Dave Amitri on The Man Who Sold The World
For those who aren’t aware I am a pop loving 55 year old music civilian who before this project had never listened to a David Bowie album despite knowing all the radio playlist Bowie tunes by heart. I’ve decided to listen to a Bowie album a month during 2021 from “The Man Who Sold The World” to “Scary Monsters “ after being told they are the best run of 12 albums ever. My angle is to try and find where I have heard his influence in the music of my heroes and report it as so many of them have cited Bowie as an inspiration. Maybe some will become favourites of mine…
Starting my Bowie odyssey with “The Man Who Sold The World” an album made 50 years ago I wasn’t sure what to expect. Bowie the great originator at the beginning of a run of 12 great albums. My expectations were high. So I pressed play. “The Width of a Circle” began and straight away I heard that guitar swoosh intro straight from “Foxy Lady”…. Now this is no bad thing I love The Jimi Hendrix Experience but it set the tone for me from the outset. The first few listens became an exercise in spotting Hendrix influence. At times it could have been Mitchell and Redding providing the backing to Bowies interesting vocals. This is still no bad thing. Why wouldn’t an a 23 year old who was an aspiring musician during the extraordinary Hendrix peak years take influence from him? It got my interest and was the hook I needed to really listen..
That said I also need to get this out in the open. I heard something else in there, something I hadn’t heard for years. I racked my brains and eventually it came to me “Jesus Christ Superstar”. A quick Google showed that the rock opera was made at around the same time as “The Man Who Sold The World” so it sort of made sense but was equally astonishing to think that Lloyd Weber and Bowie were the sounds I was comparing.
Anyway, early observations out of the way, Back to “The Width of a Circle” an 8 minute epic that felt like it could have been used as background music for one of those scenes in “The History Man” that you didn’t want to watch with your mum in the room. Then it becomes a regular pub rock chug along while Bowie wails the lyric and wooahs to a close. Dramatic, sensual with rock overtones. A really good start….
Now, “All The Madmen” starts and I pick up something in Bowies vocal that made me chuckle. He sounds a bit like The Monkees Davy Jones, which is all kinds of weird. The song to be honest never really gets going. It just feels a bit flat. Then at the end I got some Bowie familiarity in the hand clap, repetition fade out. Next!
I really like “Black Country Rock” its another Hendrix Experience vibe. Bowies vocal is great and the guitar riffs and the fantastic rhythm section keep the whole thing going. I got a whiff of The Cult and there’s a vocal part that Marc Bolan clearly enjoyed and ran with. A highlight for me.
Sorry if I’m committing some kind of sacrilege with “After All” but it’s just so dull. I really don’t have much else to say about it and I’ve tried….
I’m bit nonplussed by “Running Gun Blues”. It sounds like the sort Bowie sound that I recognise but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. My enthusiasm for this project is being tested. I’m beginning to suspect that it’s very much of it’s time and you probably had to be there but I’m not a quitter.
“Saviour Machine” has a guitar sound that would have been at home on Ocean Colour Scene’s “Moseley Shoals”. I suspect Steve Craddock had “Saviour Machine” firmly in mind when he wrote “The Riverboat Song”. “Saviour Machine” has an edge and a rhythm missing elsewhere. I can imagine hearing this is 1971 and really sitting up and taking notice. It’s a great song.
“She Shook Me Cold” is another Hendrix influenced song that you can imagine having a freak out to in a muddy field somewhere stoned, naked and sweaty. I think it’s my favourite vocal performance. It’s gritty, sexual and probably not for the “Me Too” generation but times have changed…
Now the title track, the only song I’d heard before listening to the album but possibly only the Lulu version (I know…) It sounds like a Bowie song but again for me it plods a bit and doesn’t really grab me. It’s more “The Man Who Bored The World”…
Maybe we’ll finish on a high. “Superman” has Bowie doing his best attempt at a narrative as opposed to singing. It’s this song that really brings to mind “Jesus Christ Superstar” the way the words are almost spoken over a backing track in a “stagey” way. I don’t know, maybe this was the way of things in the early 70’s. A flat uninspiring finish despite hints of “A Whole Lotta Love” guitar.
In conclusion this may not have been the best Bowie album for a pop loving hook monster like me to start with. Basically a rock album with no hits and few hooks. It’s not immediately accessible and I’ve listened well into double figures now in the hope the penny drops. I can appreciate the invention but sometimes it felt this was in the place of a tune. (Now I sound like my Dad) It felt to me like Bowie was trying to find a style and sound and perhaps didn’t believe this was it.. Knowing the hits like I do it feels a long way from the sound many Radio listening “oh yes, I love Bowie” types recognise. I’ve done limited reading on the album as I didn’t want to pre-empt my view but what I have read points me to believe he was being influenced, by Visconti and the past rather than influencing the future. Bowie experts will no doubt tell me otherwise. Apparently they were trying to make an album Cream may have made. I don’t know enough about Cream to comment but maybe that’s why I didn’t find much in there that I recognised in the 80’s sound I love by artists inspired by Bowie. I may well return to “ The Man Who Sold The World” but not often. This hasn’t dulled my enthusiasm as a couple of songs hit the right spot and I’m sure as Bowie finds his way there’ll be more for me to enjoy. On to “Hunky Dory” next…