Review Summary: The new Bowie is finally accepted, and sets out the blueprint for electronic music for the next decade
Ziggy the alien had come crashing down to earth in the previous album, Low
. Disillusioned with fame and glam-rock, David Bowie started searching for a new musical direction in the late seventies. He wanted to kill off his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and attempt something completely different. Station To Station
was his first real stab at this, and utilized the relatively new instrument, the synthesizer. In fact, Bowie had always had a fascination with this new sound. In the early seventies, Ziggy's live shows were often started with synth music created by Walter/Wendy Carlos for the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's polemic film, A Clockwork Orange.
, groundbreaking and baffling as it was at the time, was not easy to get into for the casual listener and definitely a mystery to Ziggy's followers. "Heroes"
, on the other hand, has a little more energy and accessibility to it, while still managing to remain faithful to the new style created by Bowie and Visconti (Brian Eno is often credited with production of Bowie's Berlin albums, however this role was filled by Tony Visconti. Asked to define Eno's role years later, Bowie apparently named him as an 'ideas co-ordinator').
It starts in a more dynamic fashion to its predecessor, with the raucous 'Beauty And The Beast'
. Containing some classic Bowie lyrics, "My My/Smile At Least/You Can't Say No To The Beauty And The Beast"
, it's as catchy as many of Ziggy's tracks, yet has less of the rock flourishes and a little bit of background-synthery mischief going on. 'Joe The Lion'
carries on this upbeat tempo and rocks even harder, and the wonderful lyrics are suitably ambiguous: "You Can Get Up And Sleep/You Can Buy God"
But it's the next track that overshadows everything on the first half of this album. "Heroes"
is, arguably, David Bowie's greatest song ever. Over six minutes long, you still wish it would go on for longer. Lyrically and musically it's extremely anthemic, and its lyrics are especially noticeable for their German/WWII/Berlin references: "I, I Remember/Standing By The Wall/The Guns Shot Above Our Heads"
. It's such a spirited and moving track, complete with Bowie's best vocal; it makes the succeeding two tracks look mediocre by comparison, though they are fine in themselves. 'Blackout'
is particularly noticeable, with its over-dramatic chorus that screams in a panic, "Get Me To A Doctor's/I've Been Told Someone's Back In Town"
But Side Two (we're talking vinyl here) is where Bowie packed the real
surprise. In a similar vein to Low
, it's comprised of a sequence of four instrumental tracks that are filled with synths and odd, distorted effects from 'real' instruments; it's probably of the most creative pieces of work by this man. 'V-2 Schneider'
starts with the droning of aeroplanes, before brass instruments come to the fore, and a floaty, barely-discernable voice (possibly via a vocoder?) proclaims the arrival of the 'V-2 Schneider'. It's still quite jazzy and upbeat (though definitely quirky), and is in direct contrast to the next track that comes to us through the sound of falling rain...
'Sense Of Doubt'
is truly disturbing
, with a simple yet effective falling four-note sequence that sounds incredibly doomy. The other synth effects here are deliberately disorganised, as if they don't know where to go. Ambient watery effects add to the nightmarish quality of this track, as do the strange, childlike, giggly effects to be heard in places. Near the end of the track, a warm organ-like synth sound threatens to rescue the listener, before those
four notes come in again.
therefore brings some welcome relief. Listening to this, you are transported to a peaceful, Zen-like garden, a Japanese string teasing away in the background to give this interlude a truly oriental feeling. 'Neukoln'
, on the other hand, reaches back to some of the more ominous feelings on this album. While not as desolate as 'Sense Of Doubt'
, it's nevertheless a little disconcerting, thanks to the distorted tootings reigning over it all. It's weird enough to separate it from the rest of this instrumental second half, and ends on some horrible notes (but in the good, 'interesting' way).
Which is why 'The Secret Life Of Arabia'
is so frustrating. The last notes on this album should be the bizarre squealing sounds of 'Neukoln'
. Why finish with a track that is neither instrumental nor of the quality of the first songs on the album? It's still a good track, conveying a more humourous feeling than the other songs, but would have been more comfortable on Young Americans
Still, that's just nitpicking, I suppose. The unique but hit-and-miss Low
started this impressive triptych, and the funkier Lodger
finished it, but "Heroes"
has it all. It would be the album that every young budding musician would refer to for guidance and inspiration for the next decade, and beyond.