Bowie falls down to earth and releases another instant classic
The original title for this album was “The Return of the Thin White Duke”, but ultimately Bowie decided on calling it Station To Station instead, which was perhaps a far more sensible choice. But then by 1976, he could have named it Bat Shit From Venus and it still would have sold in the millions. Production wise, the LP has a particularly arctic, glacial aspect to it, from the stunningly ambitious title track, to Bowie’s sweepingly dramatic interpretation of “Wild Is The Wind”. Yet beneath the frost Station To Station is a deeply affecting album, even if David himself was somewhat emotionally and morally detached at the time.
In October 1975, Bowie entered Hollywood’s Cherokee Studios, writing most of the material while sessions were already underway. He would sleep throughout the day, and record at night, like some rock ‘n’ roll cocaine addicted Nosferatu. At this point, Bowie was in yet another state of transition, one which saw him gradually move away from his previous pop-rock preoccupations, and towards a slightly more European oriented sensibility, namely German wunderkinds Kraftwerk, whose use of pre-digital electronics offered a new way into the future.
“Station To Station” begins with the sound of a synthesized steam train travelling round your speakers. The influence of Kraftwerk is obvious, as the mechanical, monochromatic rhythm section anchor the beat, while Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick’s guitars interweave to form a dark disturbing web of incidental sounds. Soon Bowie makes a subtle yet no less theatrical entrance, singing with that unmistakable croon: “The return of the Thin White Duke/Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes”, enough to entrance the listener into a state of aural pleasure. Half way through the tune instantly shifts gears into more traditional rock territory, including an impressive guitar solo by Slick that closes the song out.
Next track, “Golden Years”, has to be Bowie’s best dance piece of the Seventies, and is another highlight, with its persistent main riff, addictive as opium melody, and even castanets. Word has it that Bowie wrote it with the intention of offering it to none other than Elvis Presley (with whom he shared the same birthday), and on “Golden Years” one can definitely discern the influence of Presley in David’s vocal delivery. The beautifully sung “Word On A Wing” is Bowie’s own petition for salvation, one which includes some exquisite piano by Roy Bittan, before lightening up on “TVC15”, full of honky-tonk piano and doo-wop backing vocals, all performed with a modern update. “Stay” has some of the finest guitar work on any Bowie album ever (no offence to Mick Ronson), where the funk-rock meter is pushed into the extreme. If this doesn’t get you onto the dance floor, then you must have rigor mortis.
The album ends with an extraordinary rendition of Dimitri Tiomkin’s “Wild Is The Wind”, a song originally recorded by Johnny Mathis for the 1956 film of the same name. Bowie takes what was originally a plaintive ballad and turns it into an epic worthy of Wuthering Heights, and features one of Bowie’s most remarkable and erotic vocal performances up to that point – maybe ever.
Whether it was his increasing dependency on cocaine, Bowie’s dalliance with Aryan right wing politics during this period would prove to be short lived. More than forty years after the fact, Station To Station remains an inspired and inspiring work of art. After this, next stop was Berlin, where he would subsequently issue a series of albums that were to not only transform his own career, but popular music in general. The man, who once described rock as a “toothless old woman”, would embark on a new phase of creativity, one which would put him at the vanguard of what would later become known as the new wave. As always, Bowie was always a step or two ahead.