Friday, June 5, 2009

David Bowie 11: Station To Station

For his next album, Bowie shrugged off the camp. His hair was still orange, but now he was dressed in a stark black suit and presenting a new character, who made his “return” debut on the new album.
Station To Station neatly bridges his previous style with his next style, though the next one wasn’t easy to predict. With only three songs per side and an equally minimalist cover, there was no hint of what was within.
The train of the title track rumbles from speaker to speaker before the band comes in, then after what seems like an eternity the “chorus” proclaims the arrival of the Thin White Duke. After a long verse based on the intro, the chorus returns before the blatant shift into the next act, which he swears is “not the side effects of the cocaine”. Roy Bittan, borrowed from the E Street Band, tinkles the piano over and out on the long fade, and dominates the rest of the album ably. (Mike Garson would not be heard from again for twenty years, though the solid rhythm section of George Murray and Dennis Davis, plus the ever-reliable Carlos Alomar, would serve through the rest of the decade. While we’re at it, Earl Slick is better suited to these tracks than he was to Philly soul.) “Golden Years” is something of a cousin to “Young Americans”, with its nostalgia for youth. It was a hit, even with the Zappa-like swagger in the voice. Fake strings introduce “Word On A Wing”, one of the most tender songs from an otherwise harsh era. Something of a prayer, you can tell he means it all the way through the song, and the wordless vocals on the fade only heighten the mystery and yearning.
“TVC 15” starts another perfect album side, a jaunty if obscure tale of a girl swallowed by her television. The “transmission” bridges and catchy choruses always make for fun listening. The disco sound is filtered through a nightmare on “Stay”, pinned around that stabbing ninth chord and a growling lead. It’s another one of those songs that must still be playing somewhere beyond the fade. A Johnny Mathis song covered by Nina Simone, “Wild Is The Wind” closes the album (complete with the Ws of the previous side). It’s one of Bowie’s best, and still a striking performance.
Station To Station has remained a strong album over the years, and one that most fans seem to deem a classic. There’s still a mystique about its creation; indeed, for many years, Bowie would aver that he was so out of it in that period that he couldn’t remember recording the album in the first place. Perhaps those six songs were all he had, and they more than delivered. Outside of the full-color cover, the only bonuses on the Ryko reissue were live versions of “Word On A Wing” and “Stay”. Then, when the album got the expanded treatment in 2010, it was made available as a Special Edition that added the entire concert from which the Ryko bonuses had been taken. A pricey Deluxe Edition also added the 1985 RCA CD mix, a disc with five single edits, and a DVD containing various mixes in higher quality and surround sound options, vinyl versions of the album and the concert material, and loads of memorabilia.
The two concert CDs were eventually released separately as Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 following their inclusion in the Who Can I Be Now? box set. Bowie’s in a good mood for this show, fronting a band including Alomar, Murray, and Davis, with the previously unknown Stacey Heydon ripping it up on lead guitar and Tony Kaye, once of Yes, on keyboards. The set revolves around the new album, with surprises like a mildly funky “I’m Waiting For The Man” followed by “Queen Bitch” and an abbreviated “Life On Mars?” “Panic In Detroit” stops halfway through for a drum solo, which is even more mammoth in its unedited form, available briefly as a download, that runs another eight minutes. (“Changes” is capped by a bass solo, but nowhere near as long.)

David Bowie Station To Station (1976)—5
1991 Rykodisc: same as 1976, plus 2 extra tracks
2010 Special Edition: same as 1991, plus 13 extra tracks (Deluxe Edition adds another 7 tracks)
David Bowie Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 (2017)—

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