Monday, 28 May 2018

David Bowie - Hunky Dory (1971)


Released December 1971

Recorded at Trident Studios, London

After the "heavy" vibe of 1970's comparatively unsuccessful "The Man Who Sold The World", David Bowie returned to his often-favoured acoustic poppy approach used in his early sixties recordings for 1971's breakthrough "Hunky Dory" album. This time, however, he married folky acoustic sounds with a streetwise rock edge, provided mainly, by Mick Ronson's searing lead guitar.


1. Changes
2. Oh! You Pretty Things
3. Eight Line Poem
4. Life On Mars?
5. Kooks
6. Quicksand
7. Fill Your Heart
8. Andy Warhol
9. Song For Bob Dylan
10. Queen Bitch
11. The Bewlay Brothers

Starting with the now-iconic "Changes", guest piano Rick Wakeman's piano leads things off, augmented by Bowie's tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a hook of a chorus. The piano and pop feel is continued into "Oh! You Pretty Things" (covered, strangle, as a single by Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits fame). I remember at the time, when I first heard the track thinking "oh that's that Peter Noone song"!. The strangely addictive "Eight Line Poem" leads into one of the album's cornerstones, the magnificent, truly iconic, fully orchestrated "Life On Mars", quoted by many these days in everyday conversations. "See the mice in their million hordes, from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads". Bizarre lyrical imagery doesn't get much better. On this remaster, the contrast between the bass (which is strong) and the piano and orchestra is just right. Not too bassy not too trebly. Just what it needs. There is so much in there, mastering it correctly is one hell of a task. This is the best so far. Even now, that one piano note at the outset sends shivers up the spine.

I have never been a fan of the jaunty, whimsical "Kooks". Others love it but I have always found it rather twee, preferring to hurry up and get to "Quicksand", a brooding, poetic masterpiece chock full of the said weird images. Quiet, acoustic guitar and subtle organ and Bowie's plaintive lyrics about "dream reality" and "Garbo's eyes". Check out the acoustic guitar chops - so clear, so sharp. The remastered "Kooks" does sound great though too. Lovely rich bass underpinning it. Great strings and crystal clear horns and acoustic guitar.

I feel somewhat similarly about the cover of "Fill Your Heart" as I do about "Kooks", and "Andy Warhol" has never been my can of beans either, despite us all quoting "it's "hol" as in "hols"" in the school corridors ad nauseum. That acoustic intro to "Warhol" though. Wow.

The last three tracks really do it, however. I have always loved the folk rock-y "Song For Bob Dylan" and the Velvet Underground "tribute" "Queen Bitch" is by far my favourite as acoustic and electric guitars marry to total perfection. Three minutes of Bowie Heaven.

Then there is the tour de force that is "The Bewlay Brothers". The majesty of "Quicksand" is bettered here, unbelievably. Marvellous nonsensical stream of consciousness lyrics. A sadness behind it all and a heartbreaking melody. One of Bowie's most moving compositions. Images of his half-brother abound. If I start quoting the lyrics I will be here all day. There are so many worthy candidates. Unbelievable.

Regarding the various remasters around - the EMI/RYKO has the bonus tracks, "Lightning Frightening" and "Bombers" but it has a lo-fi, muffled sound, in my opinion.

The 1999 remaster is clear, sharp and loud, as "Hunky Dory" should be, probably the equal of the 2015, maybe even a little fuller. This has always been my favourite of the 1999 remasters.The 2015 is probably the most nuanced, rounded remaster. The slightly harsh edges of the 1999 master have given way to a slighter quieter, subtler remaster. "Hunky" will always be a somewhat trebly album, due to the piano, acoustic guitar, horns and strings but this manages to bring the bass further up in the mix a little and highlights the bassier part of the orchestration, cello etc. I find when listening to it that my enjoyment of my lesser-favoured tracks like "Kooks" and "Fill Your Heart" is heightened.


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