David Bowie: Self-Titled

Written by on January 8, 2019

First in line for our retrospective look at the work of David Bowie is the 1967 self-titled debut album. Our man has been locked in a cupboard with nothing but the album for company. These are his slightly crazed thoughts.

I have always said that in order to fully enjoy music you have to listen to it while being forcefully detained against your will in a dark confined space that smells more than slightly of shoe. The ‘sensory deprivation environment’ provided leaves a lot to be desired and I can’t help but feel like have been duped. Regardless, the only way to escape the current situation is to burrow through the musical landscape of the 60s and see what it has in store for me.

Track 1 – Uncle Arthur

My mind was suddenly brought to the brain washing scene from A Clockwork Orange. I can’t help but feel like there is mischief afoot. This is not at all the sound I had expected to hear, especially as the opening track to the album. This is the track that introduced Bowie to the world. This is the first impression that he made. This is a bizarre song that even more bizarrely dragged me in, I am not quite sure how. The strangeness made so much sense in a weird way. The structure, rhythm and narrative manner of the lyrics pulled me along and as you would expect from a song called ‘Uncle Arthur’, discussed the life of his Uncle Arthur. I now feel like I knew the man, good bloke.

Track 2 – Sell me a coat

Lalalalala, the stringy sound of the music on this album continues and again there is something medieval about the impression it leaves. The lyrics are once again the most interesting thing about the track. It is as if Bowie was dared to write songs that on the surface are very mundane and yet has created (so far) two really catchy songs from them.

I have struggled at times to get myself into the head space of ‘of its time’. For that reason, I found it difficult to get into Zeppelin the first few times I listened to them (sacrilege I know). That being said I don’t have the same problem with this album as it comes across as strange for the time as well, perhaps just in comparison to ‘rock’ albums and artists of the time, which, rightly or wrongly, I am comparing it to.

Track 3 – Rubber Band

“my moustache was stiffly waxed and one foot long” delivered so earnestly you go along with it. With just the smallest change of inflection this becomes a comedy track. Again, Bowie delivers a simple melody on a nonsense subject and doesn’t seem ridiculous. Instead I once again want to sing along. There isn’t a question in my mind as to why the guy became so huge, I already want to grab every friend I have and force them to listen to this album just to share the experience.

Track 4 – Love you till Tuesday

The music is slightly more ‘of the time’ on this one, more of a pop song than the others. Something I haven’t considered until this point is Bowie’s voice. Not the greatest, in much the same way that Dylan’s vocals often stand out for their complete lack of singing ability, and yet make sense in terms of the tracks themselves. The vocals here sound as though Bowie is singing to different music to what ended up on the track. There is little vocal range and he struggles with some of the notes. Yet it all makes sense. Again, with 99% of people these issues would tank the whole album and yet it all works when put together. I can’t explain it, which is an issue given my job.

Track 5 – There is a happy land

There is something in the album that is subtle but I am considering now, the strange, even mundane, topics covered on the album show a strength of song writing that I hadn’t anticipated. I was expecting something predictable and insipid from the title of this one. I clearly haven’t yet understood what is going on here. The comparison I make (given the album art) is with the earliest Rolling Stones album. Where those songs could be argued to be clichéd when listened to now, particularly if put in context with the success of the Beatles at the time. There is no point in this album where the tracks stray anywhere near cliché territory. Because of this fact the tracks remain intriguing and interesting. It is very impressive.

Track 6 – We are hungry men

Bowie proclaims himself the messiah in this science fiction evoking track. There is dystopia on the horizon and I can’t help thinking that if he had wanted to Bowie could in fact have been the living face of a brand-new religion. Luckily he continued with music and film rather than taking a religious detour.

Track 7 – When I live my dream

“Baby I’ll slay a dragon for you” this is not your typical love song, though delivered in typical love song ‘of the time’ style. You try getting the word ‘overture’ into a song and make it work. I dare you.

Track 8 – Little Bombadier

I can’t help but think that Bowie wanted to be a poet or storyteller rather than a singer. The message gets across so well, the words used are fantastic and not at all what you would expect from a songwriter. If you read these it would make sense. If you think of it this way then you can forgive any vocal mistake in their delivery, just from the difficulty of the task of singing these in rhythm. I know that this isn’t a review of this track as such, but of the whole album. Shush now, this is the best I can do given my current situation.

Track 9 – Silly Boy Blue

I am still waiting to roll my eyes at these songs. The titles continue to suggest something that is never delivered. I have jumped in at the deep end of trying to ‘get’ Bowie before and have just been lost. This album is a great introduction. I prefer it to anything I have heard from him before, even the ‘hits’. I can’t help but feel that this would have blown my mind back in the 60s had I been alive and with ears at the time. Even then I wouldn’t have been able to explain it. That being said I would love to see any video of a live performance from this time just to see how this would translate to a gig environment.

Track 10 – Come and buy my toys

Honestly zoned out, I think the foot fumes are getting to me.

Track 11 – Join the gang

This seems more radio friendly, at least the music does. This is the second time on the album that Bowie has done this. The music seems perfect for the radio and the vocals suffer immediately. Could wor Dave have been the first hipster? He seems to know that he could write a hit song easily and yet seems to intentionally add a kink to the performance that would prevent this from happening.

Track 12 – She’s got medals

I think with this and the last few tracks Bowie has begun to relax and that comes across in the performances of the songs themselves. There is a much warmer feel. That may just be in the production of the tracks, they seem more organic and as though you are sitting watching Bowie at a piano singing, probably after several drinks.

Track 13 – Maid of Bond Street

“This girl is made of lipstick” We go back to literary Bowie. Again, it seems that the song was written for another medium and is intriguing as a result. The writing is great and the vocal performance is all the more impressive for trying to fit these words into the confines of the music.

Track 14 – Please Mr Gravedigger

I feel like this is a bit of a marathon at this point. I’m not sure whether it is the number of tracks, the environment or the fact that I feel like I have been typing continuously since this started. This track is 100% performance. The sounds in the background are simply to create atmosphere. Bowie sings the words; you get the feeling he has been told prior not to just read the lyrics as he keeps slipping into speaking some of the words. Worth a listen just for the ear theatre.

David Bowie, the first album by David Bowie is a bizarre trip, in the wrong hands this could easily have gone terribly wrong and we would never have heard of the album or the man. I am surprised by how much I enjoyed this given the initial reaction I had to the first track, and how quickly I changed my mind. The lyrics to the songs keep you both entertained and along for the ride. You want to decipher them; you fall into the stories and the images they create are vivid. The music seems secondary and almost as though it is there as an afterthought. There is nothing that stands out about it and it is instantly forgettable. You might sing along with the words later but you won’t remember the music as you do, just Bowies voice.

At first I thought this would be a chore but I am looking forward to the next album now, though I think I’ll be able to listen to it without the cupboard next time.

Mr Bowie, I know I am 52 years too late, but you have a fan and I look forward to your second album.

…And with that our hero departs. He has a sudden preoccupation with odour eaters and seems to be singing all of his words as though he is in a shit musical. I wonder for a second if we may have done some permanent psychological damage to him, but only for a second, I don’t think anyone would notice anyway.

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