Review Summary: Bowie was still finding his way, but it was a clear leap forward from his first album. It remains as one of the best transitional albums in the end of the 60’s.
“Space Oddity” is the second studio album of David Bowie and was released in 1969. The line up on the album is David Bowie, Rick Wakeman, Terry Cox, Tim Renwick, Keith Christmas, Mick Wayne, Tony Visconti, Herbie Flowers, Paul Buckmaster and Benny Marshall and friends.
Bowie, was a musician, a performer and a song writer that defied the conventions completely. As we know, he continually reinvented himself and his art. It seemed as though time was always at a premium. With a complete disregard for music style loyalty or so called integrity, he often combined the most unlike forms of music, presenting the rock world with its first truly post modern star. After living each legendary character to the utmost, he deconstructed which made of him a real singular person, and then a new element would arise to confound and entice the masses who thought they had just figured out his last incarnation.
Bowie has begun his interest for music very early. The early bands he played with, The Konrads, The King Bees, The Manish Boys and The Lower Third provided him an introduction into the showy world of pop and fashion. In 1967 he released his debut eponymous studio album, an amalgam of pop, psychedelic and music hall. But it wasn’t until 1969 that the splash down into the charts would begin, with the legendary album “Space Oddity”.
“Space Oddity” was released two years after his obscure self titled chamber pop debut studio album. His second was regarded as a mix of folk, rock, psychedelic, spacey music, pop and progressive rock. We can say that basically it’s a transition album between the music of the 60’s and what would be the future music of the 70’s. So, basically Bowie can be viewed in retrospect as all that Bowie had been and a little of what he would become, in the next years. It was known especially for the single of the same name. But the sound of “Space Oddity” differs greatly from that of the zoned out space rock of its title track. This is also the album with the first appearance of Wakeman, who plays on several tracks.
About the lyrics, we all know that they have always been one of Bowie’s stronger points. Whether he’s recounting the otherworldly journey of an astronaut or lamenting about the apocalypse, a quirky sort of introspection that can always be expected from him. “Space Oddity” finds him at his very least eccentric, often touching upon fairly light hearted but serious subject matter. Bowie’s voice and lyrics, suit the music perfectly, placing this album mainly within the general folk umbrella rather than the hard rock that would later apply to his sound, in the next years.
About the music, while the single “Space Oddity” features out vocal harmonies, organs, wandering guitar solos, and space age sound effects, the remainder of the tracks are very simple, straightforward folk rock with a hint of hippie psychedelic. Most songs are structured fairly simple. Accompanied by the gentle psychedelic harmony of the backing band, Bowie’s 12-string acoustic takes the centre stage as he crafts an album’s worth of essential 60’s songs. The title track itself is a tremendous leap forward, exploring realms of textures and sound effects that would not be touched again for years. The rest of the album is simply very well composed by folk rock. Most of the songs sound fairly similar, but the gentle acoustic guitar driven sound is a timeless one. “Letter To Hermione” stands out as the saddest song on the album, a reading of a letter to a past lover. “(Don’t Sit Down)”, on the other hand is a strange and trippy forty-second track on which Bowie repeats the words “don’t sit down” before cutting into forced laughter. “Cygnet Committee” and “Memory Of A Free Festival”, are two songs that represent the very core of the music that Bowie would make for the decade to come, often times of serious intent, but hinting at the experimental and leaning towards the eccentric and even nonsensical. On “Space Oddity”, he creates a concise and listenable collection of songs which fit very well together. This is a landmark of the 60’s rock, deserving a special mention alongside with albums such as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” of The Beatles and “Are You Experienced” of Jimi Hendrix, despite the differences.
Conclusion: “Space Oddity” is often derided as one of Bowie’s weakest albums, especially given the notoriety of its title track. I don’t agree. I can see some parallelism between “Space Oddity”, Genesis’ “Trespass” and Tim Buckley’s “Goodbye And Hello”, but for different reasons. By one hand, “Space Oddity” is for Bowie’s fans the same thing that “Trespass” is for Genesis’ fans. Despite both albums be the second studio albums of them, both represent, in a certain way, their real debut album. By the other hand, “Space Oddity” and “Goodbye And Hello” are two excellent albums. Both represent two of the best and most representative examples of the progressive folk and the psychedelic music. They represent also two of the best examples of the changing of the rock music in the end of an era, the 60’s.
Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)