Aladdin Sane

David Bowie

RCA, 1973

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


I've finally figured out what irritates me the most about David Bowie – I can't think of another artist with so much talent who's so frustratingly inconsistent. It seems that for every few amazing songs he comes up with, they’re followed up by songs that are average at best. Sometimes this annoying tendency even appears within single songs, where one section is great, only to be dashed to pieces by another that is garbage. Aladdin Sane unfortunately continues this trend.

For a long time I used to think this album was superior to his previous, landmark release Ziggy Stardust. I still think that the best material here is better than there, but the songwriting on Ziggy is certainly more consistently well-constructed. Aladdin Sane is a bit darker, moodier, and foreshadows Bowie's experimental phase. If only there wasn't so much filler here, this could have been the man's finest moment.

First of all, let me say that I'm thrilled that after the surprisingly sedate Ziggy Stardust, this album thankfully sees Bowie turn up the amps and rock out a bit more. Not a whole lot more, after all, since my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Bowie doesn't like to pigeonhole himself, but the increased energy combined with a vastly improved guitar tone by Mick Ronson is a welcome change to my ears. I don't think I could have handled another album filled with yet more piano tinkling bullshit, though there is still some present.

Hypocritically, however, I just praised this album for rocking out more, yet I’m forced to admit that the rockers on this album happen to be the weakest tracks. Just take "Watch Than Man," for example, which is nothing more than the most generic of generic ‘70s blues boogie rock with a slight nod to ‘5's doo wop ("Drive In Saturday" and the rockabilly bass line in "Panic In Detroit" are further examples of this). A number of the other songs here are as equally useless as "Watch That Man" –  one of them even sounds like a second rate Kiss track (the cover "Let's Spend The Night Together"). Not that any of the songs on Aladdin Sane are terrible – they're just not all that interesting to listen to, and certainly not of the quality you expect from the arguable creative peak of an extremely hyped artist.

I even have some problems with the two fan favorites here: "Panic In Detroit" and the megahit "The Jean Genie." Both songs feature quality guitar riffs by Ronson that are surprisingly memorable, but both are far too repetitive. The hooks, while strong, simply aren’t enough to support such a level of self-indulgence and unfortunately betray a sense of laziness in Bowie’s songwriting.

Speaking of laziness, what is up with the cover photo? Looks like a candid capture of Bowie as an extra on the set of Flesh Gordon.

Despite my criticisms, I want to finish this review on a positive note. There are four songs on Aladdin Sane that I like a hell of a lot: "Aladdin Sane", which has a really cool nighttime lounge feel to it, complete with an insane atonal piano part that's seems straight out of the world of Schoenberg; "Cracked Actor,” a spirited, Clash-style (pre-dating them obviously) rocker with one of Bowie's few wonderful choruses; "Time," a very theatrical and somewhat twisted sounding song that continues Bowie's alarming habit of aping Alice Cooper; and the final track, "Lady Grinning Soul,” another late night loungey piano-led piece that's every bit as great as the title track, which is only logical seeing how it's virtually a rewrite of it.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B



© 2008 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA, and is used for informational purposes only.