It’s Friday, and therefore time for another flashback in music history. Today we’re looking into the work of music icon David Bowie, who released an astonishing 27 studio albums over the course of his career. We’ll be focusing in on his fourth album, Hunky Dory, the first album he released after signing his first record deal with RCA in 1971. David Bowie has a very distinctive musical style that could be described as a kaleidoscope of genres, and Hunky Dory could very well be him at his Bowiest. Let’s take a look.
Every aspect of Bowie’s music is unique, but none more so than his voice. He’s got an incredible range, and he’s not afraid to use it on every track of this record. He can sing anything from a dramatic pop ballad like “Life on Mars” to an art-rock piece like “Queen Bitch.” All the while the catchy melody and heavy British accent could have you thinking Beatles, but the strange and cryptic songwriting is unmistakably Bowie’s. From time to time his voice is admittedly pretty irritating, but for the most part, it’s solid throughout this album (just skip “Eight Line Poem”).
The instrumentation on this album is pretty strange, as it gives a mixed message as to what genre he was going for. The rhythm is played almost entirely on acoustic instruments, which has you thinking folk. At the same time, it features electric guitar riffs and beats that could make you think it’s without a doubt a rock album. That is until you hear the piano, mellotron, and brass arrangements on tracks like “Changes,” and then you’d swear its a pure pop-style work. Not to mention much of it is in the same timing and style as traditional cabaret music. As a side note Rick Wakeman, the keyboardist for Yes is featured on most of these tracks, and he’s a master of phrasing. The instrumentals throughout this work show how distinct Bowie’s musical style was, even in some of his earliest work.
This week’s x-factor has to be production. This record was produced by Ken Scott, who’s a big name sound engineering. With the help of Bowie’s now fully formed backing band (known as “The Spiders from Mars”), Scott produced a genre bending-pop album full of crazy layering and experimental sampling that became as much a part of Bowie’s sound as his voice. The production here was before its time and is a big bonus for this album. Another thing I need to mention as an x-factor is that not every track on this 41-minute record is a gem. A few of them seem like cocaine-fueled nonsense, but this pretty much became a piece of Bowie’s trademark style.
“Changes,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Life on Mars?,” and “Queen Bitch”
This album contains some of the best works of a music legend, however, it also may contain some of his worst. For that reason, it’s a…
Not too shabby. If you’re interested in introducing yourself to this artist I’d start with his compilation album ChangesOneBowie. Until next week.