[Review] David Bowie: Aladdin Sane (1973)

Ziggy and the Spiders’ decadent followup to the rise and fall.

Kronomyth 6.0: O, beautiful, for spaceship skies.

Who’ll love Aladdin Sane? You will. Here, David Bowie pushes the boundaries, an excitable moth in the new world aflutter at the lamp of inspiration. Unlike Ziggy Stardust, which ostensibly told the story of a mythic performer in a desperate future world, Aladdin Sane is less controlled. This is science fiction that careens into your life, explosive music interspersed with islands of surreal calm.

That Ziggy gets the higher marks is a reflection of our critical minds, which maintain that there must be a consensual summit where the devoted can agree upon to pray. It’s a rational need into which the irrational Aladdin Sane refuses to fit. But where do Time and “Lady Stardust” really differ? Are “Moonage Daydream” and Drive-In Saturday so far apart?

Bowie was clearly expanding on the discoveries made with Ziggy, and it’s fair to say that Aladdin Sane aspires to more than its predecessor. But critics had already named their champion and labeled Aladdin Sane its reckless offspring. Perhaps Aladdin Sane and Lady Grinning Soul smacked of pretension, embarking for new and foreign shores before Bowie’s rock fans had a chance to pack. And his cover of Let’s Spend the Night Together is unrepentantly noisy. But what a wonderful floor show it all makes.

“It’s my interpretation of what America means to me. It’s like a summation of my first American tour.” — David Bowie, describing the album Aladdin Sane in a July 1973 Circus interview.

Bowie’s beau monde is darker than anything this side of Lou Reed, though he still seems to find a human side to the ego-driven characters of Watch That Man and Cracked Actor. As for The Jean Genie and Panic in Detroit, they’re riveting. I also think The Prettiest Star is one of his prettiest songs. In fact, Aladdin Sane might be Bowie’s most emotionally draining album to listen to, at least this side of Scary Monsters. Reconciling the different musical sides of David Bowie is problematic, as his ability to embrace new musical ideas has been his salvation and his bane, but Bowie is the ultimate protean performer and Aladdin Sane proves it.

Original elpee version

A1. Watch That Man (4:25)
A2. Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?) (5:06)
A3. Drive-In Saturday (4:29)
A4. Panic in Detroit (4:25)
A5. Cracked Actor (2:56)
B1. Time (5:09)
B2. The Prettiest Star (3:26)
B3. Let’s Spend the Night Together (Mick Jagger/Keith Richard) (3:03)
B4. The Jean Genie (4:02)
B5. Lady Grinning Soul (3:46)

All selections written by David Bowie unless noted. Arranged by David Bowie & Mick Ronson.

Original 8-track version
A1. Watch That Man
A2. The Jean Genie
A3. Panic in Detroit (Part 1)
B1. Panic in Detroit (Conclusion)
B2. Drive-In Saturday
B3. Cracked Actor
C1. Time
C2. Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)
D1. The Prettiest Star
D2. Let’s Spend the Night Together
D3. Lady Grinning Soul

The Players

David Bowie (vocals, guitar), T.J. Bolder (bass), Mac Cormack (vocal back-up), Ken Fordham (bux-saxophones & flutes), Juanita “Honey” Franklin (vocal back-up), Mike Garson (piano), Linda Lewis (vocal back-up), Mick Ronson (guitar), Woody Woodmansey (drums). Produced by David Bowie & Ken Scott; engineered by Ken Scott and Mike Moran; mixed by Ken Scott and Mick Ronson.

The Pictures

Album cover design by Duffy & Celia Philo (for the Kitchen Tool Shop). Make-up by Pierre Laroche.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on April 19, 1973 in the UK (RCA, RS-1001/PK 2134), the US (RCA, LSP-4852/P8S-2134) with gatefold cover and lyrics innersleeve.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Brazil (RCA, 1044 034).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1976 in Japan (RCA, RVP 6128) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in the US (RCA, AFL1-4852).
  4. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1980 in the US (RCA, AYL1/AYK1-3890).
  5. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in February 1981 in the UK (RCA, INTS/INTK 5067) and in 1981 in Germany (RCA, NL/NK 83890) and the Netherlands and Spain (RCA, NL/NK-13890).
  6. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in Japan (RCA, RPL-2103) and on cassette in South Africa (RCA, ZMMT 1164).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (RCA, PD 83890).
  8. Re-issued on elpee in 1990 in the UK (EMI, EMC 3579) with gatefold cover.
  9. Re-released on remastered clear vinyl elpee, cassette and compact disc in 1990 in the US (Rykodisc, RALP/RACS/RCD1 0135).
  10. Re-released on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 1999 in the UK (EMI, 5219020).

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