Monday, May 11, 2009

May 11: David Bowie, "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars"

Artist: David Bowie
Album: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Year: 1972
Label: Virgin

When it comes to the greatest rockers in the history of the United Kingdom, there are very few names that are higher on the list than the one and only David Bowie. An icon in fashion as much as music, Bowie is easily one of the most influential musicians of all time. From his work with artists like Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop to his unforgettable role in the movie Labyrinth, David Bowie is truly an artist of the highest caliber. His albums have run the gamut from acoustic to outright rock and roll to some extremely avant experiments. As this is my last day in his home country (did you notice the last few blogs?), I felt it only fitting that I review his finest record, which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite albums. From the character he created to the brilliant music to the amazing lyrics, 1972’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars remains one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

A loose concept record, the album title itself is pretty much self-explanatory. The album follows the central character, an androgynous guitarist/singer named Ziggy Stardust as he achieves and loses rock and roll fame. It is very much the age old tale of the single artist becoming bigger than the band, alienating said band, and then attempting (and failing) at a solo career. Clearly, much of the lyrical content can be assumed to have been drawn from Bowie’s own rise to success. Furthering that idea, Bowie infamously took on the persona of Stardust (in costume and personality) throughout the entire supporting tour, and the psychological toll it took on him as been well documented. As good as all of Ziggy Stardust is, the truth is, it is the second side of Ziggy Stardust where the true brilliance of the album lays. The closing trio of songs on the album rival any other song combination in history.

Musically, Ziggy Stardust presents nearly everything Bowie had accomplished to that point. From the horn-laden, acoustic based “Soul Love” to the classic, rocking sound of “Suffragette City,” few albums show such well executed musical diversity. The guitar work of Bowie, and moreso that of guitar legend, Mick Ronson, is absolutely stellar, most notably during the solo on “Moonage Daydream.” Bowie’s backing band is amazingly tight, not a note is dropped, and Bowie’s perfect use of everything from keyboards to saxophones completes the brilliant sound throughout Ziggy Stardust. The fast-paced, manic mood of the classic rock staple, “Suffragette City” plays an amazing contrast to the morose, acoustic to electric beauty of “Rock And Roll Suicide.” Truly, Ziggy Stardust is a musical tour de force, and it presents everything that makes David Bowie the music legend that he remains to this day.

David Bowie lays claim to one of the most awe-inspiring and unmistakable voices that the world has ever known. The tone in which bowie delivers the lyrics is as varied as it has been his entire career. From elegant crooning, to high-toned whispering, to belting out with his legendary pipes, the versatility in his voice enables the album to reach another level of greatness. The lyrics on the album, from the perspectives of “Ziggy’s” fans, his girlfriend, the mass media, his band mates, and even Ziggy himself give the album decent rage, as well as obvious cohesion. The title song is easily one of the most brilliant lyrics ever penned. A clear, enthralling tale of the final days of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Bowie perfectly captures the moment when the band is so fed up with Stardusts’ antics, they don’t even show up for a gig.

The name David Bowie demands respect across the globe. His seemingly endless artistic talent and intoxicating personality make him a true legend. Though he has achieved success in other artistic ventures, music has always been his first love, and the area in which he excels the most. Having released more than thirty since the late 1960’s, his catalog is as distinguished and varied as any artist in history. Whether he was covering Motown classics or partnering with Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Bowie has constantly redefined himself over the decades and this has enabled him to stay relevant regardless of the changes in pop music. Though Bowie has recorded many albums that one should own, his 1972 release, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, is his true masterpiece, and it is a true joy to experience time and time again.

Standout tracks: “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” and “Rock And Roll Suicide.”

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