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David Bowie - Hunky Dory CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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4.17 | 456 ratings

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4 stars Wow, where did this come from? Unless I'm missing an obvious candidate, this would have to have been the biggest Breakthrough Album For Somebody Who Kept Showing Promise But Couldn't Quite Put It All Together since Face to Face, right? On this album, David left rambling heavy rock behind him and instead opted for an album of well- crafted, quirky pop songs, and the effort was so successful that it's not clear why he didn't do this sooner or make any more albums similar to this. It gets weaker in the second half, but not tremendously so, and it's one his most solid collections of songs ever.

The first half, of course, contains two of his biggest hit singles ever, and they're both top- notch as far as Bowie goes. "Changes" is a little rambling in the verses, but the instrumental breaks and the chorus are as interesting as can be, almost reminding me of prime Elton John but retaining a brand of intrigue that's definitely unique to Bowie. "Life On Mars?" somehow didn't grab me much the first couple of times, as it struck me as just an unremarkable over-orchestrated ballad; now, I'd have to rate it as one of the greatest over- orchestrated ballads I've ever heard. The lyrics, about wanting to lose yourself in a fantasy world because the real world is dull and uninteresting, are phenomenal, and Bowie belts them with passion over a combination of a good orchestral arrangement and great Rick Wakeman piano lines. Who'd have thought such an interesting combination of bizarre social commentary and catchiness could have come from a "My Way" parody?

The first half, aside from the semi-fillerish, kinda lazyish country of "Eight Line Poem," also contains three songs that are among my favorite Bowie pop songs. "Oh! You Pretty Things" is upbeat piano pop of the highest caliber, both in the verses (which strangely, though not enough for me to claim any sort of ripoff, remind me of Procol Harum; I keep getting "The Milk of Human Kindness" going in my head when I listen to this) and the ridiculous chorus, which basically turns the track into a sexually ambiguous Paul McCartney song. "Kooks" might be intended as a relatively slight track, intended for his son, but it strikes me as a nice ode to a warm friendship, and I've always enjoyed it. "Quicksand" doesn't have an especially strong melody, but it gets by on atmosphere and, shockingly, emotional power; the line, "And I ain't got the power anymore" has to be one of the most emotionally punchy moments in his whole catalogue.

As mentioned, the second half isn't quite as fantastic as the first, but it's still decent. "Fill Your Heart" is a silly cover with singing that might generously qualify as mediocre, and not one I especially look forward to hearing. Then comes a three-song "tribute" portion that strikes me as kinda bizarre; "Andy Warhol" starts with a seemingly random synth sequence played over conversation between Bowie and the producer about how to pronounce his name, but at least it turns into a mildly interesting up-tempo, downbeat acoustic number. It kinda strikes me as a stylistic leftover from Space Oddity; the good half, I mean. "Song for Bob Dylan" has some nice electric guitar licks, but aside from the namechecks, I'm not really sure what it has to do with Dylan; the lyrics certainly don't seem especially influenced by Dylan, aside from maybe a couple of lines in the chorus. Fortunately, "Queen Bitch" (a clear Velvet Underground/Lou Reed tribute) is top-notch, laying out all of the glam-rock elements that David would draw upon for the next couple of years, and it can compete with the best material from those albums.

The album ends on a somewhat deceptive note with "The Bewlay Brothers," but it's not a bad note. David returns to acoustic singer-songwriter mode, and the climactic moments, from when those painful (in a good way) guitar noises pop up, through the "... we were so turned on" lines, are enough to make the song worthwhile. The "main" melody isn't especially impressive, and I haven't the slightest idea what the lyrics are about (or if they're supposed to have meaning), but the song is a success no matter what.

So hats off to David Bowie! This wasn't quite his commerical breakthrough (it still took Ziggy to get him over the hump), but it's his artistic breakthrough, and history has rightly treated this well. I'd actually consider recommending getting this one first; it's not representative of his overall sound, but then again, no Bowie album is representative of his overall sound, so you might as well start with something that relies solely on musical merit, if you get me.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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