The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie (CD, Jun-1990, Au20/Rykodisc) Reviews
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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie (CD, Jun-1990, Au20/Rykodisc)

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Femme fatales, emerge from shadows to hear this album fair

Nov 10, 2007 (Updated Nov 10, 2007)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:One of Bowie's best, if not the. Glam rock triumph that's so much more.

Cons:Why find faults when there are no faults to be found?

The Bottom Line: One of the many albums that came out in the early 70's that showed jut how forward-looking and done with the 60's artists were.

If David Bowie can be said to have released an album of any real importance, one would be a fool not to nominate Ziggy Stardust . It pops up on a lot of those “greatest rock albums of all time” lists and with good reason- it showed Bowie as an artist not only with musical talent and songwriting skills, but with an interesting vision as well. With his story of a rock star alien messiah who’s brought down by his crazy fans and own hedonism, he seems to have tapped into one of those archetypes that people can identify with. After all, how many rock n’ roll prophets tumbled in the few years preceding this album’s release (think Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Brian Jones, et al)?

While later albums like Diamond Dogs, Station To Station, and Low get more spin time in this here house, Ziggy is where it all came together for David. Backed up by a highly competent band that featured the late guitar hero Mick Ronson, Bowie put Ziggy out at a time when he was finally in step with the rest of the world. He’s all too often out of sync with popular tastes (or, as in the case of Outside, trying way too hard to be a part of what’s going on), but the rock world was ready to receive him back in 1972. He pulled together proto-punk, glam, piano balladry, and even surf rock at just the right time and the results were totally outstanding.

I won’t spend a lot of time on the narrative, since it’s kind of a loose concept album at best (which is usually the way I like ‘em- if I want stories, I’ll read a book). All you need to know is that Ziggy Stardust and his band, The Spiders From Mars, show up right as the planet only has five years left (as is told in the majestic and piano-driven opening number Five Years, where a cop kissing the feet of a priest humorously causes a gay guy to throw up, as it probably would me). With his sexy androgynous look (long black hair and make-up, mostly) and his “songs of darkness and dismay”, Ziggy captures the heart of the public, but falls prey to his own indulgences and an audience that straddles the line between adoring and belligerent. I’m sure most celebrities can probably relate.

There’s a lot of diversity on Ziggy Stardust, musically speaking. The piano ballad Lady Stardust sits next to an Elton Johnesque rocker like Star, while the pumping Suffragette City whams, bams, and thanks you ma’am right before things wind up with the acoustically sappy Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide. The quick Hang On To Yourself, the acoustic groover Starman (who’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds), the hip and almost sexy Moonage Daydream, the towering title tune- there are few songs that sound so different from one another yet maintain such a powerful cohesion. THIS is what album continuity is all about.

And then there’s Bowie’s wordplay. The guy has always been hit or miss with his lyrics; he’ll throw out a brilliant line or two, then veer off into some impossibly dense and nonsensical crud that always gets me scratching my head. On here, there are catchy phrases around every corner, neat little slogans like love is careless in its choosing, the church of man, love, is such a holy place to be, and she’s a funky thigh collector. His descriptions of Ziggy are as colorful as any novelist’s (Well-hung? Snow white tan? God-given ass? He might just be describing your humble reviewer!), and the beauty of it all is that you can thoroughly enjoy the album without giving the slightest nod to the concept. You know how some books are just worded so beautifully, you almost lose sight of the storyline? That’s what this one does.

Some believe that Bowie never made another album that was even half as good as Ziggy Stardust. I’m obviously not part of such a critical camp, but anybody who denies its place in rock n’ roll history or its importance in Bowie’s success is a crazy fool. I once heard it said (but have never been able to verify) that the story was partially inspired by Syd Barrett’s mental disintegration. Bowie was a huge Syd groupie back when Floyd was slugging it out in the clubs, so it’s entirely possible that some such connection exists. However, while Syd was a product of the 1960’s, Ziggy Stardust was definitely a rock album of the 1970’s. You can hardly feel the influence of acid rock in any of the songs.

To his defense, Bowie was never dumb enough to try to write the album again. Its follow-up, the slightly uneven Aladdin Sane, is similar in a few respects, but mostly leaves its legendary predecessor be. Bowie’s band, including Ronson, weren’t in the picture for very long, but you can feel their absence on everything from Diamond Dogs on. Great stuff, but stylistically far away from the Ziggy era. Ronson sadly passed away from liver cancer in 1993, while only Allah knows what became of bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Mick Woodmansey. Probably playing in Uriah Heep or something.

So, the final ruling is that lacking Ziggy Stardust makes one’s rock n’ roll collection grossly incomplete. It’s certainly one of Bowie’s most approachable albums and sits at the intersection of several different styles. It swings from heavy to delicate to raucous to smooth, using everything from saxophones to piano to blasting guitars to tell its story. And that, my friends, is what a truly great album and artist can do. If you can find the edition that has Velvet Goldmine and a few other bonus tracks, get that one.

Diamond Dogs

Young Americans

Station To Station



Let's Dance

All Saints: Collected Instrumentals

Recommend this product? Yes

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Personnel: David Bowie (vocals, guitar, saxophone, piano); Mick Ronson (vocals, guitar, piano); Trevor Bolder (bass); Mick Woodmansey (drums).Principa...
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