Station to Station (2016 Remaster)

Station to Station (2016 Remaster)

When David Bowie released Station to Station in 1976, he hit a new commercial pinnacle: It would soon become his second album in a row to reach the Top 10 on both sides of the pond. But from a mental-health standpoint, Bowie was at an all-time low. Upon moving to LA in 1975 to film his starring role in Nicolas Roeg’s art-house classic, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s recreational cocaine use had developed into a full-blown snowstorm, plunging him into an all-consuming paranoia that manifested itself in a notoriously extreme diet of red peppers and milk, dramatic weight loss, and an obsession with the occult. Given his precarious condition at the time, Bowie infamously claimed that he had no recollection of making Station to Station. But in reality, he savvily turned his diminished physical and psychological state into a new persona: The Thin White Duke. Pale, skeletal, yet still untouchably stylish, Bowie reinvented himself as the ghost of a pop star. Though Station to Station carries over the soul and funk influences of the preceding Young Americans, this is an album possessed by a more haunted and sinister energy. Its staggering 10-minute title track is the equivalent of opening a door and being greeted by a 100-foot-high brick wall, as an ominous swell of electronics gives way to an anvil-pounding beat that—while not quite heavy metal—is still crushing enough to have inspired a Melvins cover version many years later. But partway through, the song suddenly transforms from doomy dirge to rapturous disco, effectively encapsulating Station to Station’s uncanny balance of drug-addled delusion and futurist epiphany. Station to Station may have been born in a cloud of LA excess, but Bowie’s ear was already keying into the avant-rock experimentation flourishing in Germany. And if he wasn’t yet fully incorporating the electronic aesthetic of bands like Kraftwerk and Harmonia, their machine-like precision informed the funky-yet-frosty allure of songs like “Golden Years” and “Stay.” Perhaps the most fascinating attribute of Station to Station is the way it makes organic instrumentation sound unearthly—“TVC15” foregrounds the playful piano-runs of the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan and Bowie’s own free-ranging sax-work, yet the song’s steely rhythmic pulse, cryptic communiques, and robotic chorus incantations sound like they’re beaming in from another planet. But even the album’s two side-closing ballads—the elegant “Word on a Wing” and a dramatic reading of the Nina Simone signature “Wild Is the Wind”—convey the same message as the album’s more outre excursions: Bowie was rapidly losing interest in traditional rock music and rock culture in general, and in order to escape its temptations and trappings, he needed to make records that would position him firmly outside that world. “The European canon is here!” he announced on Station to Station’s title track. His next move was to book himself a transatlantic flight back to the Old World and fulfill that promise.

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