The Man Who Sold The World

David Bowie

Mercury Records, 1970

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


After the folk rock bore of 1969’s Space Oddity, David Bowie wised up to the sounds of 1970's youth and came to the logical conclusion that hard rock would be the genre that made the most waves in the near future. Accordingly, he hired an ace backing band, including much ballyhooed guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist/now famous producer Tony Visconti. This became the nucleus of the lineup that would create what many people believe to this day to be the finest releases of Bowie's career, and they certainly made quite the statement with The Man Who Sold The World. The spacey folk melodies that Bowie began exploring on his previous album really take center stage here but they have been twisted in all sorts of bizarre directions.

Picking up Mick Ronson was a masterstroke (okay, that was not an intended pun, however obvious it may seem.) He’s an awesome player with a style that I haven't heard from anyone else. It's like he channels bits of Jimi Hendrix's raw, bluesy distortion and Tony Iommi's spookyness and vibrato, while adding his own twist by way of a trebly, almost scratchy tone. Personally, I think Mick Ronson steals the show here. The songs are all written solely by my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Bowie, but they only become spectacular because of all the awesome riffs that Ronson stuffs them full of.

The atmosphere is surprisingly moody and unsettling. There's a tension that runs the length of the album that really gives the material an unnerving edge, as if Bowie were losing his marbles – it sounds like psycho-psychedelia. There's even a really twisted sounding track called "After All" with a children's sing-a-long section that would make even Alice Cooper raise an eyebrow. The song sounds exactly like something you'd hear on the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. "All The Madmen" makes a nice companion piece with its haunting minor key vocals.

Despite the overall greatness of The Man Who Sold The World, it is not perfect. Some of the songs tend to meander into territory where my interest waned significantly, such as the extended solo/jam bit in "The Width Of A Circle," a song that starts off rather well otherwise. Also, sloppily composed psychedelic blues boogies like "Running Gun Blues" utterly bores me.

The other major problems I have with the album all have to do with Bowie's vocals. There are some parts where his voice actually sounds ugly, as in too whiny, flat and nasal. He showed how well he could sing straight on his tight-collared 1967 debut, so I see no reason why he would do that. Also, he hadn't yet developed that lovely baritone croon that he sports so well nowadays.
Also, a lot of the vocal melodies themselves sound underwritten. On several occasions, the music in the background is fantastic and then Bowie adds a gorgeous vocal line, which he then proceeds to string out into nothingness that sometimes doesn't match the music well at all, making for an unfocused effect that has you wondering if he was sort of making it up as he went along, or was more interested in forcing out the bizarre lyrics rather than setting them to a memorable tune that doesn't tax the listener's patience.

So there you have it. It has a few faults, but this album is truly wonderful. If you want dark, weird, creepy, surreal David Bowie with lots of great guitar distortion (though I wouldn't necessarily call it heavy), then The Man Who Sold The World is the album to get.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+


© 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 Mercury Records, and is used for informational purposes only.