David Bowie Album Reviews
Born David Jones, and changing his name to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees, Bowie pottered around as a solo artist in London with unsuccessful material like ‘The Laughing Gnome’. He eventually gained some attention with his 1969 single ‘Space Oddity’ and with 1971’s Hunky Dory and 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, became a superstar, and he was among the top echelon of influential and successful musicians from the rock music era.
While his initial period of stardom posited him as an androgynous glam star, he eventually had the good sense to abandon the genre as it burnt out, and reinvented himself as a “Plastic Soul” singer on Young Americans, then as explored of German and electronic sounds in his artistically successful recordings in the second half of the 1970s. Significantly, while the punk musicians of the late 1970s generally sought to turn out the older generation of musicians, Bowie retained his respectability as a valued elder statesman, as he continued to explore new sounds as punk rock hit.
Bowie has his limitations as a musician, and his songwriting palette can be limited, but his nature as a restless explorer served him well. In the nicest possible way, he achieved a lot with a relatively modest musical gift – he had the good sense to surround himself with talented collaborators like Brian Eno and a succession of talented guitarists, including Mick Ronson, Robert Fripp, Carlos Alomar, and Adrian Belew. Bowie did perform the majority of guitar parts on 1974’s Diamond Dogs, showing his credentials as a musician.
As a lyricist and conceptualist he’s also strong; a lot of his lyrics explore the nature of artifice and reality. It’s not surprising that he also reached public consciousness as a movie star, such as his role as the Goblin King in Labyrinth.
I’ve only covered his work from 1970 to 1980 – it’s generally regarded as his strongest period. Much of his 1980’s work is viewed unfavourably critically, but his post-1990 work definitely has some admirers. I’ve only heard 2002’s Heathen, and it was a solid and respectable effort, but not enough to convince me that it was worth spending time with his later career. His final two albums, 2013’s The Next Day and 2016’s Blackstar (released two days before his death) were among his best received, and that’s where I’d probably go if I wanted to hear more Bowie. But he released some great records in the 1970s, and his best albums are an essential part of the fabric of rock music.
Ten Favourite David Bowie Songs
Life On Mars
Word on a Wing
Ashes to Ashes