David Bowie

David Bowie [Space Oddity]

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When David Bowie's second album appeared in late 1969, he was riding high. His first ever hit single, the super-topical "Space Oddity," had scored on the back of the moon landing that summer, and so distinctive an air did it possess that, for a moment, its maker really did seem capable of soaring as high as Major Tom. Sadly, it was not to be. "Space Oddity" aside, Bowie possessed very little in the way of commercial songs, and the ensuing album (his second) emerged as a dense, even rambling, excursion through the folky strains that were the last glimmering of British psychedelia. Indeed, the album's most crucial cut, the lengthy "Cygnet Committee," was nothing less than a discourse on the death of hippiness, shot through with such bitterness and bile that it remains one of Bowie's all-time most important numbers -- not to mention his most prescient. The verse that unknowingly name-checks both the Sex Pistols ("the guns of love") and the Damned is nothing if not a distillation of everything that brought punk to its knees a full nine years later. The remainder of the album struggles to match the sheer vivacity of "Cygnet Committee," although "Unwashed and Slightly Dazed" comes close to packing a disheveled rock punch, all the more so as it bleeds into a half minute or so of Bowie wailing "Don't Sit Down" -- an element that, mystifyingly, was hacked from the 1972 reissue of the album. "Janine" and "An Occasional Dream" are pure '60s balladry, and "God Knows I'm Good" takes a well-meant but somewhat clumsy stab at social comment. Two final tracks, however, can be said to pinpoint elements of Bowie's own future. The folk epic "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" (substantially reworked from the B-side of the hit) would remain in Bowie's live set until as late as 1973, while a re-recorded version of the mantric "Memory of a Free Festival" would become a single the following year, and marked Bowie's first studio collaboration with guitarist Mick Ronson. The album itself however, proved another dead end in a career that was gradually piling up an awful lot of such things.

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