Many have pointed to Ziggy Stardust as Bowie’s pinnacle achievement, but they fail to mention what it doesn’t accomplish: by setting itself as a story, and one that’s barely there, it falls flat. Luckily, most of the tunes are pretty good.
“Five Years” creeps in nicely, and sets up the story of an imminent alien invasion, though its references to “the black” and “the queer” show its age. “Soul Love” sports an interesting 7/4 time signature and a pleasant sax solo by the man himself. “Moonage Daydream” gives Ronno a chance to shine both on guitar and in the strings. “Starman” is the hidden gem here, a nice conversation between the kids suggesting that the imminent invasion might not be such a bad thing (shades of Childhood’s End here). “It Ain’t Easy” is a cover left over from the Hunky Dory sessions; it doesn’t fit the plot, but then again neither did Chuck Berry’s “Round And Round”, which was in the running order for a while.
“Lady Stardust” attempts to bring the story back to music, though it’s hard to tell where the aliens come in. Still, it’s a wonderful piano performance. “Star” plows ahead, but it’s an unnecessary detour before “Hang On To Yourself”, supposedly the title character’s theme song (and indeed the opening number at all the concerts of this era). “Ziggy Stardust” crams all the details into three minutes, and goes directly into “Suffragette City”, which doesn’t seem to be about much of anything. “Rock ‘N Roll Suicide” takes us back to Ziggy’s demise, and ends the proceedings on a properly “showstopping” note.
Some of the bonus tracks on the Ryko reissue (and subsequently the 30th anniversary double-disc) are worth a listen, notably the decadent “Velvet Goldmine” and “Sweet Head”. Demos of “Lady Stardust” and “Ziggy Stardust” have alternate lyrics, as do the early “Arnold Corns” versions of “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang On To Yourself”; in all cases, the album versions are the best. Completing the picture is “John, I’m Only Dancing”, a contemporary single that probably doesn’t fit on the album thematically, but is musically on the level of anything else. (The 40th Anniversary edition of the album apparently restored the music to the proper stereo channels, and offered a DVD with 5.1 surround sound mixes of the album and selected bonus tracks from previous editions.)
David Bowie The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1972)—4
1990 Rykodisc: same as 1972, plus 5 extra tracks
30th Anniversary Edition: same as 1990, plus 7 extra tracks