Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: David Bowie’s ‘Station to Station [Special Edition]’

When David Bowie announced he was “finished with Rock & Roll” in the mid ‘70s, he was only half joking. In fact, he’d been deliberately moving away from the riffy electricity of his earlier career for several years, eulogizing the old guard and enjoying one final fling with the Spiders from Mars with the all-covers Pin Ups in 1973, then experimenting with blue-eyed soul on 1975’s Young Americans. Soon he’d hook up with Brian Eno and program a series of icy, ambient, and critically celebrated records to round out his defining decade.

But first: transition.

Not as Rock oriented as his previous records, nor as frigid as the ones that would immediately follow, Station to Station is a modest masterpiece. The record’s six songs are anthemic and epic without being overblown or overly reliant on instrumental flash. The album even makes room for a cover, and it’s a testament to Bowie’s taste and precise judgment that the version of Nina Simone’s “Wild Is the Wind” that closes Station to Station feels very much a part of the record’s sonic and emotional concept. And as cool as the Thin White Duke’s voice is throughout, this is an emotionally engaging record, achieving ultimate uplift in the vamps that climax the title track and “TVC 15”, striding the balance beam between melancholia and beautiful release on “Word on a Wing” and “Wild Is the Wind”, and putting a bit of jiggle in the legs on the restrained yet supernaturally funky “Golden Years” and “Stay”.

Last autumn, EMI put together a lovely 3-disc boxed edition of Bowie’s mid-decade milestone. The first disc contains the original album unadorned by bonus tracks, and it sounds absolutely magnificent, the depth of Dennis Davis’s drums being particularly present. The next two discs collect a live set in support of Station to Station recorded on March 23, 1976, at my old local arena, Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The set is fascinating because all of the restraint that dignified the studio album is hip checked to make room for some fiery guitar wankery (particularly at the outset of set opener “Station to Station”), a more profoundly liberated performance from the singer, and even a drum solo in a wild version of “Panic in Detroit”. Thankfully, the compiler spared us by editing that 13-minute solo down to a far more listenable 60-seconds— although purists and the seven people who don’t believe interminable drum solos were the single most offensive Rock & Roll conceit of the ‘70s may be offended. The live set sounds terrific, too, although unless my ears are failing me, there seems to be a slight quality drop-off in the two tracks that open disc two. This lavish set also includes mini-LP replica sleeves, a nice selection of full-color postcards, and an informative booklet essay that may necessitate a magnifying glass. Maybe my eyes are going, too.

So two parting bits of advice: get the Station to Station [Special Edition] at here and don’t get old.
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