Released on 23 January 1976
Recorded in Los Angeles
Running time 38:21
By 1976, the cocaine-addled David Bowie had start to leave behind his supposed "white soul" experiment that resulted in 1975's "Young Americans" album and, ditching the powder blue suits, reinvented himself as "The Thin White Duke" complete with accusations of giving Nazi salutes at London's Victoria station and giving out various pretentious pronouncements about the state of global politics and so on. Bowie's persona was not a particularly pleasant one at this time, however, indulged by an adoring media (despite the goldmine that punk was about the give them) and still extremely drug-ravaged he managed to come up with this work of genius. Ever the enigma inside a riddle or whatever the saying is. The great chameleon changeling had done it again.
It was, though, a somewhat difficult album to analyse. It is simultaneously accessible yet darkly impenetrable, a merging of "krautrock", white funk, white soul and a bit of pop sensibility. Influences are clear, from Neu! and Kraftwerk especially, that chugging, electronic "motorik" metronomic beat that those groups utilised. In my view, and indeed that of many others, the supposed "Berlin Trilogy" began here, for sure. "Station To Station" really should be included alongside "Low", "Heroes" and "Lodger".
Lyrically, it is extremely sombre, with Bowie being influenced by occultism, philosophy and dark mythology, the works of Nietzsche and Aleister Crowley. Bowie said of the album, some twenty years later -
"....First, there's the content, which nobody's actually been terribly clear about. The "Station to Station" track itself is very much concerned with the stations of the cross. All the references within the piece are to do with the Kabbalah. It's the nearest album to a magick treatise that I've written. I've never read a review that really sussed it. It's an extremely dark album. Miserable time to live through, I must say...."
Maybe Bowie was still on the drugs when he said that....
1. Station To Station
2. Golden Years
3. Word On A Wing
6. Wild Is The Wind
Now, I shall try to "suss" the album myself. What we got here was a six track album of stark, grey Communist bloc East European-inspired impossible to categorise music. Yes, the single "Golden Years" was a catchy throwback to the "white soul" of the previous year and "Wild Is The Wind" was a beautiful cover of a fifties ballad. Both sit somewhat incongruously with the remaining tracks.
The other four, though, are the bedrock of "The European Canon - the ten minute title track with its East German atmospherics and drug references and cutting guitar and keyboards (not to forget the introductory train noises); the funky, choppy guitars of "Stay"; the evocative, piano-driven "Word On A Wing" and the futuristic fantasy of "TVC15". They provide a sort of lengthy introduction to the short sharp hits of "Low"'s old "side one" and the metallic bleakness of "Heroes".
Apart from the US-inspired white soul of "Golden Years", this album is as European in feel as it can be, mixing krautrock with post-punk before punk itself had barely started. Strangely enough, though, it was recorded in sunny Los Angeles in the autumn of 1975.
Lyrically, I guess Bowie was right, none of us will ever really get it, possibly not being in tune with whatever "magick treatises" are. I almost feel that the lyrics could be anything on these songs, it is the overall ambience that takes over. The lyrics are unfathomable at times, but therein lies their intriguing appeal. Since when have Bowie's lyrics ever been straightforward, anyway?
I cannot state it enough, for all its perplexing undertones, it really is a remarkable piece of work. Despite all my nostalgia for "Ziggy" from my early teenage years, this puts "Ziggy" to the sword, quickly and efficiently, creatively. This a far more diverse, challenging and innovative piece of work. It was also supremely influential, having an effect on the afore-mentioned post punk genre in particular.
Regarding the many remasterings of it, it is all a matter of personal taste. I am a bass-appreciating man. I love the 2016 remaster and the 1999 one. I have no time for the tinny/muffled EMI/RYKO one and, while I own the "original analog one" I find it dull, flat and lifeless. That is just me, though. I know many people love it for the reasons I despise it. The "Harry Maslin Remix" available via the "Who Can I Be Now?" box set or via individual track download is a work of beauty. It adds an amazing new feel to the album and is definitely worth a listen. "TVC15", particularly, comes to a new life in this mix. More strident drums and piano and enhanced new backing vocals.
Whatever format, this is a highly recommended album.
Photo by Bob Gruen.