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.