Hunky Dory

David Bowie

RCA, 1971

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


It must have been around the time of Hunky Dory’s release that Bowie started to get tagged with the "chameleon" nickname because he was drastically changing his sound with every album. All the moody rock of The Man Who Sold The World was dropped in favor of Elton John-y piano pop on this album, leaving poor Mick Ronson, whose fantastic guitar work had elevated the previous album, with little to contribute.

I'll be the first to confess that this type of piano pop normally isn't my bag of tea, though it likely pleases oodles of drunkards in British pubs the world over. Even a cynic like me, however, can't deny that Bowie managed to produce a rather good album this time around that features a number of killer tracks that have become beloved classics, like the huge hit "Changes," for example, which starts off the album in fine style. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Oh! You Pretty Things" keeps the momentum going with its fantastic chorus before the first lull appears in the form of "Eight Line Poem," which would be completely useless if it didn't provide a buffer between the great "Oh! You Pretty Things" and the brilliant "Life On Mars," for which Bowie seemingly yanked out his inner Beatle and composed this theatrical gem, which I find to be one of the best songs he's ever written. The sentimental verse melody is so moving and downright classy, while the chorus is completely uplifting and epic sounding without any tacky arrangements.

While "Life On Mars" is Hunky Dory's definite highlight, there are several more great moments to be found later on, such as the lightly flamenco influenced "Andy Warhol," with its lovely ascending and then descending acoustic guitar line and the spacey "The Bewlay Brothers," which sounds like a distant cousin to "Space Oddity."

None of the remaining songs are bad at all, but perhaps aren’t in the same class as the ones I've already mentioned. "Kooks" sounds like an outtake of the British pop variety found on the 1967 debut, "Song For Bob Dylan" is a fittingly dull tribute to a dull artist, and "Queen Bitch" is the only time Mick Ronson's familiar guitar tone appears to rock out, though the attempt falls a bit flat.

Still, Hunky Dory is about as consistently good an album as Bowie's capable of making, which is certainly commendable when you consider how often he experiments with different styles. This is likely the purest singer/songwriter album he's ever made as the focus is almost entirely on his vocal melodies and lyrics, which completely dominate all the songs because the actual music itself is kept very minimalist in the form of gently guiding pianos, acoustic guitars, and a few horns now and then. Though I wouldn't want all his albums to be like this, it's a nice opportunity to indulge in undiluted Bowie, without any of the distractions that flashy rock arrangements would bring.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A-



© 2008 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA, and is used for informational purposes only.