Thursday 19 February 2015

Worst To Best: David Bowie

Worst To Best: David Bowie

When it comes to the tale of Bowie and me, I was not as fortunate as many of you reading this would have been. My exposure to the man's genius did not come by means of parental figurines—on the contrary, I was actively warned against it. For during my younger days of consuming as many classic musicians as I could stomach, I announced my interest in this enigmatic Bowie-being to my mother, and got shot down. "Please don't listen to him," she requested. "He's weird. He's like the Marilyn Manson of my day."

As if that would discourage me. Because I knew there had to be something to this guy. How else did I recognise his name without having heard any of his music, hmmm? Hence why I embarked on my lone mission of Bowieducation with a fierce catlike curiosity, no safety belt or nothing, and am happy to report the undertaking was an impeccable success (as this blog demonstrates). The meaning of life became apparent as the divine spirit grew within my core, the expansion proving Bowie as the Greatest Rock God to have ever walked the Earth, more than Jesus maybe even. Forget Lennon or Elvis or Berry or any other holy name you can throw at me; Bowie is better, and I won't hear any different, nanana not listening. Perhaps he was never the most proficient lyricist or guitarist or even songwriter, but he is the irrefutable master of versatility, forever reinventing every aspect of his character like some Messiah transforming to serve one colossal sentence over the course of four decades. And he did it to save us. Make no mistake, we would all be dead without him. We owe him our everything. All hail the saviour David Bowie, amen.

So to honour this creature's contribution to musical progression, I finally took it upon myself to write this long overdue sermon of worship, by revisiting every single Bowie album and then ordering them from what I consider to be the worst to the best, as if I have ever earned the right to do so. I am not worthy of the assignment. Nobody is. However, by the Lord's forgiveness, I did try my hardest to provide justice to a figure who doesn't need it, and am satisfied enough to present this gift to everyone, my little part in preaching the good word. Here is the Worst to Best of David Bowie according to me, and it goes like this:

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 29. Pin Ups

29. Pin Ups (1973)

Glam Pop Rock

Released during an almost unstoppable run of classics, this hiccup is generally cited as one of David's weaker efforts, yet is hardly ever treated as his worst. However, I have my reasons, and I can explain them to you as straightforward as this: Bowie has written some of the greatest original songs in the history of all time, and as a result, his perpetually bothersome compulsion to scatter cover songs amongst his otherwise secure catalogue has always appeared pointless to me—and Pin Ups is a full fucking album of them. Sure, the project's fuel of love and fun does not go unnoticed and is not without integrity, but I still cannot escape the disappointment where these nostalgic interpretations are nothing more than a pothole interrupting a perfect flow of masterpieces, trying too hard to rock hard and probably a sign that Bowie was overworking himself during this immensely creative period. And so as much as I enjoy it for what it is, I wholeheartedly consider this as Bowie's most unnecessary offering, and honestly see no great reason for it to exist. Sorry.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 28. Labyrinth

28. Labyrinth (Soundtrack, 1986)

New Wave Pop Rock

Most 80s kids will look upon this album with great fondness, for reasons almost exclusively associated to the adorable film itself. And while the movie dropped dead centre in what is inarguably accepted as Bowie's most cringeworthy period, his acting performance as Jareth the Goblin King was perfect, disturbing our childhood dreams for many nights to follow. Which is why, on some sentimental level, the soundtrack does have its place, perhaps not as a singular unit or even in Bowie's catalogue whatsoever, but rather as a release very dependent on the film, working as a team to truly expose the magic. But upon listening to the album by itself all these years later, I found it to have dated worse than any other feature from the man's career, roughly as excruciatingly cheesy as his hairdo would suggest and devoid of all the silver balls we had come to expect. Simply put, it does not work alone whatsoever, and without the cuteness of Henson's puppetry, is utterly forgettable and probably safer that way.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 27. Never Let Me Down

27. Never Let Me Down (1987)

Pop Rock

I am not the first to point out the ironic joke in this album's title, but here we go again anyway: Never Let Me Down let absolutely everybody down, including Bowie himself, so much so that the majority of similar Worst to Best lists casually drown this release as low as it can possibly go, hopefully out of sight completely. It's the archetype casualty from the Let's Dance effect (Bowie's self-proclaimed "Phil Collins" era), where our hero had lost all motivation for innovation, rather now catering for his newfound influx of mainstream audiences, desperately shoving out anything he thought would hit without applying any effort, and this is what that sounds like: an over-processed synthetic sloppy mess constituting of feeble ideas which lead to nowhere. Luckily, his name alone sold the album well, but the critics had never witnessed a David Bowie flop so hard, and my heart breaks from sadness whilst watching this hopelessly lost man fumble through the creative mess he had become. That said, the reputation is (a little) worse than the product, and a part of me wishes he'd give this one another go. I love everything he does, really.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 26. Tonight

26. Tonight (1984)

New Wave Dance-Pop Rock

As the equally repulsive partner of Never Let Me Down, the review for either of these atrocities could be practically interchangeable. The hype sets the bar so low that you might be pleasantly surprised by its varied jammy mix of reggae meets pop meets latin meets ska. You might even appreciate the relaxed tone of someone who sounds like they've pretty much lost all the spirit of what made them a musician in the first place. Hell, you could even possibly consider it a very admirable record, as it contains so many Iggy Pop covers that various listeners have theorised it to be a charity gift of royalty payments to Iggy himself, due to his nasty habit of snorting all his earnings away. But more than likely, you'll agree with everyone else, and call Tonight one of the most worn out, clichéd, boring, and rushed releases from a man who was struggling to be something he wasn't for all the wrong reasons, occasionally almost getting there, more frequently completely missing it, and sometimes sounding very, very bad.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 25. Tin Machine

25. Tin Machine (1989)

Alternative Hard Rock

As if the previous entries weren't enough evidence, the 80s were a troubled time for Bowie's creativity, which is why as a concept, I really appreciate Tin Machine. It was his respectful endeavour at getting back on track by forming a no-frills back-to-basics straight-up plain old aggressive rock band—a calculated clean break from his own name in order to jump start the musical motor which had spluttered and died during the decade. And if we take it on this raw basis, it did exactly what it was designed to do, proving itself as one decent landmark to pinpoint where his career began to regenerate itself and slowly climb into more respectable regions of satisfaction. However, the presentation is still generally considered a misfire which reeked of midlife crisis, hardly denting the charts and a strong example of where Bowie's finger was no longer on the pulse of progression but rather a lone fingernail clawing at the trends in some desperate attempt to save face. But even if it is (nearly) as bad as everyone says, I refuse to exclusively incriminate David for the wobble and much prefer to blame his band members instead, because I am bias and Bowie is my Dad.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 24. Young Americans

24. Young Americans (1975)

Blue Eyed Soul Pop Rock

Bowie's catalogue is famous for its endless ch-ch-changes (sorry), but very few can boast an extreme stylistic reinvention to the degree of Young Americans. After snorting far too much white cocaine, Bowie suddenly thought he was a black man, shed his British heritage and went charging full force into U.S. of A. with one intention: to finally break that country's market. And, surprisingly enough, he pretty much achieved it too, pushing his vocal boundaries so far outward that he genuinely competed with the soul charts of the time, entering the US top 10, as well as hitting #1 on the singles charts with Fame (a feat which had nothing to do with the John Lennon guest slot, I'm sure). And this is great, except for on a personal level, where something doesn't quite sit right with me and this record. It's a bit too out of place in context with his career, simultaneously as underrated as it's overrated, and gives me visions of the colour beige until I feel nauseous. So while I respect the live quality performance and the various Beatle references, I guess Bowie is simply too Caucasian for this type of style.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 23. Tin Machine II

23. Tin Machine II (1991)

Pop Rock

If you are part of the army who found themselves underwhelmed by Tin Machine's debut, then you may (like most) consider this sequel to be an even worse experience. Perhaps hindsight has been a little kinder to the project as a whole, but at the time, people weren't comfortable with the band, and this album in particular rejected their status beyond the lowest expectations, more than likely due to the group's bravery in pushing things a little further into the experimental zone; a more free, more indulgent, and perhaps more annoying territory, which is putting it politely. However, even if it lacked any evidence of inspiration whatsoever, I personally prefer it to the original, without any idea as to why. Might it have something to do with the penises on the cover? Whatever. The point is that, regardless of my slightly above average appreciation, this release is still an embarrassing brick in the worst era Bowie has ever built, and while I don't dissect the offering as viciously as everyone else has and instead appreciate the improvement on almost all of his work a decade earlier, I am also more than happy to pretend it doesn't exist and move on with my own life.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 22. David Bowie

22. David Bowie (1967)

Psychedelic Pop

Of all the Bowie albums, I regard his debut as the most unfairly disregarded. It was as if critics patted it on the head, pinched its cheeks like a child, and then condescendingly sent it along its way. And, all things considered, it's not difficult to understand why. For this self-titled record is a very simple affair, as immature as it is amateur, cheeky and quirky and comedic without even expecting anyone to take it the least bit seriously—which is why nobody did. But if you dig past the quaint cuteness of its slightly mad folky yolk, you should find yourself gently cradling a fragile little egg, shoved to cracking-point with an excess of exciting ideas, aching to hatch the genius we all know from only a few years later. Listening to it now, the future all seems so obvious, and I like to pretend I always knew he was going to be a superstar despite my birth taking place nearly two decades after the fact. Regardless, everyone can agree that he was merely finding his niche at this point, and while this wasn't exactly it, we all have to start somewhere. And you fucking wish you started here.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 21. Black Tie White Noise

21. Black Tie White Noise (1993)

Art Pop

So after releasing a strew of subpar material, getting remarried, and then dealing with the suicide of his half-brother, Bowie utilised his newfound personal side to rekindle his love for the arty slice of music, coming out with his best album in 10 years without that being a particularly impressive feat. It amalgamated his past with a smooth, almost dancey R&B pop-soul crossover, his embracement of modern production quickly hailed as a return to form ("finally, a real Bowie album again!") resulting in one wholly mature offering in which he accepted his age and grew comfortable within his legacy. However, none of this particularly worked in its favour, a now dated sound from the mouth of a tired man no longer in the hip circle—an improvement by all means, but ultimately just another disappointment, if we are being honest with ourselves. That said, I treat Black Tie White Noise as a transitional album, a point where Bowie remembered where the goalpost was and had refocused his sights on the money-shot, without being entirely sure on how to get there just yet. And so in that regard, at very least this album proved that the old fella had some spark in his diluted eyeball still.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 20. Space Oddity

20. Space Oddity (originally titled David Bowie, 1969)

Pop Rock

Much like most, the title track from Bowie's sophomore was my gateway drug, and as a result, this whole album has a very special place in my solar system. I mean, of course it wasn't quite where Bowie belonged, but it was a fuckload closer than his debut, exfoliating the comedic novelty factors and instead focusing on space travel and other such alien themes, which urgently hinted at the weirdness to come whilst unfairly crashing on any commercial level. Admittedly, at times it is a little boring, a little too "of its time" rather than ahead, and a little too similar to other artists available around the same period, but this album is the sound of David Bowie learning, as well as pretty much the last time we ever hear David Bowie learning. As this was the final release before his calls to extraterrestrial planets were answered, and then they planted that little microchip in his head which gave him the otherworldly knowledge, as we've all already read about.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 19. The Buddha of Suburbia

19. The Buddha of Suburbia (Soundtrack, 1993)

Experimental Electronic

Forget Black Tie White Noise, because this is the true 90s Bowie comeback album, scraping his previous path of greatness with a massively erratic fusion of atmospheric electronics and avant-garde jazz, running all over the place as still one completely lost entity but looking very stylish while it did so. Unfortunately, the issue comes where nobody even noticed its risky maneuvering, many Bowie fans hardly aware of its existence, undoubtably the most overlooked album in his entire catalogue purely due to the 'soundtrack' label which suffocated its merit to death. But I am here to inform you that while it is dizzyingly inconsistent and a bit too noisy for the sake of it, this record feels like the deformed aborted quintuplet from the Berlin Trilogy, back to the experimental and weird Bowie which set the new stage for when our God became God all over again. And it excites me.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 18. The Man Who Sold the World

18. The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

Glam Rock

Oh, so you guys remember David? David Bowie? Yeah, he's quite different now. He's on this whole glammy androgynous trip, definitely coming out of his shell, and to be honest, I quite like it. Actually, I really like it, for it was with The Man Who Sold the World that our protagonist found his edge, not only in regards to his bizarre appearance, but also from the hardest, most rocking album he'd produced until this point, and still one of his heaviest offerings to date. His fresh inspiration is not exactly certain, but there is a chance he was losing his mind a bit between the recent death of his father and newly schizophrenic diagnosis of his half-brother, but either way, it worked. Because this record is not only cited as a pioneering influence on the goth culture and the glam scene, but is also all too often rightfully considered Bowie's first true great record. That said, it is still a little "safe" within its oddness for me—a very middle-of-the-road type Bowie which never quite strayed out into the danger zone—but it was getting alarmingly close. And, as we all know, from this point onward music would never be the same again.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 17. Hours...

17. 'Hours...' (1999)

Alternative Rock

Opinion on Bowie's twenty-first solo album has been folded down the middle. The opposition called it a boring hole of bland emptiness, accusing it of lacking any edge or quirk, one long underwhelming conventional yawn which made the listener as tired as David sounded. On the other hand, those who made peace with the moody offering welcomed this new restrained, relaxed side of the man, using it like a melodic pillow to delicately dream into space and connect to the murky tranquility of exhaustion, which the album artwork so aptly depicted. And I can appreciate both sides of this argument. However, what so many have failed to acknowledge was how important this easy-listening album was in the greater scheme of the Bowiverse. After finding his footing in the mid-90s and frantically shooting his experimentally panicked jizz all over the show, the calm cleanliness of 'Hours...' was imperative, representing the turning point where Bowie reflected upon himself and no longer found any reasons to bust blood vessels in order to reprove his worth. Rather, he let go, chilled out, and without this well deserved breather, the fantastic collection which followed would have never existed in quite the same way. At least give it some love for that reason.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 16. Let's Dance

16. Let's Dance (1983)

Dance Pop Rock

You gotta hand it to Bowie. When he said he wanted a hit, he got a hit, Let's Dance still standing as his best-selling album to date. And it is unquestionably worthy of the success, another fine example of the giant reinventions only this artist could accomplish so well, popping his pompous pimples and instead donning a fake suit stitched from jumbled colours and formulaic disco dance moves, punctuated by one wholesome smile of sneaky sex appeal. However, the quick stick nature of the most commercial Bowie incarnation came with its own hidden demons, and his sudden new fanbase robbed him of the secluded alienation he'd worked so hard to develop, now finally achieving the ever elusive mainstream audience he'd been longing for, yet more uncomfortable than he'd ever been. “It fucked with my integrity,” he later confessed, forcing his palm to cater for this hungry pack of chart junkies, this album single handedly toppling his following releases for many years to come. Still, it's a great record, and if nothing else, one very interesting inclusion for these very same reasons.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 15. The Next Day

15. The Next Day (2013)

Art Rock

I, like everyone, nearly suffered a heart attack thanks to this album. The first Bowie in 10 years?? And it's this fucking good!?! Impossible!!! But, no, as with most things Bowie, everything was possible no matter how unusual, and The Next Day was born, a surprisingly aggressive, highly-energetic record amidst heavy health rumours surrounding a substantially older man. What's more, it was a proper classic sounding Bowie, complete with all the nostalgic strangeness and crafty intelligence learned from the past, yet without repeating any formulas, aware of the risks but completely confident in its ability to maintain modern relevance, which naturally shook every music critic to their solar plexus. And nobody—nobody!—could be disappointed with a comeback like that. However, once the initial romantic period wore off, I did start to feel a little despondent about this release. I was more than satisfied, sure, but a little underwhelmed. At times, the album burst open with the creative complexities I had been praying for since I was a child, but at other times, it fell a little dull, uninteresting, and even cringeworthy. Perhaps the comeback-awe had outweighed the actual substance? Just a tad? Maybe? But then again, what does it matter? Bowie was alive, such a relief, and if this is the last thing he ever does, so be it. I'll gratefully accept.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 14. Toy

14. Toy (unreleased 2001; leaked 2011)

Pop Rock

Have you heard this? Have you heard of it? There is a good chance you haven't, because it was tragically never officially released, and for the love of Bowie, I cannot fathom why. For starters, it's a fascinating concept: primarily a compilation record, of sorts, featuring re-recordings of David's earliest songs, the old Bowie re-imagined by the new Bowie, some tracks dating as far back as 1964, these ancient tunes freshly polished until they applied just fine to the right now. And it's such a pleasure to hear these forgotten subdued melodies which musically echo the love of recent fathership whilst preserving the more rockier ideals which were lacking from, say, the preceding overly-mellow Hours, as if gazing in admiration towards one's own past without jeopardising the toughness of wisdom. But, unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. Due to some label issues, the effort was shelved whilst the ever productive Bowie ran along unfazed, onto the next project, where some of the Toy originals did eventually find their adoptive home (this record often fairly dubbed as Baby Heathen, bless). They should still release it though. I want real artwork.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 13. Heroes

13. "Heroes" (1977)

Experimental Art Rock

And here it is: by far the biggest, most recognisable Bowie album that everyone else seems to adore so much more than I do. But before you swear at my inferior tastebuds, please do allow me to emphasise how far down I am willing to bow to this record, completely submissive to its almighty presence. For you must understand, everything surrounding the Berlin Trilogy era is my favourite favourite Bowie work, and I deeply appreciate this dank atmosphere breeding within the absolute thick of this designated time period. The romantic improvisation with Eno is the type of collaborative mysticism I wake up sticky for. The somber Kraftwerk salute does not go unacknowledged. The droney power. The casual inventiveness. These are the things that make Heroes the unadulterated timeless landmark it deserves to be praised for, and I would never dare to confront this. But ... there is just something about it. Something ... mechanical, almost. Soulless. Cold. Emotionless. Meaningless. And while I am sure this was always the intention, it slightly slips through my fingers, and I curse my damn clumsy self rather than accuse Bowie of anything. I don't know why, but I just don't love you like everyone else does. And I am so, so sorry.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 12. Reality

12. Reality (2003)

Alternative Pop Rock

Despite working as what anyone would assume to be David's final album ever (until The Next Day disproved this 10 fucking years later), Reality has gone on to be relatively forgotten. The reason for this is easy to deduce: there was simply nothing WOW about this record (except for perhaps the production which is so clear that, at times, it even outshines the artist himself). My take on this result, is that it seems like not many understand Bowie when he isn't wearing his pretentious coat, and this record is as naked and pretensionless as the man gets, working like an acquaintance rather than a best friend, introverted and consumed by its own mortality without any regard to bystanders. But if you reciprocate the respectful love beyond any judgement, it will gladly welcome you into its circle with a genuine warmth, far too sure of itself to alter its natural demeanor on account of your opinions, but willing to share the joke of life with you if you're open to a dabble of euphoric intimacy. And when something vibrates on a level as light as this (without a doubt, the lightest release on this list), it's a mournful mystery as to how anyone could turn their back on an artwork so ageless.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 11. Diamond Dogs

11. Diamond Dogs (1974)

Glam Art Pop Rock

Originally conceived as a theatrical musical based around George Orwell's classic novel 1984, the ambitious Diamond Dogs was ultimately denied the rights for such a project, yet the scent of this nightmarishly paranoid concept remained alive and unwell within this album's execution. What's more, this offering also marked the final moment before Bowie jumped the glam ship he'd built once and for all, letting it sink from the excessive weight of copycats while he swam towards more uncharted shores. And it's just as well, really. For even though this release is right up there as one of his highest regarded albums of the whole lot, it was surely his messiest from the glammy pallet, favouring riff-heavy punk-trash ideals and grittier production over the pedantically polished compositions that had come before—by all means, not a bad thing, a welcome rugged change if anything, but definitely an indication that the drugs were restless and craved something new. So whether these reasons, or my discomfort with the dystopian themes, or my opinion that the Halloween Jack character was yet another poor man's Ziggy, this album has never quite stuck with me in the same way as it has everyone else. But I am thankful for the passion all the same.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 10. Outside

10. Outside (1995)

Industrial Art Rock

Finally reunited with Eno, and shit got weird again. Telling the obscure barely-linear narrative of a futuristic Art Murder movement where the death of a 14-year-old girl is being investigated, you do not get a Bowie record as indulgent as this one. Originally set to be the first of a five-part series salvaged from a 35 hour improvisational jam session, this textured fuckery is so densely layered with ugly doom that it bloats to a size much bigger than itself, fearful for its own life as it threatens to burst sludge all over the crime scene. Which, as you can imagine, is a tough act to swallow; an exercise in creative freedom yet overwhelming the listener with claustrophobia, the very epitome of Bowiexperimental which improves per each exposure and has not dated in the slightest. So if you like your Bowie poppy, move along as fast as you can. And if you like your Bowie arty, this is the best place to fully challenge that statement. But whatever your taste, Outside is without a doubt the most ambitious, most alienating, and most monstrous project the man has ever done.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 09. Heathen

09. Heathen (2002)

Alternative Art Rock

As far as latter day albums go, Heathen is more often than not hailed as a return to form—a comeback album, if you will—where Bowie plays the role of Bowie for a change, giving fans of any part of his spectrum something they could enjoy. And I have no problem with this, as I personally consider Heathen to be David's first real BANG album since the very early 80s, consistently imaginative and effortlessly coherent, may contain traces of grunge. Of course, there is that pesky urge to get all critical and tease this approach for its simplicity and digestibility, but the voice of a child within me shouts with an even louder fondness, thrilled by the instantaneous stick of these playtime nursery-rhymes which are as harmless as they are joyous as they are comforting. Mr Bowie is having fun again, you guys! And it shows! Gosh, who knew that risk-free could sound so good?

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 08. Lodger

08. Lodger (1979)

Art Rock

When the Berlin Trilogy came to an end with this album, the public was not impressed. Everyone took it in turns to degrade the work as "weak" and "scattered", some even accusing Bowie of being "out-Bowied" by his new wave children such as Gary Numan or probably some other people. Of course, hindsight has since come along and pointed its wonky finger at those antagonists, saying something like "you're all idiots", because Lodger is one of the artist's greatest achievements to date. While it wasn't as unconventional and experimental as the two previous Berlins, it was still a really fucking demented journey in its own right, and only unsubstantial in the argument against its rapid running time. But even this factor could be seen as an advantage, as we found no waffling here. It was a straight-to-the-point record; a quirky, more earthly "world" vibe; an awkward muddy mix of strange textures and genre-bending darings: all of which have considerably won every critic over in recent years, yet is still shamefully undervalued. Oh, so wait, you're saying Bowie was ahead of his time again? Yeah, big surprise.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 07. Earthling

07. Earthling (1997)

Alternative Dance Rock

I will be the first to admit that Earthling is far from perfect. Hell, at times it is even less perfect than many of those below it on this very list. Because nobody is trying to deny that Bowie has never sounded so desperate to be relevant, as he bursts into the party a few years too late and frantically busts out high-speed drum 'n' bass dance moves at risk of popping his hip out in front of the company half his age. Which is why it's best not to take any of this seriously, but rather to appreciate the style-collision as a piss-take on the genre itself, if you want my advice. Of course, the charts naturally had no idea what to do with a release this mental and kinda just left it there, but critics were knocked over by this new dynamically aggressive Bowie, and adored the project no matter how cluttered or ludicrous it may have been. As for me personally, well, I consider it to be one of the most fun and exhilarating records of David's career, partially for what it sounds like, but even more so for what it was trying to do, hence why I publicly claim this to be his most underrated offering by miles.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 06. Aladdin Sane

06. Aladdin Sane (1973)

Glam Art Pop Rock

Comparisons to the preceding Ziggy Stardust are unfair but unavoidable, and so I will honour the custom by telling you why Aladdin Sane has always lived in the former's shadow. It's because it was basically the same thing ("Ziggy goes to America," the man in charge once put it), except less conceptual, less character dependent, and a victim to the pressure of Bowie's newfound superstardom—his very first record as a full fledged rockstar. But while the rushed effort has often been accused of having "more style than substance", it really is nearly as good as Bowie's magnum opus, and for reasons of differences rather than similarities. For starters, it's more enthusiastic than its bigger brother; a tougher, more fiery counterpart which blazes with additional sexual freedom and critical urgency. For the main course, it's properly insane (A Lad Insane, geddit?), not like that cooky gnome shit from before, but legitimately schizo without even trying, as if David's recent fame had begun to pick at the seams and he was laughing all the way. But finally, for desert, when you are faced with a creative streak to the quality of David Bowie in 70s, you shouldn't be making demanding comparisons in the first place, but rather shoving your fist into your gaping mouth and thanking your lucky starmen that such art even fucking exists.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 05. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

05. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

Glam Pop Rock

And then we have this. The big one. The masterpiece. The David Bowie classic. The almost cliché go-to example when debating the artist's strongest work. So much so, that I don't feel too much of a need to bang on about it because you've probably heard it all a thousand times before. That said, I love talking, so watch me go: Ziggy Stardust tells the vague concept about some cosmic alien prophet arriving to save our Earth, which is on the verge of an apocalyptic doom. He preaches his message via the rock 'n' roll medium, and as a result, naturally falls into the pit of drugs and groupies such a profession would entail, ultimately destroying and killing himself by his own consumption, the idol failing miserably at his mission. With such deep social commentary run by the best fictional character in musical history, the magic truly lies in the music itself which could be called the blueprint for all of punk rock, one so consistently and untouchably solid that it's no surprise "Ziggy" is pretty much synonymous with "Bowie" as a household name. Every best-of list ever written agrees that this is one of the greatest albums of all time for a reason, and I do too, for the same reason.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 04. Hunky Dory

04. Hunky Dory (1971)

Glam Pop Art Rock

While any similarly respectable list would include this lighter classic in the highest of regards, it holds an extra special position in my own personal Bowie heart, as it proved to be the first of his full albums to really make sense to me, gently breaking my tongue into the excessive obsession we see overly-developed today. Succeeding as David's original masterpiece, Hunky Dory is as optimistic and as cheerful as the title would suggest, a more conventional contribution without endangering any inventiveness, every verse designed to tease and function as pillars to lift the never-failing choruses high above their heads, soaring into a gush of worship, sometimes even for Bowie's own personal heroes (such as Dylan, Warhol, or Reed). For these reasons, I have no apprehension in placing the album on this tremendous pedestal, as it taught me what the man was capable of without depending on experimental peculiarities, and will always be the record I suggest to curious listeners as the best release to ease themselves into the otherwise enormously daunting catalogue from the man.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 03. Station to Station

03. Station to Station (1976)

Art Rock

Drugs have always played an integral role in rock 'n' roll development, and no other Bowie record stands as true to this ethic as Station to Station. Living exclusively on a diet of milk, red peppers, and cocaine, David has often stated that he remembers nothing from this recording, as he had all but lost himself in his new character The Thin White Duke, who had possessed the man thanks to his demanding film performance as the alien from The Man Who Fell to Earth. Due to this transformation, Bowie had become haunted by topics such as religious mythology, the occult, and Nazi brainwashing, subsequently exposing this record as nothing less than a cry for help from an artist who was detaching from his core personality one line at a time. But, damn, what a great sounding breakdown it was. And while some songs may outshine others, it still presents itself as a twisted best-of compilation of new experimental material, a groovy post-punkish trauma which apprehensively set the pace for the Berlin era, and even as a single unit, is so fucking mental that I cry tears of astonishment on weaker days. Furthermore, its unique performance has never been accurately mimicked to any satisfying degree by Bowie's musical students, which cannot be said for any other album in his entire catalogue. Because no one would even dare to try make something like this.

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 02. Low

02. Low (1977)

Experimental Art Rock

Much like the succeeding Heroes, the original member of the Bowie/Eno Berlin Trilogy was essentially two completely separate albums on one record, working as a single unified arty atmosphere whilst remaining two utterly incomparable entities. The first was the more hyper, happier side of the project: almost incomplete fragments of ideas which never fully realise themselves as true songs, yet still playfully shimmer within their nintendo madness, featuring one the freshest drum sounds in all of music, period. The second was the more ambient, ominous side of the project: almost exclusively instrumental, lengthy compositions which pushed the boundaries of pop ethics to such adventurous regions that it's no surprise this release overwhelmed initial listeners to keep their money in their pockets. But like all great Bowies, Low has grown exponentially in critics' eyes over time, and the eclectic mix of joyous bounces meeting somber drownings is often considered one of the (if not, the) greatest David Bowie in existence—more than likely owed to how many modern day artists have completely stolen the style, whether they are aware of it or not. Simply put, it's perfect, and is always a tenacious contender for my all time favourite favourite favourite. If only it wasn't for...

The Top 50 Albums of 2014: 01. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

01. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980)

Art Pop Rock

There are hundreds of reasons as to why I consider this to be Bowie's climax, but what it comes down to is that this beast marked the end of the greatest, most inventive creative streak in the history of popular music. In the 70s, Bowie had proven that he was not one of us humans by morphing into various eerie characters who pioneered genres without dwelling on them, forever reshaping every aspect of his art whilst ricocheting his demented influence into the skulls of any oblivious spectators. However, with Scary Monsters, it was as if Bowie had paused to offload a summary of everything he'd learned from the past decade (and, as you may know, he learned a lot) and then aggressively fisted all the ugly theatrics and vigorous rock principles into one violently peculiar package. And this was no accident. The nightmare energy of this record was a methodical development, no time for improvisation or experimental risks, rather a purposeful calculation designed to be as witty as it was scary, as charming as it was evil, and as sexual as it was rapey. As a result, this is the most consistent and balanced Bowie I have ever met, as well as unarguably his final masterpiece, so much so that every decent release since has automatically been slapped with the "Best Album Since Scary Monsters!" sticker, a curse the man will never, ever be liberated from. And that's ok with me.

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Dear David Bowie
Dear David Bowie