It’s been said often – and not always with black humour - that the hell year of 2016, which culminated in the election of the loathsome Donald Trump, didn’t just begin with the death of David Bowie but in fact may be traced to the seismic shifts in the time/space continium caused by that death.
However, the universe can sometimes repair itself. A musician – let’s call her Emma Swift – noted in recent days, as Trump lost not just the election but (possibly even more hurtful to him) his Twitter access, that “If you pray to David Bowie on his birthday, he really comes through with the goods.” Blessed be His name.
Continuing a newish January tradition, Wind Back Wednesday commemorates the week of David Bowie’s birth (January 8) and death (January 10), by dipping into the David Robert Jones archives.
This time we find 1973’s Aladdin Sane in a 30th anniversary reissue from the heady, crazy days of 2003 (a year before Bowie played his last Australian shows incidentally), and we pray for more Bowie benevolence to shine on a 2021 that needs all the help it can get.
Aladdin Sane (Virgin/EMI)
In nostalgia corner today we have the 30th anniversary, two CD, digitally remastered reissue of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.
Originally it was dismissed by Bowie as a space-filler between The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and wherever he was going next, mainly because it was written on the road and recorded hurriedly as he was ditching the Ziggy character. More recently it has dropped off the radar in discussions of Bowie’s canon because it was book-ended by the more iconic Ziggy and 1974’s Diamond Dogs.
But Aladdin Sane did a lot more than fill a space. It became Bowie’s American breakthrough and it has four classic moments. Those four moments connect with the immediate past (the slow glam burn of Drive-In Saturday and the Ziggy Mark II of The Jean Genie), capture the zeitgeist (Panic In Detroit) and point to the future (Aladdin Sane).
Before that though there’s Watch That Man, which opens the album. After lionising Lou Reed a couple of years earlier, Bowie the bower bird wore his love of the Rolling Stones from the get go here. Watch That Man has the strut and roll of the Stones at their best with Mick Ronson providing chunky Keef-like riffs and Mike Garson’s piano pushing everything along. The cover of Let’s Spend The Night Together on “side two” may not add much beyond an extra layer of pure ‘70s guitar but it does complete the circle and puts the blues tinge of Jean Genie in some context.
Speaking of guitar, you can ride with it in Panic In Detroit, where Ronson offers a rolling, inner city gritty melange of Richards and a hint of the Ashton brothers from Detroit’s Stooges.
Which leaves the title track, where Garson’s piano brings both cabaret and jazz to play in a moody, sometimes throbbing and always slightly disturbing/threatening song. The to-and-fro between art and dramatic pop in the song provides a bridge between Bowie’s pre-fame leanings and his mid ‘70s decamp to Berlin. And the result is one of the great moments.
Along with some very good packaging, the second disc offers offcuts that are a worthwhile bonus for newcomers who have wondered what Bowie would have done with All The Young Dudes or who wished they had seen him live in 1972. And who doesn’t?