Review Summary: Everything is hunky dory.Hunky Dory
is David Bowie’s first classic album. It’s distinctive yet familiar simultaneously, featuring some of his most essential tracks, as well as a platter of lesser known gentle pop gems. The scent of the air is sweet and exultant, with a young Bowie doffing his cap in the direction of simple cabaret rock, without the constraints of an omnipotent persona providing the backbone of the tales and tribulations of each song’s character.
Bowie sounds rather carefree and generally less intense and paranoid than his Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke embodiments, with Hunky Dory
representing a unique and individual place in his eclectic music catalogue. Instead of most of the songs relating to an androgynous alien rock star or a cocaine-addled soul man’s off-kilter view of the world, on this record, Bowie is just being Bowie - singing tales of hypothetical youngsters trying to live life, to an impressively accomplished standard.
The lyrics are a deep, cryptic poetry, enriched by personal tensions and evocative imagery which Bowie emotes with his superior vocals - finally finding the distinctive singing voice he'd been searching for since the mid sixties. The set kicks off with 'Changes' - one of Bowie’s undisputed classics. It sets the tone of the album well, with an upbeat smear of sax and bouncy piano providing the backing to Bowie’s rebellion against misunderstanding, as he belts out the catchy hook: “Time may change me, but I can’t trace time”.
'Oh! You Pretty Things' regurgitates the same formula to equally satisfying effect, but there are always small glimmers of sorrow to balance out the upbeat nature of the tunes with touches of something more pensive - 'Fill Your Heart' being a prime example. Even though the lyrics are hopeful, positive and life-affirming, the change of pace just before the end of the chorus is sombre - one of many intriguing moments that help cleanse the album of treading ‘overly cheery’ ground.
The biggest song in sound and reputation is undoubtedly 'Life On Mars' - a sweeping epic packed with tense orchestration, memorable lyrics and melodic guitar cords. Aside from the three outstanding classics ('Changes', 'Oh! You Pretty Things' and 'Life On Mars') there’s a cluster of overlooked, superb numbers, with the lively 'Queen Bitch', the avant-garde 'Andy Warhol', and the jovial 'Kooks' being just a few choice cuts.
is a superb set of early Bowie classics, before he got swept away by the future-shock paranoia of his pending personas, and whilst his albums released under the pretence of said characters were just as satisfying in their own right, this record takes on a character of its own - a refreshing, pure and exhilarated Bowie. It’s an invigorating and charming side role to Bowie’s more iconic glam rock 'Ziggy' phase, and as such, distinguishes itself as an essential part of any Bowie collection. It may take a little longer to warm to for those only versed in his other seventies experiments, but after a few spins, the warmth of Hunky Dory
is sure to prove its worth as one of Bowie’s most realised and well executed albums.