Secret Meeting score: 97
by Joseph Purcell
I am still filled with sadness when I think that David Bowie is no longer with us. The man who innovated and created more than any other, and the man who left a lasting impression on all who heard his music. Bowie was unique. Constantly evolving and expanding what it meant to be a rock star. Knowng that we will never see or hear his interpretation of the world again is difficult to accept and the world is much poorer for this. However, when such feelings come, we have his back catalogue to turn to – his explanations, his struggles and his observations. And, what a collection!
I had always been a Bowie fan. Along with Marc Bolan, ABBA, Elvis Presley and Motown, he made up the majority of the music that I was exposed to as a child. His howling delivery of Jean Genie hooked me from the very first time my Dad played the vinyl for me. His chameleonic reinventions, from Ziggy to the Thin White Duke, were always ‘cool’. Bowie had an eerie mystique about him and this grew even further after retiring from performing live when he retreated to New York and became reclusive.
I listened to the tales from my parents and their friends who’d been fortunate enough to see him live at the peak of his powers. I spent hours listening to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Heroes and Low. Sound and Vision, with its funk infused grooves was, as far as my ears were concerned, musical perfection. Despite loving Bowie, my listening was limited to the aforementioned albums, along with a ‘Bowie at the Beeb’ compilation of live BBC session recordings. I had fleetingly dabbled in other bits of his back catalogue, but seemed to always return to the comforting soundtrack of my childhood. Only with his untimely death in 2016 did I begin to dig further and discover the true genius of the man. And it was at this point that I discovered his genre-fusing masterpiece, Station to Station. A record that manages to incorporate everything fantastic about pop music: it is dramatic, stylish, emotional and danceable. It’s not Bowie’s most celebrated album, but it’s my favourite.
Station to Station was a milestone in Bowie’s transition – bridging the soul of Young Americans to his late 1970’s Berlin Trilogy. Speaking to Uncut, Bowie himself said of the album, “As far as the music goes, Low and its siblings were a direct follow-on from the title track.”
It’s not just the brilliant songs, but everything about the album. The sleeve, featuring a black-and-white still from The Man Who Fell to Earth (which was later re-issued in colour), depicts Bowie looking effortlessly cool. Adopting the final character of his career (following Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane), this was Bowie once again using his body as a canvas and fully immersed in his final persona. Like a film star that had stepped out from the silver screen, The Thin White Duke was James Dean and Marlon Brando rolled into one. A stylish Aryan who lacked emotions and who carried a sinister air about him that was definitively European. And in true Bowie style, he was not afraid to leave the 1970’s prototype image of glam rock that had brought him so much success behind in order to follow his art. This was Bowie at his ultimate; never sounding or looking better.
Opening with the droning rumble of a train clattering against its tracks, the title track opens the album in truly epic fashion and the first minute is Bowie’s homage to one of his fascinations of the time – the industrial sound of early 70’s German machine music, also known as Krautrock, and particularly the bands Neu! and Kraftwerk. Then enters Bowie, announcing his presence with the croon of the nonpareil lyrics, ‘The return of The Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers eyes’ over its motorik drums which grip the listener for the next ten minutes. A track that transcends genre, blasting away the clean, crisp pop of his previous records and lurching into a futuristic oasis as he announces, ‘The European cannon is here’.
After the assault of the title track, Golden Years is a blend of the ‘plastic soul’ sound produced on his previous record, Young Americans, and rides on the crest of a wave of funk as an infectious loop commands the listener to move to the music. ‘Don’t let me hear life is taking you nowhere… run for the shadows,’ he sings over the tightly constrained groove. With his voice surpassing anything he has put to tape previously, the song engrosses us in all of its subtle nuances and we are seduced by its effortlessly suave sound.
The hymn like Word on a Wing gently announces itself and is in danger of being engulfed by the assault of the first two tracks. However, instead it stands out on an album of highlights as a song of unparalleled beauty. It is the track to which I constantly return to daily. Struggling with his demons and searching for his place within the world, he engages in conversation with God – ‘Lord, I kneel and offer you my word on a wing/And I’m trying hard to fit among your scheme of things’. It is both poignant and uplifting in equal measures. The music is gorgeous, encasing the listener in its charm, while the lyrics and passion with which they are delivered leave a haunting echo. Bowie himself described the song and this period while living in LA as the darkest, and the song is a clear cry for help as he battled to stay alive on his extreme diet of red peppers, milk and cocaine. Struggling with his thoughts, purpose and existence, Bowie delivers a song that is flawless in every way.
Station to Station continues with the propulsive funk of TVC15 and the most ‘pop’ song on the record, Stay. These moments provide the perfect platform to showcase the talents of the incredible musicians Bowie had surrounded himself with who were the perfect vehicle for his creative genius. Then finally, the record closes with another majestic vocal performance; the album’s sole cover version, Wild is the Wind. And the ballad, most famously recognised by Nina Simone’s 1966 version, brings this journey of sound and imagination to a close.
This record is my antidote to the increasingly desperate situation in which we find ourselves in 2018. It is 37 minutes and 54 seconds of heartfelt contemplation, struggle with addiction and the musings of fate. A mixtape that blends the industrial bleeding sounds of krautrock with incredible funky grooves, a ferocious cacophony of guitars, infectious poptastic moments and majestic poignant balladry. It is Bowie at his blockbuster best, and I couldn’t think of anyone but The Thin White Duke to play the lead role.