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David Bowie - The Man Who Sold The World CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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4.00 | 342 ratings

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3 stars This is often regarded as the first "real" David Bowie album, and maybe there's some truth to that, but I don't think it's that great. My understanding is that, for various reasons, Bowie had a relatively small amount to do with the music on this album that bears his name; the songs are all based on elements he came up with, sure, but new guitarist Mick Ronson and producer Tony Visconti ended up fleshing out the majority of the ideas he threw out. Bowie's impact primarily comes in the lyrics, the vocals, the atmosphere, and the "shocking" album cover with him in a dress. If those aspects are important to you, chances are you'll like this album more than I do; if they aren't, you probably won't.

So anyway, this being largely the work of his new guitarist and his producer, this largely ends up as a messy hard rock album that often borders on heavy metal. Of course, Bowie's voice doesn't really work with this approach; he sounds far too weak and wimpy here to live up to the riffs and sounds that often dominate. Still, there's at least one classic here in the metal area of things, courtesy of the opening "The Width of a Circle." I kinda hated it at first because it was so loose in structure and without any especially strong riffs, but the guitar work is energetic and varied enough that it won me over, and the "heavenly" section with the "oh oh oh ..." vocals is rather nice. Unfortunately neither "Saviour Machine" (which has some weird annoying synth sound on top of the main guitar riff), "She Shook Me Cold" (interestingly ugly at first, but turns into a boring jam) or "The Supermen" ultimately satisfy me on the heavy rock side of things. They're dark and moody and twisted, I get it, but I just don't find them interesting enough for me to care, and that's a good chunk of the album down the drain right there.

Of the remaining five tracks, the infamous title track is easily my favorite. I know it was slightly overexposed in the early 90's thanks to Nirvana covering it, but so sue me, I like the riff, I like the "Oh no, not me ..." counter-melody, I kinda like the lyrical subject matter, and I just think it's clearly the best song by pretty much any measure. The other four aren't fantastic, but they're good enough: "All the Madmen" is a good mid-tempo heavy stomper (though the carnival sounds, as much as they may match the subject matter, annoy me a bit) about a world where the only sane people left are in asylums; "Black Country Rock" is another decent mid-tempo rocker that's at its best when the guitar parts harmonize; "After All" is a nice low-key acoustic number on an album that badly needs a nice low-key acoustic number; and "Running Gun Blues" is an okayish acoustic-to-electric song with "controversial" lyrics and a terrible vocal delivery. Namechecking, wooo.

The thing is, there are some elements that make me want to talk myself into liking the album more. I mean, the atmosphere and the lyrics do work together in a pretty intriguing way on the whole, and it definitely has some strong standout tracks. It would probably help if the album had more strong material in the second half (aside from the title track, the second half is kind of a wasteland) and it left a stronger impression on me at the end. As is, there are plenty of Bowie albums I'd rather listen to than this one.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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