David Bowie – Station to Station

Part 16 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

1997 was a very strange year. The wave of bands playing an updated version of Britpop was coming to a close, signaled by the 1-2 punch of “D’You Know What I Mean” by Oasis and “Song 2” by Blur. The Cure jumped onto the electronica bandwagon (a media term for rock bands who dabbled in electronic music) with the release of “Wrong Number”. Personally, I was also recovering from the brilliance of the movie Muppets Treasure Island. In the midst of all these things, MTV was playing a video for a song by David Bowie called “Little Wonder”.

I’m going to be very, very honest here. Though I loved some of Bowie’s 70’s records and had even seen him in concert opening up for Nine Inch Nails – at the age of 19 or 20 I didn’t see the brilliance of Bowie. Sure, he changed his sound quite a bit – but didn’t Madonna do that as well? Bowie’s 1995 album Outside had been a curiosity piece for me, a few amazing tracks mixed in with a muddled storyline and about 8 tracks that went nowhere. Once I heard “Little Wonder” I picked up a copy of Bowie’s new album, Earthling. On this album, Bowie was doing something like what The Cure were trying with their electronica experiment – but in a much more unique way. It didn’t get the best reviews at the time, but in my opinion it was a very good record that sparked me to dig a bit deeper into the daunting David Bowie catalog.

Of course I worked my way through all of the previous albums I had neglected (a very backwards way to discover / listen to Bowie, I know). I didn’t always agree with albums that critics loved (no names)…but the album I repeatedly come back to, the one that bridged the soul leanings of 1975’s Young Americans with the late 70’s “Berlin Trilogy” produced with Brian Eno (Low, Heroes, Lodger) is the 1976 album Station to Station. Leaning towards a post-punk sound – while punk was still in infancy. Looking towards the future whilst still grounded in the present. Haunting.

The return of the thin white duke…

Station to Station starts off the album in epic fashion. Sound effects fill the speakers for the 1st minute or so, before a persistent piano and bass come into play. A dystopian feel, full of dread. The band locks into a groove while various sound effects and guitar squeals go off in the background. The music fades away and Bowie introduces himself and the album by singing the famous words “The Return of the Thin White Duke” (a reference to all of the…um…energy drinks he was consuming at the time). Channeling the spirit of Scott Walker in his operatic vocals, the song progresses towards a jam session halfway through. The song builds towards a sing-a-long feel for the rest of the song. At 10:14 it is one of Bowie’s longest songs but never overstays its welcome. Key lyrics:

The return of the Thin White Duke
throwing darts
in lovers’ eyes
Here are we one magical moment
Such is the stuff from
where dreams are woven
Bending sound
Dredging the ocean lost in my circle
Here am I
Flashing no colour tall in this room
overlooking the ocean

Golden Years is a throw back to the Young Americans album to an extent, with a slightly more neurotic, energetic vibe permeating the proceedings (those damn energy drinks again). Falsetto vocals and a groove that will have you dancing (or in my case, attempting to). A very strong chorus and melody, features impassioned vocals from Bowie.  Key lyrics:

Some of these days, and it won’t be long
Gonna drive back down
where you once belonged
In the back of a dream car
twenty foot long
Don’t cry my sweet,
don’t break my heart
Doing all right,
but you gotta get smart
Wish upon, wish upon, day upon day, I believe oh lord
I believe all the way
Come get up my baby

Word on a Wing synthesizer feel to start the song (foreshadowing what he would be doing in the late 70’s). Piano comes in over top and a sweet vocal performance by Bowie. It builds to the chorus which again features a devastating vocal performance. The emotion is seeping through his voice. The 1st time I heard this song I thought it was an inconsequential piece at first, but as the song progresses it sucks you in. Powerful. Key lyrics:

In this age of grand illusion
You walked into my life
out of my dreams
Sweet name, you’re born once again for me
Just as long as I can see, I’ll never stop this vision flowing
I look twice and you’re still flowing
Just as long as I can walk
I’ll walk beside you, I’m alive in you
Sweet name, you’re born once again for me
And I’m ready to shape the scheme of things

TVC 15 a bar room jam kind of song (at least at first). Old western piano, light-hearted vocal affections over top. The song progresses from this into a funk jam, into something more pressing. Builds towards an impassioned plea before pulling away and starting the process over again. Masterful. Key lyrics:

Up every evening ’bout half eight or nine
I give my complete attention
to a very good friend of mine
He’s quadraphonic, he’s a,
he’s got more channels
So hologramic,
oh my T V C one five
I brought my baby home, she
She sat around forlorn
She saw my T V C one five, baby’s gone, she
She crawled right in, oh my
She crawled right in my
So hologramic,
oh my T V C one five
Oh, so demonic,
oh my T V C one five

Stay – the quintessential post-punk song before the scene even happened – that’s the genius of David Bowie. Song starts off with a repetitive guitar refrain before the bass comes in over top of it. A jam for the apocalypse – perfection. The bass holds the entire song down, the chorus is one of the best of Bowie’s career. Key lyrics:

Stay – that’s what I meant to say or do something
But what I never say is
stay this time
I really meant to so bad this time
‘Cause you can never really tell
When somebody wants something you want too

Heart wrecker, heart wrecker,
make me delight
Right is so vague when it brings someone new
This time tomorrow I’ll know what to do
I know it’s happened to you

Wild is the Wind the ballad to end the album – but oh what a ballad it is. Understated vocals to begin the song, as the song progresses Bowie’s voice is overcome with emotion. The backing is bass heavy (but slightly down in the mix compared to the other tracks). This song is all about Bowie’s voice, one of the best ballads (or slower song) of his career. Stunning. Key lyrics:

You touch me,
I hear the sound of mandolins
You kiss me
With your kiss my life begins
You’re spring to me, all things to me
Don’t you know, you’re life itself!

Like the leaf clings to the tree,
Oh, my darling, cling to me
For we’re like creatures of the wind, and wild is the wind
Wild is the wind

At 6 songs, this album would barely qualify as an EP in 2012 – a shame. There is not a moment of weakness to be found on this album. It is my favorite David Bowie album (sorry Ziggy. Sorry Aladdin. Sorry Hunky. Oh…this could go on for a bit…). The vision of this album (even in Bowie’s….um…energy drink state) is absolute perfection. If you don’t own this – go buy it….NOW!

Join me next week as I discuss Plastic Ono Band by my favorite Beatle – John Lennon.

2 thoughts on “David Bowie – Station to Station

  1. Station to Station is my favorite Bowie. I came at it at the time when funk was the center of my musical world, and Bowie presented a dark, edgy, slightly mutated take that I found refreshing.

    • I knew we had a connection that went beyond graphics & sales – that is great. I’ve always thought this album gets slightly lost in the praise that is given to the Eno trilogy that came right after it…this is a dark, dark hybrid of funk and paranoia….right up my alley!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.