Floating in a most peculiar way
David Bowie was a trend setter, he was a true influencer. Yes. He saw trends early and adapted fast, but I don’t think he invented them. But all that came later, at the earliest stages of his career he was almost rudderless. From the crazy vaudeville and music hall theatrics of the debut album in 1967 to his second self-titled album in 1969 he was a follower. Quite talented, but still a follower.
The 1969 debut album “David Bowie”, that later was called “Space oddity” on many re-releases, is a mix of different moods and styles. Many of the songs are in the folk music tradition of the sixties. Overall the LP lacks the consistency of his later works in the seventies, so this would be “minor” Bowie.
Without the monumental “Space oddity” the album would have been weak even. Now it is passable at least. “Space oddity” is one of his songs that are so well known, so “important” and so often played that I feel some fatigue from it. As a part of the LP it pops out and it is great, but as part of numerous “best of” albums and playlists it may have been burnt out, just a little. The song was used to perfection in the long introduction scene in Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”. It may have been the best part of the whole movie! When it pops up unannounced like that I realize, again, how great it is.
However, I have never been a fan of the LP, it is too straggly. As a “Bowieian” I feel a little embarrassed, but here it is. I am not a fan of this album. At closer review there are some nice tracks, but still “the whole” is not greater than “the sum of its parts” in this case. Some notable later albums will be quite the opposite.
The opening track “Space oddity”. What do we have on it? I like the intro, the music is faded in like a mystery, the acoustic guitar, the militaristic drums, and then David’s voice. That voice was lighter and in a higher pitch early in his life. It is good. I like the counting, the themes, the space travels, the dreams. Major Tom is a friend. He has always been there watching from the sky.
The next song is “Unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed”, what a jaunty name of a song! It has a nice electric guitar and a somewhat slightly boring harmonica. The song grows on you though.
Jumping to the last song on the first side we are faced with the elusive “Cygnet committee”. Is it about very small swans? I like swans, they are one of the most beautiful animals I know. The song is an early progressive rock song, it’s long and flowing, and it has separate distinct parts. I like the middle part, and I like the ending with the repeated lines “I want to live”. What killed the hippy movement? I love the melancholy in the text and singing. David is doing a great job expressing himself.
“We’d speak of a Swedish room…”. Okey, let’s do it. Is it the room in my childhood home in Skövde in the western farmlands of Sweden? Which room is it? Is it big?
Tony Visconti, David’s old friend and often producer of his albums is producing this album together with someone called Gus. Visconti is also playing the bass. Other notable musicians are Rick Wakeman of YES fame on the keyboards, and guitarist Tim Renwick that later would play with Pink Floyd on tour in the eighties.
On “God knows I’m good” I almost don’t recognize David’s voice. It is like from another century even. It is part of many Bowie songs that are dealing with dystopia and scary future worlds. This theme of his is something to keep our eyes out for.
The last song on the LP is the sing-along “Memory of a free festival”. It’s like Bowie’s “Hey Jude” but, well you know, not quite as good. I think you can agree. It was a favourite of mine when I was younger but nowadays I think it is too simpleton, too naïve… and we’re gonna have a party.
My rating: 4/10
- Space oddity
- Unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed
- Letter to Hermione
- Cygnet committee
- An occasional dream
- Wild eyed boy from Freecloud
- God knows I’m good
- Memory of a free festival
Best song: “Space oddity”
Produced by: Tony Visconti
Released: November 14, 1969