Friday, December 27, 2013

The Great Albums: Hunky Dory by David Bowie

For the second installment in The Great Albums series, I have decided to go with the fifth studio album by the man who changed his name because Davey Jones of The Monkees, was already a star when this young English boy came on the scene.  In other words, David Bowie, and the album Hunky Dory. Usually not considered Bowie's best work (though NME named it the third best album of all-time a few months back - behind only The Queen is Dead and Revolver), often falling short of more critically acclaimed records such as Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs, and Low, but Hunky Dory is still a quite fun album to peruse.  From its album cover of Bowie a la Marlene Dietrich, to its twisting and turning melodic voice that the singer/songwriter was just beginning to bring into the forefront of his artistic style, Hunky Dory represents Bowie at a musical and stylistic turning point in his career - one of many more to come.

Actually, Bowie himself considers Hunky Dory to be one of the most important works of his career, claiming it as the time he started communicating with what he wanted to do. Granted, he still had no idea what exactly it was he wanted to do, but now at least he knew he wanted to do something.  Following in the footsteps of his third album, The Man Who Sold the World, this is Bowie's first time fully with the band that would become the Spiders from Mars, and would help him become the Ziggy Stardust we all came to know and love and admire. This is an album that syncs together Bowie's talent of musical magic and his ability to write some of the most prophetic and poetic lyrics in rock and pop history. Opening with the stellar instant classic Changes, with its thumping, stuttering brilliance, and insular sounds (Bowie plays sax on the record as well), and full of lyrics that would be an opening anthem of the obsessive chameleonic nature of the artist's future days ("Strange fascination, fascinating me / Changes are taking the place I'm going through"), Hunky Dory stands as one of the finest - and most influential - albums of its day.  But Changes is just the beginning.

Just as Bowie is the most eclectic of performers and personalities, Hunky Dory is a most eclectic album. With songs that foretell of a Ziggy-esque future and ones that hearken back to Bowie's earlier Brit Pop days of his first album, as well as oddities and oddballs galore, Hunky Dory (in hindsight) is as much a fascinating deconstruction of a career that was just getting going at the time, as it is just a deee-light to listen to - over and over and over again.  With songs that giddily bounce around with the beauty of a hurdy-gurdy man (Kooks, written for and sung to Bowie's new born son, Duncan, aka Zowie), and ones that evoke surrealist imagery (Life on Mars? plays as a Dali/Bunuel-esque take on a little girl lost in the media-minded modern world), as well as songs written in tribute of Andy Warhol (this Flamenco-infused acoustic number, opens with a Warhol-esque behind-the-scenes intro), Bob Dylan (a loving parody of Dylan's Song to Woody), and Lou Reed (a Sweet Jane-inspired hard glam-rocking beast of a song for one of his biggest influences), Hunky Dory is perfectly pitched as an album that is so obviously created by a madman musical and lyrical genius. Changes may be the album's cornerstone work of musical lushness, the most haunting track though, belongs to the succulent Quicksand ("I'm the twisted name on Garbo's Eyes / Living proof of Churchill's lies") while the most dense (and probably the darkest) is the final track, the seemingly sinister Bewlay Brothers, with its Magical Mystery Tour-like fade away chanting ("In our wings that bark / Flashing teeth of brass / Standing tall in the dark"). I really cannot get enough of this album.

And then I think about the album some more, and realize that perhaps NME was right to call it the best Bowie ever made (and third best album of all-time). I've always loved it so, but while putting this second installment of The Great Albums together, I listened to Hunky Dory over and over again (both before and during my writing of said installment), and it has become ingrained into my so-called musical soul, moreso than ever. Yes, albums such as Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs, and Low, are incredible works as well, as are the vast majority of Bowie's albums, but right here, right now, I must say that Hunky Dory is indeed the best damn thing Bowie has ever done - or at the very least is my favourite Bowie album. Favourite indeed. To end with the beginning of Oh! You Pretty Things: "Wake up you sleepy head / put on some clothes, shake up your bed / Put another log on the fire for me / I've made some breakfast and coffee / Look out my window, what do I see / Crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me / All the nightmares came today / And it looks as though they're here to stay." And thus, the modern day David Bowie was born.


3 comments:

  1. Ziggy is the magical Bowie, Low is the philosophical Bowie, Diamond Dogs is the classical Bowie, and Hunky Dory is what falls into the cracks of genius. A brilliant, yet subtly so, work of art. Bravissimo.

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  2. I would say this is my second favorite Bowie, after Ziggy Stardust & dem Spiders from Mars. The guy's a fucking genius, and every goddamn thing he does is fucking spectacular. Have ya heard his latest album yet? The guy has not lost a step, baby! I actually get a big kick out of his first album. Many claim it's cheezy and juvenile, but those peeps are fuckin' dolts!

    As for Hunky Dory, it's a great blend of sixties Bowie and the new groove the guy was gettin' into at the time. Glam slam goddamn!!!

    So when ya gonna do Joy Division up in here!? Ya should be gettin' Closer to it by now. See what I did there? Yeah, that's right.

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  3. Love love love this album. Love love love Bowie. Oh what a pretty thing.

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