Young Americans was an album which divided opinion. As a new sound for David Bowie, it wasn’t something he had mastered, and for some fans, the new sound alienated them. In his 10th album, Bowie continued to evolve his sound, added Krautrock to his repertoire, and created a new character.
STATION TO STATION AND WORD ON A WING: STATION TO STATION (1976)
Two choices for this one, both are examples of what was described in the opening section of this post. Station to Station is an example of how Bowie was beginning to embrace Krautrock, the likes of Neu! and Kraftwerk, in his music. From the sound of the train, the creeping piano melody, and the long, instrumental opening, it really succeeds in creating a Krautrock sound. The song also introduces us to The Thin White Duke, probably my favourite Bowie character, but probably his nastiest. The character was unemotional, amoral, drug addicted, and was probably the most real character Bowie created, simply due to the fact he was autobiographical.
At this point, in the grip of a cocaine addiction, Bowie was at his worst, physically and mentally. The Thin White Duke was the embodiment of that, and the song acts; in my opinion, as an autobiographical account of what he became. The man was physically ill, and very mentally unwell too.
On a tangent, I must comment on something which bothers me about fans of people’s work. I do consider Station To Station a fine album, a very fine album. But something which bothers me about this album, and other albums made by people who have suffered from addiction is that people will glorify the drug; in this case, Cocaine, to be great, simply because it influenced someone to create this work.
I do not subscribe to that. Cocaine is an addictive substance, and I am not saying that Cocaine had no effect on Bowie as an artist, since substances like that mess with your head and your body, but you’re glorifying a drug which nearly killed a man for making an album you like, and that is wrong. Bowie was physically and mentally unsustainable around this period.
This is why I also pick Word on a Wing, which feels like Station to Station’s companion. We saw in Station to Station the portrait of a broken man, and Word on a Wing was the cry for help of a broken man; something which he would later admit. The song ‘Word on a Wing’ is a spiritual cry for help from Bowie to God, and trying to be a part of God’s ‘scheme of things’. Bowie even began wearing a cross around this era because his mental and physical despair that was killing him was bringing him closer to his spiritual side. The music is hauntingly beautiful, it is mellower than many of the other tracks on this album, with sounds akin to a chorus at the end of the song, with the sound of an organ as well. It really is a stunning piece of work.
Station to Station was a natural maturation of Young Americans, with the sort of storytelling that you’d see in his glam rock albums. I really love these songs. I love Station to Station as an album. Some consider the 1974-76 era in Bowie’s career to be its own era; the plastic soul era. I don’t view it as such. I consider it a prolonged evolution of the early 70’s flower child, character-based works, to the late 70’s existential realist Bowie of the late 70’s, which will be covered over the next 3 days.