Classic Album: David Bowie ‘Station To Station’

Few artists reach the milestone of ten studio albums. Fewer still are actually at the peak of their powers when they do so. Unfortunately for rock chronologists and obsessive fans alike, David Bowie is able to remember little about the genesis of this remarkable record. Its story is nevertheless an interesting one and serves to chart the transitional process between Bowie the chart smash and the artist responsible for the imperious Berlin trilogy of ‘Low‘, ‘”Heroes“‘ and ‘Lodger‘.

David-Bowie-Station-to-Station

In the time prior to recording, Bowie was inhabiting the character of Thomas Jerome Newton for Nicolas Roeg‘s film, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. Newton, an extra-terrestrial obsessed with television, was one of his most striking roles. While far less flamboyant than Ziggy, Newton’s haunting appearance is an entirely apt representation of Bowie at this stage in his career. Indeed, he admitted to hanging onto this character for months after filming and images from the shoot adorn the cover of both this album and its successor, ‘Low‘. From this grew The Thin White Duke, the last of Bowie’s adopted personae in the Seventies, whose monochrome attire dominated press photos and tours surrounding this record.

Sidestepping usual producer, Tony Visconti, Bowie assembled a merry band of musicians in Los Angeles under the guidance of Harry Maslin. Man of a thousand licks Carlos Alomar was on board for a second outing, having been recruited to flesh out the blue eyed soul sound of album nine, ‘Young Americans’, while Roy Bittan stepped over from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band on piano.

‘Station To Station’ inhabits a staggering musical landscape, borne out of a formidable band, an electric frontman and a truckload of cocaine. Stories abound of Bowie working relentlessly on the record, including one occasion when he laboured for twenty six hours non-stop.

The sizeable commitment and thunderous work rate are exemplified finest by the title track, which runs to just over ten minutes, effects several gear changes and still sounds as relevant and fresh in the twenty-first century as it did on the day it was released. Having gradually gathered pace from a bleak, mechanical, stuttering start, it eventually explodes into a strident funk workout. Its phenomenal scope hints at the sonic experimentation with which Bowie would conclude the decade. Remarkably, such a gargantuan curtain raiser avoids overshadowing what is to come, although it helps that it is swiftly followed by the distinctive “whop whop whop” of first single ‘Golden Years’.

Clocking in at only a little over thirty-eight minutes and with just six tracks to its name, the album’s remaining four songs boil down to two pop juggernauts and two beguiling ballads. ‘TVC15‘ is as close to carefree as the record gets, describing a girl being eaten by her television, but such frivolity is short lived thanks to ‘Stay‘, an angsty riff monster exploring sexual mis-matches and the resulting fallout. By contrast, the mesmerising ‘Word On A Wing’ offers a plaintive cry to God after a spiritual crisis brought about by the drug-induced despair of life on a film set, while ‘Wild Is The Wind’ is a deliciously languid cover, inspired by Nina Simone‘s equally remarkable version.

Bowie would take many more turns in his career after ‘Station To Station’, but few would be as enigmatic and fearless as this essential album.

***

This was originally written for Clash’s ‘Spotlight’ feature and appeared in last month’s issue. As that’s now safely off the shelves, here it is for you to have a gander. Might rustle up a few more in the near future solely for here as my next one in print won’t be until May. Any suggestions?

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