“Aladdin Sane” by David Bowie - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1973Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die external-link.png

TJR says

Although nowhere near as essential as “Ziggy Stardust”, “Aladdin Sane” maintains the good early 70s form of the restless, outlandishly made-up showman. Thematically, we’re lead to believe that this album should be viewed as “Ziggy goes to America”. Personally, I’m highly wary of these overly stylized and thematic productions – can we not just play some Rock n Roll without the histrionics? And besides, that plot was thinly conceived from the beginning – why continue to force such a weak storyline? Any old excuse to get the war paint on I reckon. Thankfully, Mr Bowie seemed to conclude the same, and dramatically “killed” Ziggy live in concert just two months after this LP was released. So what about the all-important music? I love the second track “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)” – it has just the sort of repetitive intensity that strikes a chord with me, despite flirting with jazz motifs. I love the discordance which stems from Mike Garson’s piano. The player explained:

I had told Bowie about the avant-garde thing. When I was recording the "Aladdin Sane" track for Bowie, it was just two chords, an A and a G chord, and the band was playing very simple English rock and roll. And Bowie said: 'play a solo on this.' I had just met him, so I played a blues solo, but then he said: 'No, that’s not what I want.' And then I played a latin solo. Again, Bowie said: 'No no, that’s not what I want.' He then continued: 'You told me you play that avant-garde music. Play that stuff!' And I said: 'Are you sure? ‘Cause you might not be working anymore!'. So I did the solo that everybody knows today, in one take. I always tell people that Bowie is the best producer I ever met, because he lets me do my thing.

The title is a pun on ‘A Lad Insane’ and was inspired by Bowie's half-brother Terry, who had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Bowie would later reflect that you could view it as being “about young people, just before the two wars, wanting to go and screw girls and kill foreigners.” In that case, the sound is suitably mental. “Drive-In Saturday” is a rather plain Rock n Roll ballad on the surface, with all the interest being contained in the lyrics – the inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic world in the future (Bowie once said the year was 2033) have forgotten how to reproduce, and need to watch old porn films to see how it's done. The music’s much more important for me however – I love pucker 50s doo-wop too much to dig this second-class imitation. The bad-assed “Panic In Detroit” gets me back onside immediately though – Bo Diddley meets the Stooges downtown to re-imagine the Detroit riots of 1967. The major highlight for me is the album’s lead single, “Jean Genie”, the ultimate glam-rocker which was a major smash in the British pop charts at the tail end of ’72. It screams FUN, you can play some mean air-guitar to it, and it’s not naff – if I was there at the time I might have thought perhaps glam-rock’s not entirely a lost-cause. By sheer contrast, “Lady Grinning Soul” finishes the set off classically and elegantly, as Bowie explores his falsetto croon to the max against a stylish piano-led orchestration. Ever the clever-showman, he instinctively knows how to get a round of applause at the end.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [04:30] 6.9.png David Bowie - Watch That Man (David Robert Jones) Rock
A2 [05:06] 8.2.png David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?) (David Robert Jones) New Wave
A3 [04:33] 5.7.png David Bowie - Drive-In Saturday (David Robert Jones) Rock n Roll Ballad
A4 [04:25] 7.0.png David Bowie - Panic In Detroit (David Robert Jones) Rock
A5 [03:01] 5.3.png David Bowie - Cracked Actor (David Robert Jones) Rock
B1 [05:15] 6.0.png David Bowie - Time (David Robert Jones) Prog
B2 [03:31] 4.7.png David Bowie - The Prettiest Star (David Robert Jones) Pop
B3 [03:10] 6.2.png David Bowie - Let’s Spend The Night Together (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) New Wave
B4 [04:07] 9.8.png David Bowie - The Jean Genie (David Robert Jones) Blues Rock / Soul Rock
B5 [03:53] 6.6.png David Bowie - Lady Grinning Soul (David Robert Jones) Cerebral Pop

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