Review Summary: The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers eyes.Station to Station
is one of the most important albums released in the 1970’s. The way it masterfully bridged the gap between disco and punk inexplicably acted more as a precursor to the post-punk music that emerged in the late seventies, than it did the closer explosion of punk rock. All this was achieved in 1976, before punk was truly alive and kicking - almost as though it predicted what would come after punk, before punk even had a title or recognition.
More specific to its creator, Station to Station
can be best described as the mid-point in the transition from the plastic soul of Young Americans
to the cold, fractured post-punk of Bowie’s Berlin work. Its detached and clinical arrangements are underpinned by faux-funk rhythm sections, creating a startlingly unique sound - unique not only in Bowie’s discography, but in popular music in general.
Nowhere is this better witnessed than on the grandiose title track. Opening to a lengthy sample of a raging steam train, its ten minute runtime gets richer and denser as the seconds tick by, switching from a crawling, snarled repetitive riff to plastic soul, seamlessly. Lyrically, it’s just as compelling, full of regret and hope, spiritual searching and brave proclamations; ‘Station to Station’ contradicts itself to a fascinating degree. It’s at once dark and light - the darkness coming from the references to the occult and the undercurrent of paranoia, and the light out of the more optimistic chants of: “It’s not the side effect of the cocaine / I’m thinking that it must be love”.
The Thin White Duke character is a horrific caricature of the mid-seventies artist who created him. The emotionless Aryan superman fascinated by occultism is frighteningly close to the painfully thin David Bowie of late 1975, whose body and mind had been worn down by serious cocaine abuse. Bowie was a mess at the time of Station to Station
- a manic depressive hooked on drugs and the kabala, living off a diet of red and green peppers, milk, amphetamines and cocaine, keeping his curtains drawn throughout the day to avoid the “LA sun spoiling the vibe of the eternal now”.
Thankfully, Bowie managed to come clean in the succeeding years, but at the time of the Station
sessions, his deteriorating mental state had an astounding knock-on effect in the studio. Spurred on by drugs, Bowie became an exaggerated version of the aggressive perfectionist he already was - tales arose of recording sessions that went on for over 24 hours non-stop, only interrupted by the arrival of other bands booked into the studio, whereupon Bowie would swiftly shift his musical unit to the nearest studio to continue working.
The excessiveness in studio produced some stunning moments. ‘Golden Years’ is a pristine, polished slice of Grade A soul, and ‘Word on a Wing’ is a subtle, sophisticated ballad with beautiful vocal work; as is the closing cut, ‘Wild is the Wind’. Elsewhere, the album manages to balance itself by including jovial, fabulously catchy moments such as the nonsensical ‘TVC 15’, and the touching, detached soul of ‘Stay’.
Station to Station
was a groundbreaking release. At only 6 tracks long and featuring a distinct lack of commerciality, it’s easy to underestimate its importance, but the experimental blend of plastic soul and detached arrangements proved to be massively influential over the following years. It also marked Bowie’s departure from soul, and hinted at the sound he was moving towards - the metallic, fractured rock of his Berlin trilogy. Station to Station
is definitely a transitional album; contemporary interviews and even the lyrics hinted at Bowie’s desire to return to Europe - most starkly on the title-track (“The European cannon is here”). Transitional albums are usually a mess, but Station
is an exception - gracefully ducking its head below the parapet, saving itself from condemnation via the incredibly unique and influential sound it boasts. The end result is an album that ranks alongside Bowie’s finest accomplishments.