Station To Station/Low/Heroes/Stage
He might have floated himself on the stock market recently, but there was a time when David Bowie was close to the zeitgeist.
In 1976, he introduced himself as The Thin White Duke and managed somehow, unlike his peers, not to totally alienate the outrageous, safety-pinned and body-scarred punk youth. As a rock star who personified otherness and inspired clones by the thousand, Bowie had drifted through so much drug-addled excess and decadence that it was time for a downward spiral. Strangely, this descent, which culminated in Bowie giving a fascist salute on arrival from tour at Victoria Station, also produced a trilogy of forward-looking albums that still resonate.
It was a time of coldness. And Bowie was as cold as a north wind that bodes ill. He'd retreated so far from the outside world and so far into himself that he began to see visions. 'Station To Station', and especially the way its subdued alienated funk offered an answer to Kraftwerk's 'Trans-Europe Express' on the title track, was a premonition and a challenge to xenophobes that a united Europe was definitely on the cards. From 'Golden Years' to the embarrassingly fragile 'Wild Is The Wind', romanticism was Bowie's agenda. 7/10
He soon got drawn deeper into Europe, and recorded the next two LPs in the old Hansa studios next to the Berlin Wall - from which, urged on by his strange and cerebral accomplice Brian Eno, the Duke proceeded to carve a futuristic touchstone that still stands.
The ensuing 'Low' advocates the merging of man and machine, and then depicts the resulting sense of loss. Drawing inspiration from JG Ballard on 'Always Crashing In The Same Car' and evoking an almost unbearable sadness with symphonic electronics on 'Warszawa', half of the songs were instrumentals that mined a deep seam of alienation. 9/10
The Teutonic angst continued with 'Heroes', and, if anything, got heavier, with its allusions to World War II and the submerged consciousness of living through a Cold War nuclear stand-off. Yet there was a distinct nostalgic undertow to the new form of rock Bowie and Eno were crafting - a return, in the mind, to a turn of a century when everything seemed possible - that manifested itself in a melancholic but distracted electronica. 8/10
By 1978, Bowie was back to being a jobbing rock star, and even an accomplished band are unable to conceal the fact that 'Stage', a partial career reprise to that year for a US audience, is a live album. And very few live albums were any good in the '70s.
This wasn't one of them.
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