Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Station To Station' by The Thin White Duke David Bowie.
David Bowie’s ‘Station To Station’ signalled the end of his American adventure - the ephemeral chase of fame and artistic freedom had come at a cost to Bowie’s physical and mental health. The album was recorded around the same time Bowie shot The Man Who Fell To Earth, the cult sci-fi movie in which he appears dangerously pale and gaunt as alien explorer Thomas Newton.
A claustrophobic malaise of occult references powered by drug addiction and paranoia, ‘Station To Station’ is the musical equivalent of Eric Blair typing 1984 on a typewriter made of cocaine. It’s fearless, brave, dangerous, yet crumbling to the onrushing fear and darkness. Behind the spotlight of creation, the Thought Police are waiting and are ready to pounce.
Bowie would escape to Berlin within months, but first he would have to examine himself like he’d never done before. In order to do that he would have to reach his lowest ebb by finding himself in a state approaching overdosing in the studio.
Matters where not helped by the fact that Bowie was simultaneously working on the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell To Earth - the instrumental project would eventually be refused by the filmmakers. Subterraneans would be revived with the help of Brian Eno in Berlin, but otherwise the project was a cocaine-fuelled dead end.
Bowie assembled a band of Carlos Alomar (Guitar), George Murray (Bass), and Dennis Davis (Drums), who would remain his rhythmic backbone until 1980. This core was augmented by Earl Slick (Lead Guitar) - who would later appear on John Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’ - and Roy Bittan of The E Street Band (Piano) to power his latest sonic adventure. If they - or Bowie’s audience - were expecting 'Young Americans II', they should have known better.
Station To Station begins with a train of static entering a bleak station, which slowly builds into an otherworldly funk for over three-minutes. Bowie’s voice finally enters the fray, setting the scene for what unfurls across the album’s six songs, with a highly descriptive, vivid volley of imagery to decipher or draw your own conclusions from.
“The return of The Thin White Duke throwing darts in lovers eyes. Here are we, one magical moment such is the stuff from where dreams are woven. Bending sound; dredging the ocean lost in my circle. Here am I, flashing no colour, tall in this room overlooking the ocean. Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to malkulth.”
On the back of the huge success of Young Americans and Fame it’s only natural to open your next album with a Rubix Cube verse containing the Hebrew words for two of the stations of the cross...said no-one, ever, except David Bowie. But that’s what makes David Jones "David Bowie", his fantastical ability to change direction with successful results.
Of course it could be the cocaine talking, but Bowie disagrees (at the time) - “It’s not the side effects of the cocaine/ I’m thinking that it must be love,” comes a later refrain in 'Station To Station's ten-minute introductory title-track opus.
Golden Years will undoubtedly have appealed - and still will - to fans of Fame, and was the obvious single, being that it was the only sub five-minute track on the album. Never one to hide his light under his bushel, it’s alleged that Bowie offered the track to Elvis Pressley, but it was rejected just as Sinatra had rejected his lyrics for what would become My Way some years previously. That rejection prompted him to produce Life On Mars. In the aftermath of this alleged rejection Bowie would go on to produce the seminal albums ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’.
Long famed for his cut and paste lyrical creations, 'Station To Station' contains one of his kookiest lyrics. TVC 15, a song about the character’s girlfriend being swallowed by a television and his subsequent attempts to fish her out of it, unsurprisingly didn't scream single to American record executives, and the more romantic funk squelch of Stay was preferred.
‘Station To Station’ closes with Wild Is The Wind a song which Bowie would continue to perform well into the next century. It's a cover of the Johnny Mathis song originally penned by Dimitri Tiomkin for the 1957 movie of the same name starring Anthony Quinn (The Guns of Navarone, Lawrence of Arabia), but best known as a Nina Simone song. It is oft regarded as one of Bowie’s finest vocals of the 1970’s thanks to his passionate, emotive, sweeping vibrato.
It’s the type of delivery that makes the earlier lyric, “It’s not the side effects of the cocaine/ I’m thinking that it must be love,” all the more seismic. It's as if Bowie has found the eye of the storm in the hail of emotions in his personal life within Wild Is The Wind, and is drawn to it as he searches for a way out of drug addiction, legal disputes, the silo of fame and the spectre of insanity. The wind would take Bowie east to Berlin to commune with Eno and Iggy Pop in a fruitful and varied period of sonic experimentation.
Sadly, ‘Station To Station’ is often regarded as a footnote of transition in the Bowie catalogue, but its importance shouldn’t be overlooked - in many ways it’s more important that the final instalment of the Berlin trilogy, 'Lodger'. 'Station To Station' provides the initial blast of an exciting sonic shift for Bowie whereas ‘Lodger’ delivers the least exciting chimes of the cycle, as Bowie shuffles towards a new soundscape that isn’t fully realised until the imperious ‘Scary Monsters’ in 1980.
‘Station To Station' is the sound of an artist at the height of his fame to date, setting alight to all that came before in his bravest move since killing Ziggy Stardust.