For almost two years, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.
On Friday, David Bowie‘s 69th birthday and the day this album was released, fellow-music-game-sharing-friend David Hays suggested we listen to this album this week. If you didn’t know, Bowie died after a year and a half battle with cancer on Sunday, Jan. 10. So we turned this week into a David Bowie marathon week and it’s appropriate that we’re listening to his swan song this week. He’s done some … interesting stuff in the last fifty years. I love some stuff and other stuff not so much, but I think the world of music is a better place for him having been in it.
I didn’t feel like I got over-Bowied, but it was a lot of one artist for one week. I consciously tried to listen to these like I would any other set of albums. All in all, it’s been a pretty interesting look at (mostly early) snapshots of where Bowie went with his career. If nothing else, it has given me a greater appreciation of what he’s done. All together, this week gets a 3.302/5 from me. And, because most of us hadn’t actually listened to a whole Bowie album before this week, I’m sharing all of the reviews given out.
I didn’t love the title track or Girl Loves Me. I had a hard time listening to the whole thing. Blackstar got better halfway through. And Girl Loves Me reminded me of a Björk song, and not in a good way. It was interesting and boring at the same time. The chosen voices were a little interesting, but I thought it was going to change the feel of the song about 2/3 of the way through. But it didn’t and I was disappointed.
The idea behind Lazarus was better than the execution. I wanted to like it more than I did, but it was just okay. I kinda liked the frenetic feel of Sue, except his voice didn’t quite seem to be in the same key as the guitar riff. I liked the music, but his vocals were just too distracting for me to like the whole song.
I didn’t hate this album, but I’ll probably be sticking to his older stuff. If I round up, I’d give it a 3/5.
“This is weird. If it didn’t come from Bowie I maybe wouldn’t take it as seriously. The strange vocal pitch shift in the first track is the thing that throws me off the most. The rest of the album is less weird, but still pretty arty. It sounds dark. I like the combined acoustic instruments with electronic.
I accidentally let this play through to his previous album from 2013 and blackstar seems to fit pretty squarely as the next step after that.” 3.9/5 – Spencer
“This is another four-star for me. I found it to be incredibly brilliant, and thought that before he died. I have to admit the opening track is not my favorite, and honestly is what keep this album from getting a 5-star ratting. It’s like nine minutes of rambling, but rambling in a way that isn’t dialed in…if that makes sense. Otherwise, I found the lyrics and matching music to be very deep and introspective. I think this is the perfect capstone to his career.” – Tim
“I am doing good to get this email out with the poor Internet connection in China. I did listen to Blackstar before I left and I had mixed feelings. It’s certainly not his best effort but fits well into his collection as a closing chapter. I inquired about Bowie here in China with several people, seems no one knows who he is. One person said- is he the guy married to the fashion model Iman. Fashion trumps music over here- very sad.” – David
Young Americans (1975)
I was surprised how jazz influenced this album is. It sounds like Bowie (because it is), but it doesn’t feel like the Bowie I’ve heard on the radio. It was a nice surprise, but maybe not something I’m always in the mood for. Win, for example, was kind of a snoozer for me. That being said Can You Hear Me? grew on me a lot. John, I’m Only Dancing was kind of the opposite. I really like how it started, but the bridge or chorus changed a little (in my opinion) for the worse. It mostly recovered by the end (which was rather drawn out, but at least it was a fun, funky outro).
But I shouldn’t be surprised this is the album Spencer chose to share. Fame is the kind of funky classic rock that I think of when I think of Spencer. That and prog rock. That and prog rock and ska. That and prog rock and ska and jazz. That and prog rock and ska and jazz and ….
I didn’t so much care for Right or his cover of Across the Universe. I prefer the original. In Right, it was mostly the keyboard voice. It gave me the general impression that it was the soundtrack to an “adult” film. Something about his vocal style and the copious amount of effects on the guitars in Across the Universe was just too much. I did like the A Day in the Life quote in the title track. Actually, that whole track was fantastic.
This review seems mostly negative, but I really did like this album quite a bit. Right in the middle of this week’s albums. 3/5
“I shouldn’t be surprised at how disco this album is but I didn’t expect it. There’s some great funky stuff in there, like Fascination. Win was a cool slow groove. Across the Universe was a very interesting rendition of Lennon’s song. I’m undecided on whether I like it. This album had some really great tracks, but overall didn’t really entertain as much.” 3.8/5 – Spencer
“This was a solid album. I thought the song choices are great and the placement was fantastic. I really enjoyed this album and would listen again. I was really surprised to learn that John Lennon himself helped arrange Across the Universe for Bowie, played the guitar track, and sang the backgrounds. Apparently they were friends and Lennon wanted to do something special for Bowie. I personally like that version as much as the Beatles original, but in a different way.” 3/5 – Tim
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
I started off pretty cool about both Five Years and Soul Love, but as the songs went on, I liked them more and more. I think Soul Love may be one of my favorite Bowie songs. There’s just something easy about the groove I really like. Starman and Ziggy Stardust are old favorites, and Soul Love is a new one. Star was also a new good one.
The solo on Moonage Daydream caught me by surprise, but I liked it. It seemed like it should have belonged to a bigger song. Not that it was bad where it was. Although I probably could have done without some of the swirly backing strings.
I liked Hang On to Yourself. It seemed like an interesting tribute (better than a mashup) to both The Beatles and The Ramones. Two years before The Ramones formed.
This was a short (for me) review, but I really thing this was my album of the week. 4/5
“This one doesn’t start with a track from his greatest hits album. That solo at the end of Moonage was pretty sweet though. It Ain’t Easy was cool too. Loved the sing along chorus. A lot of great tracks on this one.” 4.8/5 – Spencer
“I think this is not only the best album on the bunch this week, I think it is in my top 50 albums of all time. It is sheer brilliance. The story is engaging all the way from album start to finish. The opening is strong, the middle dips where it should, and the end is just as strong. It is the epitome of how you tell a story with music..a true three act play. This is the album that influenced generations, and will continue to influence generations of musicians. It is what an album should aspire to. Bowie’s genius shines brightest here, but even the worst of the albums we had this week as still better than 95% of the garbage that is considered popular music today.” 5/5 – Tim
Hunky Dory (1971)
This isn’t my first time hearing Changes, and I tried to look up to see if I had only heard a cover version before, but I think it was this version and I just didn’t realize it was Bowie until now.
I liked the bluesy feel of Eight Line Poem, although I think the vocals were the weakest part of the song. They were also a little disappointing to me on Fill Your Heart. It’s like he was trying to be nasally or whiny.
Having only heard live versions of Life on Mars?, I think I like the studio version a little more. More emotion comes through in the live versions, but I like the cleaner feel of this version.
I liked most of Andy Warhol (once the song got started). As soon as it was done, I wanted to listen to it again. Chris said he chose this album because he loves Queen Bitch, but that tune didn’t really do much for me. It wasn’t bad. It just didn’t stand out. The Belway Brothers was okay, but the ending was pretty odd.
For me, this album was par. 3/5
“I notice again, one of the singles is the opening track. Its an interesting approach. I wonder if thats because openers tend to be strong, or because people want to start with something familiar. Anyway, this is a great classic opener. The rest of the album was good but I didn’t love it.” 3.9/5 – Spencer
“This is another really good album. I could picture myself listening to this while cleaning the house or working in the yard. It has a great arrangement of music that just gets my mind moving and thinking. I really liked it.” 3/5 – Tim
David Bowie or Space Oddity or Man of Words/Man of Music (1969)
I picked this album because I love Space Oddity. It’s one of my favorite songs ever, but I hadn’t ever listened to this whole album. I had never listened to any full Bowie album prior to this week. So when picking a Bowie album to share, I went with the one my favorite of his songs came from. And it turned out to be my second favorite album this week. 3/5
Like some of the other tunes I’ve listened to this week, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed started out just okay, but grew on me as it went on. That doesn’t include the Don’t Sit Down jam at the end of the track, which I also thought was alright but obviously an incomplete idea. I liked the more low-key, acoustic feel and melody of Letter to Hermione, but the lyrics didn’t really do anything for me.
Cygnet Committee was at time bit too ethereal or too … almost lyrically political for me. And it was just long. Maybe if it were broken up into three or four component songs I would like some of them more, but as is it wasn’t really a highlight. On the flip side, I didn’t mind the dreamy-ness of Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud. Something about it was very post-1966-Beatles-ish.
Memory of a Free Festival was a bit long, but I think it did a good job of channeling the Woodstock vibe. I felt like Bowie sounded like … Neil Young, maybe?
“Opening/title track is simply a classic. Fantastic. Has a lot of diversity, cool mellotron usage, lovely harmonies, dynamic melodies.
The rest of the album fits in well. It doesn’t really make sense, but it has a lot of great musicality, and hints of stories (I can’t listen carefully enough to catch most of the lyrics). Janine was cool, got me grooving. It actually reminded me a lot of Elvis. Wild Eyed Boy when the claps were going, really just seemed right in the pocket. Unwashed got pretty long. The slow jam that closes the whole thing really nails it too.
This is an album I want to listen to more to dig in deeper. I like it in the first listen, but I can tell I missed a lot.” 4.5/5 – Spencer
“This album is an absolute classic, and is surprising that it came out so early in his career. It sounds to me like a music veteran who had been at this for years, not someone who had only released two albums. Of course the opening is incredibly strong, but the music just flows so well from song to song. This is near perfection for me.” 4/5 – Tim
Leave your own thoughts on any of these Bowie albums, our your own favorite, in the comments section below.