David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust 40th anniversary(review)

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars – 40th Anniversary Edition (EMI/Virgin) review

The quintessential Bowie record is back in the spotlight again

Although David Bowie has led a long and colorful career, it just doesn’t get any better than The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Sure, Bowie experimented with many styles and did some incredibly pioneering work in the late Seventies with Brian Eno, and was all over MTV in the early Eighties.  Yet,  nothing else holds a candle to this masterpiece.

The reason it’s so good has a great deal to do with what came before.  Space Oddity, the first album that sounded like “Bowie,” was a mostly-acoustic affair, while the followup, The Man Who Sold the World, rocked hard, maybe too hard in places, forsaking melody.  All that changed with the next LP, Hunky Dory, which pulled back from the loudness and explored much more melodic territory, and was an early triumph.  But, with Ziggy Stardust, Bowie turned the guitars back up, but this time, he had the songs to prove it.

This is also the point where his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, takes over, becoming a fixture of his live show, a persona that the singer found difficult to shake.

Much has been made of this being a “concept album” – loosely based on the idea that a rock n’ roll-playing alien lands on Earth to bring a message of hope to a dying planet.  Huh?  Co-producer Ken Scott has long disputed this claim (and with Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” originally in the running order, this would seem to be the case).  The bottom line is, you don’t have to follow the story, or understand it (did anyone really?) to enjoy the record.  And, that is a sign of a truly great work – screw the concept, is it full of great songs – and the answer is, YES.

“Soul Love” laid down a funky groove that hadn’t been heard on a Bowie record up until that point, while “Moonage Daydream” features the lyrics “I’ll be a rock n’ roll bitch for you,” and cranks up the guitars, with an odd solo that somehow recalls “Wild Thing” from the Troggs.

The verse and chorus of “Starman” are linked by a clever morse code guitar part.  “Lady Stardust” recalls Elton John, led by piano and a strong Bowie vocal.  “Star” predicts bands like Mott the Hoople, and the advent of glam rock, while “Hang on to Yourself,” led by a meaty bassline, kazoo and pounding beat, features a slinky guitar solo.

Then there’s the one-two punch of “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City” – Bowie’s finest moment on vinyl.  Surprisingly, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust makes a great party album – the majority of the record grooves – it’s actually very danceable, and sounds great at high volume.

Although there have been several reissues of this album, all containing bonus material – this 40th anniversary edition strips away the extra tracks, and instead concentrates on the packaging, faithfully reproducing the original LP jacket, gatefold cover (originally issued only in the UK), and even the original inner sleeve, with lyrics.  It’s definitely a nice touch.   –Tony Peters