Friday, June 16, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Pink Floyd's The Wall might be my favorite album, but David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust is right up there, nipping at its heels.

When Bowie died, I described my feelings about him in another post, so I'll try not to rehash too much. He was a one-of-a-kind character who really defies categorization. He drew influences from a variety of genres, including rock, pop, soul, funk, and folk, and he blended it all together into a sound uniquely his own. No album captures Bowie's essence better than Ziggy Stardust.

Ziggy Stardust - or its full title, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - is a concept album that tells the story of a messianic alien who arrives on an Earth facing the apocalypse because of a depletion of resources, and this strange, sexual being spreads a message of hope and salvation through rock n roll.

"There's a starman waiting in the sky.
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds.
There's a starman waiting in the sky.
He told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it's all worthwhile.
He told me."

I think that's what it's about.. It's a strange album, fantastical, other-worldly, kind of campy, full of glitz and glamour. Much like Bowie himself! It's also a deeply moving and uplifting work, filled with moments of genuine beauty, sorrow, and wonder.

Musically, Bowie combines many different genres: rock, hard rock, pop, psychedelia, and even a bit of soul and funk, and instead of clashing, these styles fit together into a coherent, theatrical whole. There are some catchy, acoustic guitar riffs by Bowie that many of the songs are built around while the electric guitar work of guitarist Mick Ronson give them a metallic sheen. Other songs feature piano, keyboard, trumpet and saxophone work, a cabaret of rock, you might say.

But the main strength of the album is Bowie, specifically his voice and persona. It's just... wow. "Five Years," the opener, contains genuine sorrow at the state of the world, and the closer, "Rock n Roll" Suicide," builds and builds in emotion. It feels like we've been on a journey, and something monumental has been released. As out-there and surreal the story is, Bowie hits on a very human feeling.

"Oh no, love, you're not alone.
You're watching yourself, but you're too unfair.
You got your head all tangled up, but if I could only make you care.
Oh no, love, you're not alone.
No matter what or who you've been.
No matter when or where you've seen."

Standout Songs
"Five Years" - A moody, carefully built opener.
"Starman" - To hear this song is to feel hope.
"Ziggy Stardust" - A strange but rocking and catchy tune.
"Rock N Roll Suicide" - The perfect closer for the album.

Favorite Moment
As "Rock n Roll Suicide" builds to its climax, it reaches a crescendo that can only be described as beautiful. It touches my spirit.

Album Cover
Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust, stands with his guitar on a London street outside a club. A strange being in a real world that could use some help.

Track Order
1) Five Years
2) Soul Love
3) Moonage Daydream
4) Starman
5) It Ain't Easy
6) Lady Stardust
7) Star
8) Hang On To Yourself
9) Ziggy Stardust
10) Suffragette City
11) Rock n Roll Suicide

David Bowie - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Saxophone, Piano
Mick Ronson - Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboard, Piano
Trevor Bolder - Bass, Trumpet
Mick Woodmansey - Drums

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