The Thin White Duke’s
transition album sounded like nothing before, nor after – as EMI’s new expanded
special/deluxe edition, out this week, amply illustrates.
By A.D. Amorosi
It’s been said that 1976’s Station to Station was the transitional center point of Bowie’s
1970s, the testy album that found him exiting princely literate pop,
character-driven glam and plastic soul (Hunky
Dory, Aladdin Sane, Young Americans) for more experimental
waters (the Berlin trilogy). Yet, with its numb musical web of steely cabaret,
motorik-electro-metal, histrionic balladry and ice queen death disco set below
existentialist themes and an overawing schmaltzy croon, not only is StS an anomaly in Bowie’s ever-shifting
career. There’s nothing else that sounds like it; not before (despite Can/Neu!
influences) not after (despite Beck steeling bits for Midnight Vultures).
Stripped of the oxygenated feathered rock and the wily pomp
circumstances of cracked actor-characterization, this Bowie – lean, slicked
back and black-and-white what from the wealth of StS photos and paraphernalia inside the Isolar tour programs and
such that make up the Deluxe edition – sounded as wintry cool and stark as he
appeared. The block red lettering and bleak white-and-gray photography of its
cover (returned to such after the famed Ryko re-issues used the color originals
taken from his starring role in The Man
Who Fell to Earth) is cutting and spare. The airless StS, despite several lengthy songs, is brief (six songs, no
outtakes or lost tracks) and feels both incomplete (then again, so does Low which followed it), yet perfectly
finite, withdrawn within itself and all worlds around it.
The entire package, from inside to out, is hermetically
sealed and severe. Or is it?
The music is frozen – stilted angular pianos, brain-rattling
bass and synthetic train sounds mark the title track like a pox even when its
melodies prove ever-reaching and rich; the ice-cavernous production of “Stay”
and its soul-blasting guitar licks are without thaw even when its tasteful solo
raves on. There are tinted, weird whispers to be heard if you listen hard,
blowing like tiny gusts of icy wind. The vocals, whether soaring from low to high
on the mid-tempo disco-flicker of “Golden Years” (“don’t let me hear you say
life’s taking you nowhere… angel”) or swooning through romancing the stony
religiosity of “Word on a Wing” are so chill you can still see Bowie’s breath
hanging in mid-air thirty four years after the fact.
And make no mistake – this is Bowie at his powerhouse vocal best. Storied
as one of his most (the most?) cocaine-fueled recording sessions and
coming off the frailty of singing on Young
Americans, it’s amazing that the singer had any voice at all. Yet, StS – the paranoid studio album and
famed Live from Nassau Coliseum CD
that this box contains – show Bowie
to be pop’s most protean yet elegant singer.
That he, the Euro-man cometh, this Thin White Duke, shows
his disconnected connection for wayward television monitors (the jaunty
“TVC-15”) may say that this Bowie
is incapable of loving beyond the alien. “And who will connect me with
love?” asks Bowie
through the raging racing second half of the clinical epic “Station to Station.”
Yet the Christian-themed and hymn-like feel of “Word on a Wing” prove, perhaps,
focus was on something higher than modern love or mortal man.
Ain’t that close to love?
[Photo Credit: Andrew Kent]
(A.D. Amorosi is a
BLURT Contributing Editor)