The Man Who Sold the World

“Oh no, not me – I never lost control”

Great art is not created in a vacuum, and neither are great artists. While Space Oddity demonstrated that Bowie’s work could reach great heights, The Man Who Sold the World is significant in a different sense. Rather than hint at greatness, it functions as a prelude to the persona-driven rock that would form the basis of some of Bowie’s most interesting material.

If Bowie’s discography were a sliding puzzle, I’d be tempted to jam this album right next to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. It seems the perfect bridge – a concept album with an overall cohesive sound, but it instead led to Hunky Dory. Intellectually, I’m confused, but my gut tells me not to question a good thing. Anyway, let’s talk TMWSTW. It’s a solid album – one I’ve listened to a couple times before. But for me it’s little more. It has always lacked a certain distinctiveness for me. Still, it must be given its night.

With reckless disregard for the convention I had established of starting each album at the first intersection of my street, I hit play immediately as I left the apartment. I know what you’re thinking – how can I read I continue reading this? This is the kind of guy who could jump off the rails at any minute. How can I put my reading in the hands of such a rogue? I offer you no false mercy. Blogging is a dangerous business – and this blogger adheres to no man’s rules or conventions.

Ready to follow the route I ran yesterday, I left the apartment intending to run a solid 9kms. (Twist: I only managed 8.5.) The intro to Width of a Circle enhanced my walk down the hallway – I highly recommend it for any hallway. Black Country Rock, on the other hand, is a different sort of song – more suitable for the second kilometre of a run. Coming right after another standout All the Madmen, it was a great motivator.

Listening to it now, however, I recall only pain. As I neared the freeway, I noticed that the foliage provides an ideal meeting point for mosquitoes. I noticed it suddenly, and right in the eyes. Still, I labour onward – pouring water into my face and vigorously pulling at eyelashes. It takes some time to remove the last of the sharp corpses, but I forget about that – dismissing it as a minor struggle.

More substantial, however, is my struggle to remain attentive over the next few tracks. As much as I understand the significance of this album, the interesting moments are interesting because of context and increasing sense of musicianship in the band, rather than because of the actual songs.

After All is supposed to grab my attention – I know it is. But it feels contrived. It feels like an attempt to be dark or novel, than it does an actual feat of creativity. The post-chorus parts of Saviour Machine are somewhat interesting, but there is just way too much guitar work. The run goes quickly, and I zone out until what I could swear are the words “She sucked my dong on will” during You Shook Me Cold. I refuse to look up the real lyrics.

The title track holds more promise for me, but it comes too late to feel like a real redemption. I find myself wondering if I would have cared for it in 1970, but I maintain my faith in Bowie – encouraged by the pace I’ve run and the album to follow.

The man who sold the world

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