In the 30 years since that mellow-thighed chick put Ziggy Stardust’s spine out of place in “Suffragette City,” David Bowie has more than earned his reputation as rock’s most eclectic and unpredictable superstar. Abandoning the mod affectations of his early years for the psychedelic folk-rock of his eponymous 1969 debut (later re-released as Man of Words, Man of Music and, subsequently, Space Oddity), the self-described “Chameleon of Pop” soon established himself as the pre-eminent glam icon of the ’70s with 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a musical parable about one rocker’s abbreviated moment of stardom. The album, instantly hailed by critics as one of the most influential recordings of its decade, catapulted Bowie to international fame, landing him his first top-10 LP and his first No. 1 UK hit — “John, I’m Only Dancing,” a song that didn’t reach America until 1976 due to its suggestive lyrics.
Since then, the Thin White Duke has never hesitated to expand his musical portfolio. After abruptly abandoning his Ziggy Stardust persona following a July 1973 concert in London, Bowie flirted with American soul on 1974’s Diamond Dogs; teamed up with producer Brian Eno for a trio of jagged, late-’70s forays into experimental rock (Low, Heroes and Lodger); manned a comeback and won a whole new generation of fans with his 1983 blockbuster Let’s Dance; then reinvented himself yet again with 1997’s ode to electronica, Earthlings. Now, hot on the heels of 2002’s Heathens, comes the 30th-anniversary edition of Ziggy Stardust, a double-disc extravaganza complete with new sleeve notes by David Buckley (author of The Complete Guide to the Music of David Bowie), a time line tracing Ziggy’s recording history and previously unreleased photography by Mick “The Man Who Shot the ’70s” Rock.
The exhaustive, 36-page booklet and revised artwork make for pleasing and informative eye candy, but it’s the two full-length discs of original hits, outtakes and rare B-sides that make this latest incarnation of Ziggy a delight for even the most casual Bowie fan. Boasting a crisp, digitally remastered sound that brings out the textural complexities of sci-fi reveries such as “Moonage Daydream” and rock anthems including “Suffragette City,” the first disc showcases the original album in all its undiminished glory. Three decades later, Ziggy Stardust has aged gracefully, and though nobody could ever confuse Bowie’s quaint futuristic fantasies (“Starman”) or rough-edged meditations on stardom (“Ziggy Stardust,” “Rock & Roll Suicide”) with their ’90s counterparts — Radiohead’s OK Computer and Nirvana’s In Utero, respectively — the album still packs a wallop. Every song hits the mark, with irresistible hooks and mesmerizing melodies. Bowie’s vocals are at their strongest throughout — one minute, he’s soft and deceptively sweet; in the next, loud, desperate and full of raw pain and frayed nerves. Meanwhile, his backup band, the Spiders from Mars (guitarist/pianist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Woody Woodmansey) sizzles — particularly Ronson, whose aggressive guitar chops helped to define Bowie’s sound on earlier efforts The Man Who Sold the World (1970) and Hunky Dory (1971).
The second disc features 12 tracks recorded during the Ziggy sessions and offers a tantalizing glimpse of how different the original release could have been but for the 11th-hour inclusion of seminal tracks such as “It Ain’t Easy” and “Rock & Roll Suicide.” It begins and ends with alternate takes on “Moonage Daydream” — one an early, piano-heavy prototype and the other a less-revealing version, newly remixed for a 1998 Dunlop tire commercial. The bonus disc puts a handful of obscure B-sides in their proper context, most notably “Velvet Goldmine” and “Holy Holy,” songs that anchored an early running order of Ziggy Stardust. “Goldmine” is a lighthearted bit of Beatles-inspired pop that lacks the darker undertones that permeate the completed album; “Holy Holy,” which documents Ziggy’s descent into bitter alienation, is an adequate rocker, even if it pales by comparison to the stronger cuts “Suffragette City” and “Five Years.” Another intriguing addendum here is Bowie’s rollicking rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round,” which was dropped from the final pressing to make room for “Starman.” (It was later released as the flip side to Aladdin Sane’s “Drive-In Saturday” single.)
Combined with a detailed chronology and track-by-track annotation, the two discs on the 30th-anniversary edition Ziggy Stardust set provide the most comprehensive, behind-the-scenes glimpse yet into the evolution of David Bowie’s finest album. In the end, it was well worth the wait.
E-mail Rossiter Drake at [email protected].