-down-the-stairs drum punctuated by the fluffiest rolls, and finally:
I could fall asleep at night as a rock n roll star
I could fall in love alright as a rock n roll star
Just watch me now
Watch him now?! What's he been doing for the last three minutes?! Anyway, it's onto " "Hang Onto Yourself" a taste of what Ziggy and the Spiders from Mars could lay down before Zig got bumped off. Zowie. Tigers on Vaseline. "Ziggy Stardust", the song slows things down only slightly to summarize the story of Ziggy's talents and assassination, told from at least two view points - one of the Spider's and one of the assassin's. Still rockin. And even after Zig's demise we get another example of his hits; or you can fit in that way anyhow, if you're concerned with structure. This is as "Suffragette City" a dizzying classic.
"Rock n Roll Suicide" is the Tony Newley-Bewlay Brothers wind-up to the whole thing, with an uplifting ending ("You're not alone, gimme your hands!") that's a little too strident to be taken completely seriously and little too truthful to have its conviction totally dismissed. ZIGGY is the perfection in popular recorded sound.
John Tiven - Phonograph Record Magazine (July 1972)
David Bowie, Englands Answer-To-Alice-Cooper-But-Hes-For-Real, has finally made an album with positive commercial potential and consistent strength. ZIGGY STARDUST is the AFTERMATH of the Seventies, where every track is a hit and no fillers; whats more Bowie is with his band and rocking at the seams of his kelly green jump-suit all the way down to his screwed down hairdo.
Bowies tale is of a rock-star from start to finito, and is pretty all-inclusive: screaming teenies, frantic groupies, envious band members, et cetera. There are no bad songs on this album, just great songs and good ones. There has been a single released, "Starman" and its the fusion of all mod British pop and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Bowie has a way with words, uses keen phrases like "leper messiah", "Hazy cosmic jive" and "tongue twisting storm." "Starman"s chorus features the absolute most exquisite pronunciation of "boogie" ever, rhymes it with "loose it." The band is marvellous, from the tone of Mick Ronsons electric guitar to the bass lines of Trevor Bolder. The production is outstanding, even for Bowie (whose previous albums havent been bad either, mind you). Strings are used sparingly, arrangements are complex but come across as simple pop rock. This album is obviously one of the finest records released this year, but even more importantly, this is the most universally enjoyable disc in a long time. Play ZIGGY for hippies, mods, AM'ers, theyll all like it. Hell, my mother asked me to play it again when I gave it a spin in the downstairs living room, and I wouldnt be surprised if she bought herself a copy. Anyway, my high school graduation is this year and what a perfect record to remember as being from my 17th and a half year on this planet!
Jim Bickhart - Phonograph Record Magazine (July 1972)
Since jumping from Mercury to RCA, David Bowie has added the decipherable touch to his recordings which they needed to reach more than the esoteric crew of rock critics that his two Mercury albums were embraced by. Consequently the newer records HUNKY DORY and now ZIGGY STARDUST are selling and Bowie is ripping up English audiences with a stage show designed to embarrass everyone from T. Rex to the Cockettes. Five years ago, Bowie was making typically English rock and roll story records, his image late-sixties flash mod flower phase child. He then moved on to poetry and art rock, going through a semi-acoustic and an odd hit record called "Space Oddity", which reflected both his interests in rebelliousness and intergalactic matters. Next came some very electric, at times almost heavy-metal psychotic commentary by way of a powerful album called THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD.
ZIGGY STARDUST, the out growth of Bowies new openness is a self-contained rock and roll album about rock and roll. Bowies band, guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Mick Woodmansey, team with the singer-guitarist to both perform and play the roles depicted in the albums songs: to a limited extent, they are Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. And most certainly they are an excellent rock band. The songs, beginning with the doom-portending "Five Years", creates a tale in which a number of Bowies beliefs and fantasies are placed in full view. The thread of the plot goes from the announcement of impending doom through the uncontrollability of love ("Soul Love") to a major turning point, "Moonage Daydream", where Ziggy, whoever he is before he actually becomes Ziggy, is zapped by a combination of religion (first invoked at the end of "Soul Love" ), romance, rock and roll and bisexuality. Symbolically it is probably the albums most important number.
From this point, the new rock and roll idol, obstensively an invader from space (though it is really space in someones imagination), begins making himself public. "Starman" presents his arrival on earth both as a physical phenomenon and as a religious occurrence. A stylised rendition of Ron Davies funky "It Aint Easy" takes Ziggy on a sexual tangent to finish Side One. Side Two is more directly devoted to the rise and fall of Ziggy and the Spiders. "Lady Stardust" says, in no uncertain terms, that this rock star appeals sexually to everyone in the audience, just as it is actually the case with most superstars (Bowie, though, has a way of not mincing his words). "Star" offers the singers motivation for seeking fame, and "Hang Onto Yourself" describes the position of the band as they begin to discover the nature of their appeal and precisely what they must do to make it big. "Ziggy Stardust" compresses, in rock ballad form, the basic story of the bands fling with stardom. The final pair of numbers, the ballsy "Suffragette City" and "Rock and Roll Suicide" are a bit anti-climatic in content. "Suffragette City" is pure lust and out of sequence (it would seem more comfortable if heard before the idea of Ziggys downfall is introduced), though it is the albums classic rocker in the Rolling Stones sense. "Suicide" is a symbolic reference for the idea of what the forgotten idol does after the fall.
David Bowie, on the strength of his five albums, is certainly on of the more distinctive personalities in rock, and that alone is enough to make his very listenable records a bit extra-ordinary. Even if some of his ideas don't quite work out, his talent for strong conception and sound execution is undeniable. Should he become a star of Ziggy Stardust magnitude, he will deserve it, and hopefully his daydreams wont be forced to turn to suicide when its all over.
R. Stigwood - Phonograph Record Magazine (July 1972)
Goddamit, if I hear one more sucker, anywhere, come off with a line 'bout any record being "The Best Album of 1972"; I pity the fool. Cuz, whoever has the balls, the gumption to label any among the myriad of releases this world's been deluged with these past three years as "The Best of" should be thumbstrung and have his flesh scrapped off, ever so slowly, with Black and Decker abrasive paper. Indeed eyes will be popped, foreheads will be cropped and appendages will be stretched beyond the point where they normally stop while the body of the offender lies prone amid 23 gallons of Miller's Lye if any dare breathes, even unintentionally, that one specific recording is "The Best Of.."
As for this here David Bowie LP. "THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS": ITS THE BEST ALBUM OF 1972. (With that I await my punishment ambitiously, "long as I know I face it in God's company (we're not alone, are we David?).
R.R. (June 1972)
David's new album is liberally sprinkled with stardust throughout - "Starman", the amazing single which surprisingly hasn't yet shown in the charts, although its one of the best songs he has brought out in a commercial sense, "Star", "Lady Stardust" - including Ziggy himself. Ziggy is a vague character that somehow forms a link through the album, as a Rock N Roll star who had to abdicate because of the pressures put on him. He sounds remarkably like a friend of David's.
However, this is a secondary line, because the music stands up on its own as some of the best rock music to arrive on our minds for years. Bowie gets much of his influence from the Underground's Lou Reed, and benefits by it. "Suffragette City" is one of the best songs he does onstage, and unlike so many other bands/artists, he reproduces the same excitement and incredible flamboyance on record. David looks like a superstar, onstage he projects himself like a superstar, and by his music deserves to be a superstar. "Moonage Daydream" is a song David wrote for his protégé band Arnold Corns some time ago and has changed the arrangement slightly to suit his own style. Like much of his material, it is space music and is probably near the right time now, rather than his "Space Oddity" of a few years ago. His last two albums were good, this is excellent.
VM - Record Mirror (24 June 1972)
There's no denying that David Bowie is totally individual. A Bowie-album is like no other, and all his offerings so far have been entertaining. Though I find the opening track the weakest as far as the vocal is concerned, the subject is handled cleverly, giving a new dimension to the revelation that the World has only five years more to go. "Soul Love" is a total piece of brilliance with far away vocal phrases, an insistent drum rhythm and smooth Bowie sax - it would make a strong single, though the chosen track "Starman" should have been gobbled up by the public. "It Ain't Easy" - the lyrics are missing from the inner sleeve for some reason - is a big vocal builder, with a nice guitar and piano ending.
Mick Ronson's piano work also dominates the opener to Side Two, "Lady Stardust", with Bowie providing some excellent vocals, with a harmony line that reminds me in some obscure way of Beatle harmonies. There's some up tempo rock styled material here, like in the whirling "Hang Onto Yourself" and the lovely line "but then we move around like tigers on vaseline" which for me sums up totally the mastery that Bowie has with words. There's also mellower moments, and the overall production is excellent. People listen.
James Johnson - New Musical Express (3 June 1972)
With most of his material either dealing with the flashier style of city living or looking far into the future, Bowie must rate as our most futuristic songwriter. Sometimes what he sees is just a little scary, and perhaps there's a bit more pessimism here than on previous releases, but they're still fine songs. Like the first track, "Five Years," about the imminent death of a decaying world, is a real downer to start with, but Bowie brings a new approach to the rather overworked theme.
Certainly all the tracks, written by Bowie with the exception of Ron Davie's "It Ain't Easy," are never less than entertaining. "Soul Love" features some withdrawn sax from Mick Ronson [Ed: the sax was actually played by Bowie]. "Ziggy Stardust" deals with the destruction of a rock star, while "Hang Onto Yourself" is a real little sexual gem. Also included is Bowie's current single "Starman." Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums) handle the backing all through. Of course there's nothing Bowie would like more than to be a glittery super-star, and it could still come to pass. By now everybody ought to know he's tremendous and this latest chunk of fantasy can only enhance his reputation further.
Circus Magazine (July 1972)
Someday in the far future when armed guides are leading interplanetary tourists through the ruins of Western society, perhaps they'll also be touting chrome statuettes of David Bowie - the young man from England who, if it may not be said that he saw it coming, at least was heard to cry "Look out!"
David's latest exclamation comes in the form of this portrait-in-song of the ultimate rock and roll star. Ziggy is an otherworldly figure who can really sing and "lick em by smiling". With the lyrical expertise he has demonstrated in Hunky Dory and earlier albums, Bowie dispassionately chronicles Ziggy's upward course, his reign at the top, and his inevitable decline. From start to finish this is an LP of dazzling intensity and mad design. Bowie is achieving with words the sort of effect which groups like Pink Floyd are attempting with instruments and volume. At times one is almost mesmerizes by the tumble of images and the sheer force of Bowie's performance. A stunning work of genius. Not your everyday sort of album, but an album for every day - at least until the End.
Nick Kent - Oz Magazine (July 1972)
David Bowie, easily the most brilliant young songwriter in this country, seems to have been going through quite a few rapid changes over the last year or so. It all started with the release of his miserably under-rated "Man Who Sold The World", which portrayed him as some bi-sexual Greta Garbo figure with rather tortured Nietzsche overtones! The neurotic elements of that album manifested themselves in part of the schizophrenic "Hunky Dory", but now things have developed even further.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust ... personifies Bowie's new image as the intended messiah of Teenage Wasteland. Live, he is an almost grotesque parody of early Elvis Presley complete with outrageously tasteless costume, butch hairstyle and calculated effeminate gestures. On the new album, Bowie attempts to live and fully verbalise his fantasies. Ziggy Stardust is his wish fulfillment - "came on so loaded man ... well hung and snow white tan" - the last great superstar before the Apocalypse (fully described in the first track "Five Years"), who is eventually torn to pieces by his fans in a scene straight out of Nik Cohn's "I am still the greatest, says Johnny Angelo". The only problem is that it all doesn't quite come off and this all becomes very clear once one has witnessed his awkward posturings on stage. Bowie is over-reaching himself, trying to cover too much ground. The character he ultimately portrays has more in common with the amazing Iggy Stooge than anything Bowie could extend himself to. All of which is sad because taken on its own terms, the Ziggy Stardust album is quite superb. Bowie is now working in new areas, having been studying the art of punk rock poetry from Lou Reed, while effectively developing his own talents in the realm of his lyrical fascination for science fiction. His unique sexual imagery (previously best illustrated in The Man Who Sold The World's chilling "She Shook Me Cold") has lost its neurotic edge, giving way to lines like "This mellow-thighed chick just put my spine out of place or, even better, we move around like tigers on vaseline". The best track of all is the single Starman which is perfect pulp sci-fi rock complete with killer chorus.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is the vital link around which Bowie's new image is to be projected, and I have a feeling it will, if only temporarily, succeed. It's all a little unfortunate, though, that someone as capable as David Bowie should attempt to hype himself as something he isn't.
Duncan Fallowell - Records & Recording (July 1972)
There are rock albums and there are rock albums. This is one of the latter, a suite of songs rather than a straightforward collection, something considerably more than its parts whose themes interpenetrate to plot the world of Ziggy Stardust, tragi-comic rock n roll star, which is David Bowie's current identity. There is an inevitability about the appearance of Ziggy, especially within the corpus of Bowie's own work. A series of contemporary trends intersect to form an outrageously camped-up descendant of the mod: pretty, bitchy, vulnerable, excitable, shrewd. sometimes gentle, high adrenaline, freak in star-studded boots and dyed hair. Ziggy's combination of narcissism and defiance gives birth to the knave-queen, finding his kicks in a glossy urban landscape full of dramas. Bowie is no fool, he is not blind to the horrors of the twilight zone, and its pain is an essential raw material for his songs. But he also knows that from this deadliness also derives the exhilaration. The scintillance and squalor of it provide the two poles between which, on this album, his music moves. It fuses the harshness of The Man Who Sold The World with the overt commercial panache of Hunky Dory to create an album which must do extremely well for Bowie. All the signs are that he is going to be very big indeed, and not before time.
The schema of Ziggy Stardust is indefinite but not vague. The idea of a doomed beauty and hero-martyr predicates the album in the first cut, Five Years, a typical Bowie song with big romantic melody and chorus which at the outset admits the transience of the whole trip. Only five years. But of what? The world, the pop star, youth, fun? It doesn't matter. It would be all of these. The mood is right and sharpens the poignancy of what follows. This happens to be a beautiful teen pop song called Soul Love, all bitter sweet, and high-pitched Bowie overdubs la-la-ling in the background. There is not much point in going through all the songs in sequence because they are moods, not items of narrative, and their arrangement is flexible. All have somewhere in them that elusive Bowie angst. None is underweight. Apart from large-scale production numbers like Lady Stardust, Starman, Ziggy Stardust, there is some truly frantic rock music on the album. Hang Onto Yourself has a fast riff swinging up and down, and manages to be both very original and terribly like the Velvet Underground at their best. Bowie intones the words in his exaggerated Lou Reed manner before breaking into a feline chorus which is all his own. Actually he intends to work with Reed soon which should produce some interesting permutations, even though Bowie has now overtaken Reed in almost every way. Suffragette City is faster still, a simple chromatic chord change providing the hook. Some of the songs incorporate both aspects of Bowie, such as Moonage Daydream, which also has Mick Ronson stretching all his muscles on an aching aerial guitar solo. The end of the album, appropriately enough is Rock N Roll Suicide, beginning in a subdued way and building to a shuddering climax which almost oversteps the mark. Only Bowie's aura of being larger than life, which I should call "theatrical realism" if I didn't feel that somewhere there must be a better way of describing it, can carry it off.
The Spiders - Ronson (guitar and piano), Bolder (bass), Woodmansey (drums) - also help to keep the hard centre of the music from disintegrating under pressure from Bowie's imagination. Ronson's guitar is as dramatic and flashy as Bowie's metallic, twisting voice. He is also responsible for some of the arrangements, creating expansive effects without overloading the sound. The production too (Bowie and Ken Scott) generously takes advantage of the studio. There are a mass of tiny original details, little tit-bits for the ears, worked into the broad texture. This album celebrates a new social style as well - the volatile Clockwork Orange fag of inclusive tastes - and judging by the enthusiasm of young Cowley apprentices when I saw him perform in Oxford we should soon see many sub-Bowies on the streets, his "vaseline tigers". Curious that the album should come out at the same time as Burrough's novel, The Wild Boys. The general flavour of both is distinctly similar. A new cult is afoot.
Michael Watts - Melody Maker (1 July 1972)
The cover of Bowie's new album has a picture of him in a telephone booth looking every inch the stylish poseur. Style and content have now become inextricably tangled in Bowie's case. Campness has become built-in to his public persona. I mean that, however, in a far from derogatory sense. The main preoccupation of David's work is not directly gay sexuality, though that element is there, as with a flourishing theatricality and dramatic sense. On Ziggy Stardust this is apparent even with a song like "Five Years". Ostensibly about the death of the world; Bowie turns it into a "performance" by virtue of his gift for artful mannerism and by creating a convincing mise-en-scene (a cop kneels at the feet of a priest and a soldier is run over by a car after it is announced on the news that the earth has five years left). It would also go some way towards explaining why this album has such a conceptual sounding title. There is no well-defined story line, as there is in "Tommy" say, but there are odd songs and references to the business of being a pop star that overall add up to a strong sense of biographical drama. On one track "Star" he sings about playing "the wild mutation of a rock n roll star. I'd send my photograph to my honey and I'd come on like a regular superstar"). Then "Ziggy Stardust," the title track, is about a guitar superhero who "took it all too far." (Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind.").
The final track is simply called "Rock n Roll Suicide" - it speaks for itself. In the space of three songs he thus suggests the ascent and decline of a big rock figure, but leaves the listener to fill in his own details, and in the process he's also referring obliquely to his own role as a rock star and sending it up. There are many layers to the Bowie the artist, but he has this uncanny knack of turning a whole album or stage performance into a torch song. Ziggy Stardust is a little less instantly appealing than Hunky Dory, basically because that album was written with the intention of being commercial. This one rocks more, though, and the paradox is that it will be much more commercially successful than the last, because Bowie's bid for stardom is accelerating at lightning speed.
Richard Cromelin - Rolling Stone (20 July 1972)
Upon the release of David Bowie's most thematically ambitious, musically coherent album to date, the record in which he unites the major strengths of his previous work and comfortably reconciles himself to some apparently inevitable problems, we should all say a brief prayer that his fortunes are not made to rise and fall with the fate of the "drag-rock" syndrome - that thing that's manifesting itself in the self-conscious quest for decadence which is all the rage at the moment in trendy Hollywood, in the more contrived area of Alice Cooper's presentation, and, way down in the pits, in such grotesqueries as Queen, Nick St. Nicholas' trio of feathered, sequined Barbie dolls. And which is bound to get worse. For although Lady Stardust himself has probably had more to do with androgyny's current fashionableness in rock than any other individual, he has never made his sexuality anything more than a completely natural and integral part of his public self, refusing to lower it to the level of gimmick but never excluding it from his image and craft. To do either would involve an artistically fatal degree of compromise.
Which is not to say that he hasn't had a great time with it. Flamboyance and outrageousness are inseparable from that campy image of his, both in the Bacall and Garbo stages and in his new butch, street-crawler appearance that has him looking like something out of the darker pages of City of Night. It's all tied up with the one aspect of David Bowie that sets him apart from both the exploiters of transvestitism and writers/performers of comparable talent -- his theatricality. The news here is that he's managed to get that sensibility down on vinyl, not with an attempt at pseudo-visualism (which, as Mr. Cooper has shown, just doesn't cut it), but through employment of broadly mannered styles and deliveries, a boggling variety of vocal nuances that provide the program with the necessary depth, a verbal acumen that is now more economic and no longer clouded by storms of psychotic, frenzied music, and, finally, a thorough command of the elements of rock & roll. It emerges as a series of concise vignettes designed strictly for the ear.
Side Two is the soul of the album, a kind of psychological equivalent of Lola vs. Powerman that delves deep into a matter close to David's heart: What's it all about to be a rock & roll star? It begins with a slow, fluid "Lady Stardust", a song in which currents of frustration and triumph merge in an overriding desolation. For though "He was alright, the band was altogether" (sic), still "People stared at the makeup on his face/Laughed at his long black hair, his animal grace". The pervading bittersweet melancholy that wells out of the contradictions and that Bowie beautifully captures with one of the album's more direct vocals conjures the picture of a painted harlequin under the spotlight of a deserted theatre in the darkest hour of the night. "Star" springs along handsomely as he confidently tells us that "I could make it all worthwhile as a rock & roll star". Here Bowie outlines the dazzling side of the coin: "So inviting - so enticing to play the part." His singing is a delight, full of mocking intonations and backed way down in the mix with excessive, marvelously designed "Ooooohh la la la"'s and such that are both a joy to listen to and part of the parodic undercurrent that runs through the entire album.
"Hang on to Yourself" is both a kind of warning and an irresistible erotic rocker (especially the hand-clapping chorus), and apparently Bowie has decided that since he just can't avoid cramming too many syllables into is lines, he'll simply master the rapid-fire, tongue-twisting phrasing that his failing requires. "Ziggy Stardust" has a faint ring of The Man Who Sold the World to it -- stately, measured, fuzzily electric. A tale of intra-group jealousies, it features some of Bowie's more adventuresome imagery, some of which is really the nazz: "So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?" David Bowie's supreme moment as a rock & roller is "Suffragette City", a relentless, spirited Velvet Underground - styled rushing of chomping guitars. When that second layer of guitar roars in on the second verse you're bound to be a goner, and that priceless little break at the end - a sudden cut to silence from a mighty crescendo, Bowie's voice oozing out as a brittle, charged "Oooohh Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am!" followed hard by two raspy guitar bursts that suck you back in to the surging meat of the chorus - will surely make your tum do somersaults. And as for our Star, well, now "There's only room for one and here she comes, here she comes."
But the price of playing the part must be paid, and we're precipitously tumbled into the quietly terrifying despair of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide". The broken singer drones: "Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth/Then you pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette." But there is a way out of the bleakness, and it's realised with Bowie's Lennon-like scream: "You're not alone, gimme your hands/You're wonderful, gimme your hands". It rolls on to a tumultuous, impassioned climax, and though the mood isn't exactly sunny, a desperate, possessed optimism asserts itself as genuine, and a new point from which to climb is firmly established. Side One is certainly less challenging, but no less enjoyable from a musical standpoint. Bowie's favourite themes - Mortality ("Five Years", "Soul Love"), the necessity of reconciling oneself to Pain (those two and "It Ain't Easy"), the New Order vs. the Old in sci-fi garments ("Starman") are presented with a consistency, a confidence, and a strength in both style and technique that were never fully realised in the lashing The Man Who Sold the World or the uneven and too often stringy Hunky Dory. Bowie imitates "Moonage Daydream" on Side One with a riveting bellow of "I'm an alligator" that's delightful in itself but which also has a lot to do with what Rise and Fall... is all about. Because in it there's the perfect touch of self-mockery, a lusty but forlorn bravado that is the first hint of the central duality and of the rather spine-tingling questions that rise from it: Just how big and tough is your rock & roll star? How much of him is bluff and how much inside is very frightened and helpless? And is this what comes of our happily dubbing someone as "bigger than life"?
David Bowie has pulled off his complex task with consummate style, with some great rock & roll (the Spiders are Mick Ronson on guitar and piano, Mick Woodmansey on drums and Trevor Bolder on bass; they're good), with all the wit and passion required to give it sufficient dimension and with a deep sense of humanity that regularly emerges from behind the Star facade. The important thing is that despite the formidable nature of the undertaking, he hasn't sacrificed a bit of entertainment value for the sake of message. I'd give it at least a 99.
Beat Instrumental Magazine (September 1972)
Bowie's albums seem to possess that strange quality which allow them to "grow" on the listener over a period of time. Coupled with a visit to a live concert of his, the effect can be devastating! Now that Bowie has settled in with his band, the albums are becoming less studio-oriented and establish him as a rock n roll singer pure and straight. Side Two is a chronicle of his life as a "star" ending with contemplation on "Rock n Roll Suicide". The strongest numbers on the album are "Starman", "Hang Onto Yourself" and his favourite encore raver "Suffragette City". Definitely an album for every serious rock fan. A taste of things to come.
Chuck Swanson - New Orleans Figaro (2 December 1972)
David Bowie is not from earth. He is from outer space, and with his Spiders From Mars, he is invading us, flooding the planet with irresistible, cosmic rock n roll. Unlike any other rock music I've heard, Bowie's is the FUTURE abruptly thrust at us, here in the present. It's "A Clockwork Orange" (as suggested by selections from the movie's soundtrack eerily wailing to stroboscopic lights, to open and to close this show) come to rock, but its more. At least "Clockwork" takes place on earth!
Bowie has put out four good albums so far, all really part of one continuous revelation. Incredible as his stage presence might be, his music transcends even a live performance. With such songs as "The Man Who Sold The World," he goes beyond the medium of the visible rock guitarist on stage. He's a lonely man strumming his guitar on some desolate asteroid in the far reaches of space. He's also out of "Star Trek." You either have to listen intensively to Bowie's music, or not at all, for it demands (and deserves) full attention. His songs are incredibly slick, tight, smoothed over, perfect, literally sweeping you away to some new, undefined terrain. He knows where he's going, what he's doing, - and you feel unsettled, yet comfortable with him in full command of your space module as you journey inward to "new" rock n roll. And now we come to "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars." Fully accepting his role of rock star, Bowie becomes Ziggy Stardust.
Making love with his ego,
Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band
"Bi" being best, he is of course "Lady Stardust" as well
People stared at the makeup on his face
...And Lady Stardust sang his songs
Of darkness and dismay
Oh how I sighed when they asked if I knew his name
"Five Years", a piercing surreal song about the anguish on earth as mankind learns it has five years left to live, and "Rock n Roll Suicide" both mirror Bowie's current belief that a famous rock star will soon be killed on stage. (Needless to say a train did not derail and come thundering through the Warehouse, as I had predicted). The album flows from song to song, all whole and in proper sequence. Undoubtedly the best cut of all his albums is the driving "Suffragette City":
Don't lean on me man,
cause you can't afford the ticket
I'm back on Suffragette City
It winds up with a do-or-die "Ohhhhhh, Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am!" Pow! "Hang Onto Yourself" and "Star" provide some more shake-ass music, and balance out this most perfect of records. David is many things: the future, "A Clockwork Orange," bisexual, gay, alien, an actor, Peter Pan, The Man Who Sold The World, a prophet of doom, and a Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, but most of all he's an incredible musician. His songs change mood and tempo to the point that most of them are really two or three songs blended to make one, and his lyrics are, simply a world unto themselves. Its easy to say that an artist is ahead of his time, but Bowie just may be. Figures on his record sales will eventually tell (his albums express his total range and depth more than his performances). To start your Bowie collection, its a toss-up between "The Man Who Sold The World" and "Ziggy Stardust," but whatever you get, don't stop there.
---This page last modified: 28 Jun 2002---