When it comes to innovation and constant reinvention, no career can compare to that of David Bowie. For his fifth album, the (then) glam-rocker opted to tell the story of Ziggy Stardust in his 1972 concept album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It’s an interesting concept that gave life to a handful of essential Bowie classics.
According to Wikipedia (the go-to site when I’m too lazy to do more exhaustive research), Ziggy is an alien rock star sent to spread a message of love and hope to Earth in its last five years of existence (as covered in the ‘warm-up’ opening track “Five Years”.) In the end, Ziggy is destroyed by the excesses of the rock star lifestyle as well as at the hands of his fans (citation needed).
The concept doesn’t come together too clearly without a cheat sheet. But that’s okay because you don’t have to know the biography of Ziggy to enjoy the album. Vocally, Bowie is sharp and vibrant, bringing the glam persona front and center in songs like “Star”, “Suffragette City” (“Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!”) and “Hang on to Yourself”. Yeah, I know that’s usually more a visual than something you would hear in the music, but for some reason, I was buying into the image of Ziggy (an amalgamation of actual musicians Bowie encountered, by the way) that was being painted for the listeners.
But the energetic rock doesn’t kick until a bit into side two, which would coincide with the part of the story where Ziggy attains rock stardom. But before that, we’re treated to some powerful ballads polished to a musical mirror finish, particularly “Moonage Daydream”, “Starman” and “Lady Stardust”. It all sounded so nice, I almost wish I had followed the story unfolding before me just a tad better.
Similarly, the closing song, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide” wraps up the album, the concept and Ziggy himself with a respectful send-off. It starts off like a bittersweet memorial but picks up tempo and intensity not soon afterwards, until finally its fully vibrant with life and celebration. I imagine it’s the way the character of Ziggy would have liked to have been sent off, including that little violin postscript that sneaks in at the end like a mischievous wink.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a supurb album and one of Bowie’s finest. There’s some great music on here, even if you’re not one to buy into the whole science fiction rock-and-roll fantasy motif. Enjoy at maximum volume, as the back of the album advises.