Comes with a Smile # webexclusives
issues | the songs | interviews | reviews | images | web exclusives | top 10 | history | search

April 2006 / October 2005 / February-April 2005 / November-December 2004 / July 2004 / March-April 2004 / November-December 2003 / June-July 2003 / March-April 2003 / January-February 2003 / December 2002 / November 2002 / August 2002 / May-June 2002 / November 2001 / October 2001 / June-July 2001 / all web exclusives / search

David Bowie | The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars (EMI)
Bless the majors and their relentless repackaging of the remixed and remastered, knowing that a bonus track here or some previously unseen images there will encourage the completists once again to empty their ravaged wallets. The pretext for EMI's latest wheeling-out of David Bowie's seminal 1972 album is that all-important 30th anniversary; having missed out on the more traditional 25th. This version is, naturally, of the digital remastered ilk, and comes lavishly packaged with a second disc of outtakes and alternate versions, all but one of which saw the light during the Rykodisc period of Bowie's multiple back catalogue relaunches. With the bonus cuts mysteriously omitted from the most recent EMI reissues, those Ryko versions have become the sought-after definitive editions to own. (Perhaps EMI plan to assemble yet further compilations from the rarity vault?) The 'genuine' rarity of this set is a suitably corporate, timid remix of Moonage Daydream commissioned for a Dunlop tyres commercial. Hardly a revelation that, (I won't be drawn on the merits of the additional studio banter that precedes outtake Sweet Head), but late-arriving Bowie aficionados will find much to enjoy here; particularly the contrasting early takes of Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself under the short-lived Arnold Corns guise (an early example of the side-project) compared to the blistering Spiders From Mars renditions. Similarly the sparse piano/vocal demo of the Bolan-inspired Lady Stardust and the acoustic guitar run-through of the title track allow valuable insights into Bowie's creative process and the inestimable input of guitarist/foil Mick Ronson. Of the non-album exclusions from the final 'Ziggy Stardust' running order the vaudeville jauntiness of Velvet Goldmine, and Holy Holy, with its classic phased vocals, both deserve this latest outing having been relegated to b-side status until now (albeit to classic chart-topper Space Oddity and future defining moment Diamond Dogs respectively). Bowie's spectacularly histrionic take on the made-to-measure interpretation of Brel's Port of Amsterdam (belatedly issued as the flip to the 'Pin Ups' culled Sorrow) sits in stark contrast to the supercharged whirl through Chuck Berry's Round and Round (since you ask the b to Drive In Saturday's a), which is pure Ronson. Between them sits the rare alternate version of 'The Man Who Sold The World' highlight The Supermen which sees Bowie at his creepy, child-catcher best. Recorded for a fund-raising compilation during the 'Ziggy' sessions the track previously appeared on the Ryko issue of 'Hunky Dory' on which it perhaps feels more at home. Sweet Head is a flagrant rock out, bursting with innuendo including a cheeky "while you're down there" but never really deserved its place on the final album. The adulterated Moonage Daydream closes the disc with an anti-climatic whimper, a mix simply not sufficiently radical to warrant inclusion on any 'definitive' edition. And, finally, onto the album itself, and the answer to the question "does 'Ziggy Stardust' deserve the deluxe treatment?" The answer is, fortunately, a resounding 'yes'. From its apocalyptic opener Five Years, to the crestfallen but hopeful denouement of Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, 'Ziggy Stardust' demands its place in the annals of musical history, as one of rock music's truly essential albums. "A girl my age went off her head," Bowie sings - news of the Earth's demise having just been announced - "hit some tiny children / If the black hadn't a-pulled her off I think she would have killed them / Soldier with a broken arm fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac / Cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest / And a queer threw up at the sight of that." Although 'Ziggy Stardust' is not a 'traditional' concept album, Five Years sets the scene with its prophetic heartbeat drum pattern before Soul Love creates a hopeful bridge to the soaring space-age classic Moonage Daydream with its cut-up lyrical weirdness and Ronson's impassioned guitar wizardry. Added to the mix in response to the established call for 'a single' from the record label, Starman is one of Bowie's most enduring pop songs. Infectious and ethereal and as ambiguous as its creator, it dwells - as does the album as a whole - somewhere between hippie idealism and science-fiction. The album's one non-original, It Ain't Easy (written by one Ron Davies, who's probably made a pretty penny from it over these past thirty years) sounds more like a 'Hunky Dory' outtake, a decidedly '70s chorus married to a verse in the Fill Your Heart / Oh! You Pretty Things mould. Hard to see why this track was chosen over Velvet Goldmine or Holy Holy... After the elegant Lady Stardust, Star begins a quartet of straight-ahead rockers distinguished by some suitably sleazy lyrics (exemplified on the exuberant Hang On To Yourself - "We can't dance, we don't talk much, just ball and play / Then we move around like tigers on Vaseline / The bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar / You're the blessed, we're the Spiders from Mars") and Ronson's controlled intensity. Ziggy Stardust, the song, is a three-minute epic crammed with lascivious and cataclysmic imagery of archetypal rock star indulgence, while Suffragette City is pure glam-rock revelry. The slow-build of closer Rock'n'Roll Suicide, from the semi-spoken considered introduction over a solitary strummed acoustic guitar to the rousing, pleading finale, epitomises the scope of this astonishingly realised document. That 'Ziggy Stardust' represents just one guise and chapter from its chameleon-like creator's abundant archive is remarkable. Whether others from Bowie's oeuvre receive similar treatment when reaching their thirtieth birthday remains to be seen. If they do then perhaps more worthy folk than Mark and Lard, Ian McCulloch and, god help us, Gary Kemp and Dougie Payne might be wheeled out to add their input to the de rigueur liner notes. Questionable celebs and typos aside, this is a deserved piece of lavishly produced nostalgia.

Matt Dornan
May-June 2002