(Note: This was written before “Brand New Day” was released. Also, in hindsight, I may have been a little generous in doling out grated, but

David Bowie – just the name inspires so many different kinds of awesomeness. He’s one of the most iconic musicians and he’s one of the most chameleonic. I decided to do this not just because I’m a fan of Bowie, but because every album is like a different experience. While I normally hate to grade things because I’m anal retentive, but I figured saying “I recommend this” would be redundant and I do want to clarify how strongly Irecommend these albums so I implemented a grading system. I’m grading based on 3 things:

-         Quality of songs

-         Creativity

-         Memorability

I’ll admit now that I gave some albums better gradesthan ones I actually prefer, but creativity/originality have a lot of swing in this. Also, I am limiting this to studio albums – no compilations or live albums. But I will discuss soundtracks, which means YES, I will talk about Labyrinth.

David Bowie (1967) – This is it – David Bowie’s first album, the one that started it all, the album that jumpstarted one of the most prolific and diverse careers in rock. And… it’s okay. One might assume like many eponymous debut albums, this would be the trendsetter for the career – a la The Ramones or Black Sabbath – but this is actually more of a folk rock album and it does have some decent songs on it – such as “Uncle Arthur” and “Love You Til Tuesday.” If you like folk rock or David Bowie, this one is recommended. B

Space Oddity/David Bowie (1969) – Ground control to Major Tom! Now, this is what people are a little more familiar with. Actually, this album really isn’t that far off from the folk rock its predecessor was, however there is a more psychedelic flair on this one. “Space Oddity,” “The Wild-Eyed Boy from Freecloud” and “Memories of a Free Festival” show a move towards more complex and adventurous songs. Also, this has one of my favorite underrated songs on it – “Don’t Sit Down.” Starting off like a typical rock song, Bowie sings “don’t sit down” a few times before he breaks down laughing and the song ends at 19 seconds. (It’s as if he had a song in mind, but was too bombed to record it.) A

The Man who Sold the World (1970) – Anybody who says David Bowie can’t rock needs to listen to this album. Having recorded some folk rock albums and experimented with a more psychedelic sound, The Man who Sold the World is very much a rock album – fuzzy guitars, loud bass, heavy guitar solos, and bombastic drum fills. A song lik e“She Shook Me Cold”, for example, doesn’t sound too far of from something Led Zeppelin would record. Bowie still shows some of his ambitiousness left from the 8-minute opening song “The Width of a Circle” to the dour title track,concluding with the haunting and kettle-drum filled “The Supermen.” A

Hunky Dory(1971) – It’s hard to believe this was one of Bowie’s (relatively) early albums considering it’s one of the first to explore multiple genres. There are folk songs like “Song for Bob Dylan” and “Kooks.” Songs run the gamut from quirky –“Kooks” – to gloomy – “Bewlay Brothers.” “Life on Mars?” is the first and finest of Bowie’s “epic” orchestral songs – “Quicksand” could be viewed as a more down-to-Earth version of the same type.”Queen Bitch” is a Velvet Underground-style rocker and one of my favorite straight-up rock songs from Bowie. Oh, and this album has a little song called “Changes”! Even though this is one of Bowie’s most memorable albums, it gets an A- instead of an A because there is some filler (Granted Bowie filler is still Bowie, but I digress). A-

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (1972) – Here it is,the album that really put David Bowie on the map – yeah, those other albums were flops, whodathunk? This is the album that solidified David Bowie as a rock legend and icon of glam rock. The album tells the story of an alien that comes to Earth and becomes a musician so he can inspire people to embrace their sexuality to prevent the end of the world. The premise is silly, but a lot of it is about the tragedy of being a rock star. Songs like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” and “Five Years” have an incredible rallying cry sound while others like “Soul Love” achieve the same but with more downplayed tones. Songs like“Moonage Daydream” and “Starman” are great songs that create the album’s other worldly sound. “Ziggy Stardust” is not only one of rock’s great characters, but also one of the great character ballads and great guitar riffs.Plus, “Suffragette City” and “Hang on to Yourself” bring a lot of rock attitude to the album. This album is a classic and it is to be listened to at max volume. A+

Aladdin Sane(1973) – At the time, this album was viewed as an attempt to recreate Ziggy Stardust and listening to the opening track “Watch That Man,” one might be thinking the same thing. First of all, it were, would that really be a bad thing? But this album has so much more to it. For example, there are more piano heavy-songs and Bowie also channels his inner crooner on tunes like “The Prettiest Star” and the doo-wop song “Drive-in Saturday.” However, this album has a slightly darker and even maniacal tone to it as exemplified by the manic piano parts on “Time” and “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)” The rocking songs on this album – “Jean Genie” and a good cover of the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” have sort of a bluesy honky tonk-style sound. The days of this album being dismissed as a Ziggy Stardust clone are long gone and for good reason. A

Pin-ups(1973)– It’s a David Bowie cover album. No, I’m not kidding – every song on this album is a cover of another song. The temptation is to say that this is a misstep – especially compared to the other albums from this era. But it’s hard to call it a misstep when David Bowie made a cover album on purpose. If nothing else, this certainly is a competent album. I particularly like “Here Comes the Night” (originally by Them) a song that Bowie sings with such exuberance, it’shard to believe it’s not an original. In short, they’re cover songs, but they’re good covers. I do have a confession. I’ve heard very few of the original songs. There are two Who songs and I listened to the original “Here Comes the Night” after hearing Bowie’s cover. So, in a way, the album has a very eclectic tone. If there is one complaint to have, as a cover album, it feels too much like a random collection of songs rather than the well-thought-out pieces the other albums of this era were. Pin-ups isn’t required listening like everything else from Bowie’s glam era, but it’s worth checking out. B

Diamond Dogs(1974) – David Bowie wanted to produce a stage musical based on George Orwell’s1984. Having failed this, Bowie decided to incorporate these songs into his album Diamond Dogs. It’s fair to warn that this is a pretty gloomy album.The first track, “Future Legend” is just Bowie reading a poem about a futuristic wasteland. There’s the depressing “We are the Dead,” the haunting“Big Brother/Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” and the Broadway-style“Sweet Thing.” Fear not though – there are some kickass glam-era Bowie songs –“Diamond Dogs” “Rebel, Rebel” and even “1984” which is reminiscent of “The Theme from Shaft.” One song I really like that few people talk about is “Rock ‘n’ Roll with Me,” a sweet piano ballad. The 2-disc anniversary edition includes some good bonus tracks including “Dodo,” a song that really shows these songs’ theatrical origins and a great cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Growin’ Up” (which would have been a great addition to Pin-ups). A-

Young Americans (1975) – Having rid himself of the Ziggy Stardust character, Bowie decided to embrace one of his favorite types of music – soul.To be specific, he recorded blue-eyed soul (and yes, any time a white guy records soul, it’s called blue-eyed soul even if they have one blue eye and one brown eye). But rather trying to pretend he was black, Bowie decided to lend his regular voice to brilliant soul songs such as the saxophone-heavy title track – which is hard as hell to sing in Rock Band – and “Fascination.” The album also includes funk-fueled “Fame” and a trippy cover of “Across the Universe.” Considering his next “soul” album Station to Station took a slightly darker tone, this is the one I prefer as the feel-good energy is easier to relate to. A

Station to Station (1976) – If you truly believe musicians’ talent is proportionate to how many drugs they’re doing, this is the album for you. Bowie was so blitzed on cocaine that he actually has zero memory of recording this album. The title track starts off on kind of a gloomy note before transitioning into another R & B song. That’s a pretty good tone-setter for the album which bounces between upbeat R & B – “TVC15” and“Golden Years” – and gloomy but pretty ballads – “Word on a Wing” and “Wild is the Wind.” This album doesn’t have a lot of songs, but I’ll take quality over quantity any day. Like I said. Young Americans is the superior album, but this is still a really good album.Even if it is darker, at least it’s not a complete rehash. A-

Low (1977) – Believe it or not, but for the longest time, I overlooked this gem of an album. This was the first album of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy which were sort of a darker tone of albums. This could be viewed as an instrumental album. Yes, there are lyrics, but most of the songs are instrumentals and vocals are less important on this album. It was also the first Bowie album to use synthesizers– a rock taboo in the 1970’s. And it’s used quite well – Much of the typical rock music is raw and the synth music is used as a unique contrast. The first half of the album is very raw and aggressive – with more upbeat songs like“Sound and Vision” around to prevent it from being a total glum-fest – while the second is more atmospheric and even haunting. Out of the Berlin albums, this is the one I recommend the most. A

“Heroes”(1977)- Berlin trilogy part 2 – I find this to be the more emotive of the three albums, mostly due to the title track. It combines triple-layered guitar riff from Robert Fripp with some of Bowie’s most virtuosic vocals. “Sons of the Silent Age” is another good song that taps into Bowie’s emotive qualities. Songs like “Blackout” and “Beauty and the Beast” make the transition to new wave on this album seem more evident.  Much like Low, the second half of this album is dedicated to instrumentals. Again, these are atmospheric, but there interesting as they sound like they could be a film score to something like Blade Runner. “V-2 Schneider” breaks from the trend by being a more upbeat jazzy song. A-

Lodger(1979) – The shocking finale to David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy! The first half of the album is dedicated to the premise of travel and is ergo an embracement of world music. “Yassassin”, for example is a Turkish-style reggae song. “African Night Flight” features very African-sounding chanting while “Move On” features a very percussive, African-sounding beat. Side 2 (if you actually listen to this on vynill) is meant to be a collection of socially-conscience songs. For example, “Boys Keep Swinging” – which is actually a pretty catchy song – is a critique of hyper-masculinity. Other issues tackled include domestic violence and the odd life of disc jockeys. The songs are good enough – including “Look Back in Anger” which had a cool Dorian Grey-style music video – they’re enjoyable whether you pay attention to the messages or not. (And don’t feel bad if you never caught them, I didn’t either.) B+

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980) – Widely considered Bowie’s last “perfect” album by purists, this marks the end of Bowie’s new wave phase. Scary Monsters has sort of a unique form. It’s bookended by two songs both titled “It’s No Game” – Part I is a very unnerving song with vocals that sound like Bowie’s being castrated, Japanese speaking and a very frantic ending while Part II is a simpler, more melodic song. And the songs in between make that transition. Most people remember this album for “Ashes to Ashes,” a sequel to “Space Oddity” that has a pretty haunting tone which captures the psychedelic feel of its predecessor (and it’s also remembered for its trippy music video). That’s followed by the toe-tapper new wave classic “Fashion” (“Turn to the left!”). Some of the more melodic songs include “Teenage Wildlife” which has some impressive guitar work from Carlos Alomar. Although I wouldn’t consider this Bowie’s last great album, I do agree this is one hell of a good album. A

Let’s Dance (1983) – This is going to be one of my more controversial choices, but you know something, I love this album! A lot of people dislike Let’s Dance because it’s a pop album. My attitude is so what? It’s a pop album, but it’s a damn good pop album! And a lot of the guitar work is done by none other than Stevie Ray Vaughan. “Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance” are both energetic songs that put one in the mood to dance. I admit I’ve never heard Iggy Pop’s original “China Girl,” but Bowie’s purring vocals and unique instrumentation makes it great listen and I’m sure most people who have seen Inglorious Basterds have discovered their love for the emotive “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire).” Plus, some versions include “Under Pressure” as a bonus track. B+

Tonight (1984) – Another one of David Bowie’s oft-maligned pop albums and unfortunately, I can’t defend this one… as much. The album is decent, but from Bowie, it’s fair to expect a little more than decent. “Loving the Alien” is a good epic-type song, but compared to “Life on Mars?” it feels forced. “Blue Jean” is a fun,catchy song, but not as good as anything from Let’s Dance and his cover of “God Only Knows” is pretty solid. Overall, I do enjoy this album, but it’s just not a very inspired album. Some versions of this album include “Absolute Beginners” (the theme for the movie of the same name) and “As the World Falls Down” (yes, from Labyrinth) as bonus tracks. They’re both good enough, it leaves one wondering why the rest of the album isn’t like them. Speaking of “As the World Falls Down”… C+

Labyrinth (1986) – I have a feeling if this were a “legit” music critic’s site (I use quotation marks because their opinions are no more valuable than ours), I’d have my card – or whatever they use – revoked for what I’m about to say, but I’m on a site filled with nostalgia junkies, so I can safely say I adore this album! The main title is a great ‘80’s-tastic movie theme not unlike “Neverending Story.” The aforementioned “As the World Falls Down” is a genuinely pretty love ballad while “Underground” is a catchy and gospel-heavy reprise of the main theme. And I’m sure the mere mention of “Magic Dance” will have it stuck in some of your heads for the rest of the week. I usually skip over the score when I listen to this album, but I think it’s okay – even if some of it sounds like the soundtrack to a Sega Genesis game and the best bits are the ones that use “As the World Falls Down” as a motif. Labyrinth may not be Purple Rain in terms of movie soundtracks. It’s not Hunky Dory in terms of Bowie-albums, but I think it holds up even without nostalgia-goggles. B

Never Let Me Down (1987) – Universally derided as Bowie’sworst album, is it really that bad? A better question is what makes this album so bad? Well, to begin with this is a synth-pop album so if you hate synth-pop, I can guarantee you’ll hate this. However, for synth-pop songs, they’re not that bad. Unfortunately, none of the songs are that good either, mostly feeling like filler for a much better album. Even if you don’t like Let’s Dance, you can probably recognize the creativity and energy that went into that album, both of which feel absent on this one. None of the songs on this album are particularly memorable with the exception of “Glass Spider” with its “Stonehenge” (yes, the Spinal Tap song) style opening and repetitive second half. Speaking of which, that’s one complaint I have with this album – songs are extremely repetitive – often boiling down to just Bowie repeating the title of the song. Bowie admitted he was running low on creative juice during this time and it shows. While this isn’t the atrocity a lot of people say it is, it does feel like a slap in the face that one of music’s biggest trailblazers would record such a phoned-in generic album. C-

Tin Machine (1989) – I might as well point out that this isn’t exactly a David Bowie album, but rather the band Tin Machine which David Bowie was the front man for. This is another effort from Bowie that’s gotten a bad reputation. In fact, because of said reputation, this is one of the albums Itried to avoid listening to. The big complaint was that it was a “metal” album,a crazy notion considering Bowie was 41 when he recorded this and had just gotten over his pop phase. Plus, the idea of Bowie doing metal probably just seemed repugnant to a lot of fans – despite previously recording The Man who Sold the World. Well, I am not one of those fans as this is a good album (and it’s more hard rock than metal). The instrumentation is good, Bowie’s vocals are good, and it’s the first time we’ve heard him rock since Diamond Dogs. There is some filler towards the end, but with songs like “Crack City” and a cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” bringing back the Bowie energy missing from Tonight and Never Let Me Down, this album is a welcome addition. B

Tin Machine II (1992) – The only other album by the band Tin Machine (There was a live album, but I’m not covering those), this follows the tradition of its predecessor pretty closely. That can be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your tastes. I quite like this album, but anyone who didn’t like the first one probably won’t be too wild about this one. And to be honest, I can see why some people don’t like it. All of the songs are good, but very few of them are memorable – the exceptions being “Stateside,” a blues song that shows off the band’s musical chops and “A Big Hurt” which has sort of a punk vibe. I know I deducted points for the pop albums for being unmemorable, but it’s a matter of taste and I like this kind of music. B-

Black Tie White Noise (1993) – I might as well admit something – I am not normally a fan of electronic music. This album is an exception. Then again, it is accurate to describe this is a blue-eyed soul album with electronic instrumentation. Rather than just being a tool for the music, the electronic music lends itself perfectly to Bowie’s sultry (For the record, David Bowie is the only man I’m willing to call sultry) singing voice as exemplified by the title track,  “Jump They Say” and the funky “Miracle Goodnight.” However, I have to admit that my favorite songs from this song are actually the instrumentals including “The Wedding” and the jazzy “Looking for Lester.” Even if it’s not one of his more memorable albums, it’s still worth checking out. B

Buddha of Suburbia (1995) – Another soundtrack, and for something I actually haven’t seen – namely because it was a BBC miniseries. And other than that, I know very little about this. Bowie was quite proud of this album and upset that the studio virtually buried it. And for good reason, this is a damn good album! Bookended by the eponymous song, which actually sets the tone for dealing with the changes of life, this album runs the gamut. There area lot of instrumentals which range from jazz to ambiance. There are also some sweet ballads such as “Strangers When We Meet.” There are a few weak tracks such as “Sex and the Church” (You know now all the lyrics to that song), but overall,this is a solid album. I almost want to see this show just to see how these songs fit into the context. A-

Outside (1995) – With the popularity of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea to record such a dark album (Bowie even toured with Trent Reznor). Like Ziggy Stardust, this album tells a story. Set in a future where art has reached a point where people are murdering people as a form of art. There are the dark-toned songs including “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” – which doesn’t sound that far off from a Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson song – and “Wishful Beginnings,” a song that uses a menacing laugh for a rhythm section. At 19 songs, this is one of Bowie’s longer albums and even though this is classified as industrial, it still explores multiple genres – “A Small Plot of Land” sounds like a jazz jam session – what I heard Bowie wanted to record, and “Hallo Spaceboy” embraces techno. “Strangers When We Meet” is recycled from Buddha of Suburbia and that’s probably a good choice as it will probably raise listeners’ moods. This is widely considered one of Bowie’s last great albums and it’s certainly one of his most ambitious. A-

Earthling (1997) – I like David Bowie. I don’t like techno. Naturally, you can see the dilemma I’m in. Okay, I don’t despise techno, but it’s not a genre of music I’m wild about. Embracing his home country England (even flaunting a Union Jack duster on the album cover), Bowie recorded a techno-pop album because that type of music was very popular in Europe at the time. I find this album to be a mixed bag. All things being fair, the songs on this album are actually pretty good. “Little Wonder” is pretty catchy and “I’m Afraid of Americans” is apretty cool industrial song. However, as an album, the songs kind of wear out their welcome quickly. On their own, it’s a good collection, but eventually, I get sick of the drum machines and weird instrumentation. Naturally, this is a hard album to recommend. This type of music isn’t my cup of tea, but I can still recognize a well-made album when I hear it. B-

On a side note, “I’m Afraid of Americans” isn’t just my favorite song on the album. It’s the first non-Labyrinth exposure I had to Bowie. I saw the video on MTV where Bowie is stalked by people – including Trent Reznor – who use finger-guns likereal guns. And I thought it was awesome! So this album does have some merit.

Hours (1999)– As one might ascertain from the cover where a long-haired David Bowie is nurturing a short-haired David Bowie, this is a pretty self-reflective album.It’s sort of caught between two genres. On one hand, it’s sort of an art-rock album and the songs – such as “Thursday’s Child” and “The Pretty Things are Going to Hell” can be a little jarring. They’re not for everyone, but after being eased into them, I enjoyed them. There are some acoustic rock songs that are clearly throwbacks to Bowie’s early ‘70’s work including “Survive” and “Seven.” Without a doubt, these are my favorite songs from the album. While this isn’t one of Bowie’s better albums, there is enough creativity to make it enjoyable. B

Heathen(2002)– Listening to this album, I can’t believe I once truly thought David Bowie was devoid of creative juices by this point in his career. This album is a collection of songs that summarize Bowie’s reactions to 9/11 (Remember, he spent a lot of time in New York). As such, this is without question’s Bowie’s most emotional album since “Heroes.” Songs on this album can be frantic (“Angry”;), gloomy (“Slow Burn”;) and even touching (“Everyone Says Hi”;). Some of the songs have sort of a raw, electric sound not heard since Low. Instrumentation plays an important part of this album such the final song “Heathen (The Rays)”where the lack of lyrics sort of just make the listener absorb what is happening – kind of like a quiet scene in a movie. If you need a reminder that the man still had it around this time, Heathenis the album to pick up. A-

Reality (2003)– It’s hard to believe this is probably David Bowie’s last album (There hasbeen an internet leak, but that’s out of my jurisdiction). In fact, to get myself in the right mindset, I deliberately held this album off until last. And, I must say, David Bowie knows how to go out with a bang. Like Hours, this is a very self-reflective album. However, Bowie did a significantly better job on this album. I say thatbecause the music actually feels like a good throwback to his seventies material. In fact, there’s a pretty good re-recording of “Rebel, Rebel.” Other highlights include the pseudo-funky “Never Get Old” which shows off just how well Bowie could still belt it out at 56, the chord-heavy but sentimental “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon,” and “Try Some, Buy Some” which starts out on a folky tone only to ascend to a higher level. For his swan song performance, David Bowie embraces so many of things that made his career great. A-


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