Wednesday, April 03, 2013

A Godawful Small Affair: Nine "Station To Station"


COVER SHOT: The Man Who Fell To Earth, Apparently Into A Bowl Of Cocaine

(Haven't had to say this for a while, but this isn't the original cover for this album - again I've plumped for the version I have.)

"Station To Station" finds Bowie at a crossroads of sorts.  In increasingly dire straights psychologically, in need of some direction to his life if not his artistry, which continued to branch off in new and bizarre directions to widespread acclaim, he took a part as an alien being who came to Earth and had great success but fell victim to it, in the film adaptation of "Ziggy Stardust".

The film was actually called "The Man Who Fell To Earth", but I think you get the idea; who better to play the role than someone who spent several years doing it in public?  Meanwhile, having apparently not learned his lesson from last time, David had co-opted the persona of The Thin White Duke for his musical career, perhaps allowing himself some distance from the process of performance.  On this album, the Duke puts in the performance of a lifetime in just six tracks.

The title track opens the album and lasts for over ten minutes, but it flies by like a runaway train, if you'll forgive the obvious pun.  The Duke stalks grandly the first part of the song, picking through occult and religious imagery not heard since "Quicksand", before the whole thing shifts into high gear.  "It's too late!" sing the masses; the brakes are out and we're stuck on this ride for the duration.

The rest of the album falls largely into two camps.  "Golden Years" and "Stay" seem like a full stop on the "Young Americans" experiment, bringing in the funk and the noise but with studied detachment and an urgency of delivery often lacking in this less neurotic genre.  The former is the more widely known, but the latter gets a larger nod from me, largely for the excellent guitar work that wrenches throughout.

Then there's superior heartfelt balladry with "Wild Is The Wind" and "Word On A Wing", the latter being a breathtaking number that puts not a foot wrong but makes for difficult listening with its somewhat raw chorus, as either The Duke or Bowie himself prostrate themselves before God, frankly confessing his/their desperation to divine his/their place in his plans.  Given his problems at the time its hard to interpret this as anything but a cry for help.

Which just leaves "TVC15".  A perennial favourite of its author, even aired at Live Aid, it's...  Well.  Let's put it this way: the rest of the tracks on this six-track album are in a five-way tie for best song.  That's perhaps a little unfair as this odd little number, allegedly inspired by a dream where Iggy Pop's girlfriend was eaten by a television, could only be considered the worst of a bunch that is this consistently fantastic.  Perhaps my feelings on it have been forever ruined by Ruby Flipper's dance interpretation on Top Of The Pops, which featured a gentleman dressed as a jockey for no apparent reason.

This album is a total winner, then, and well worth a cocking of your ear in its general direction.  It's also a useful marker on our journey - compare this to "Ziggy Stardust" and they have little in common.  It had taken four albums, but the spectre of his otherworldly counterpart had been put to sleep, and the future awaited.  See you next time out - I'll be standing by the wall.

Join us next time for part one of Two Go Mad In Deutschland.

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