The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (Classic Album Dissection)

Forty years after its release, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars gets the Classic Album Dissection treatment.

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Another Pitchfork music festival has come and gone in Chicago’s Union Park. The festival - put on by the taste-making webzine of the same name - often serves as a useful barometer for where underground pop is headed in the next year. This time around, the message was a little muddled. While relative newcomers Ty Segall and Willis Earl Beal impressed both Jim and Greg with their intensely heartfelt performances, headlining sets by established artists like Feist and Vampire Weekend made them wonder if Pitchfork is losing its edge.

Rock lost a great organist and keyboard player Monday. Jon Lord of hard rock group Deep Purple is dead at age 71. A country boy from Leicester, Lord founded Deep Purple in London in 1968 with the goal of fusing his classical piano training with American R&B and blues. This he accomplished by plugging his Hammond organ into a giant Marshall stack. The distinctive growl of that Hammond became a trademark of the band’s super heavy sound (a sound Greg credits with paving the way for metal). In remembrance of Lord, Jim and Greg play the track Highway Star, featuring a killer organ solo, from the band’s 1972 album Machine Head 9.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (2012 Remastered Version)

It’s been forty years since David Bowie released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, making this a prime time for Jim and Greg to get out the scalpels for a Classic Album Dissection. Not that Jim and Greg need much prompting to reopen The Bowie Debate (right up there in Sound Opinions lore with The Springsteen Debate and the Tom Waits Debate). The major bone of contention: was Bowie simply an assimilator of others’ musical styles or an innovator in his own right? While Greg touts Bowie as a rock legend, Jim stops short at master assimilator. But even Jim has to admit Ziggy Stardust is among the best records in Bowie’s career, if only because of all of his guises, it’s the most unabashedly over-the-top.

Jim tackles side one of the album, which lays out the Ziggy Stardust story. Bowie’s vague on the details, but it seems the alien Ziggy has come to earth to rock humanity in the last five years of its existence. It’s a tough plot to follow, but Jim says the Spiders make it all worthwhile. Inventive instrumentation and Mick Ronson’s stellar guitar work make songs like Moonage Daydream rock classics. Greg takes on side two - the harder rocking side of the album. Here you really hear those Ronson riffs that were so influential for punks like The Sex Pistols. Whereas Bowie’s theatricality and tendency to take on personas can put Jim off, Greg thinks the value of Bowie’s experimentation with glam fashion and especially gender roles can’t be understated. At a time when it was dangerous to be anything other than straight, Ziggy welcomed in a new audience of outsiders singing Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful.

channel ORANGE Frank Ocean

Channel ORANGE

Speaking of musicians who put their sexuality out there, rising R&B star Frank Ocean recently made the news when he wrote on his tumblr that he’d fallen in love with a man when he was 19. That’s a bold statement coming from an artist linked to the outwardly homophobic hip-hop collective Odd Future. The buzz surrounding Ocean’s major label debut channel ORANGEwas already intense given the success of his mixtape, last year’s nostalgia, ULTRA. Does it live up to the hype? In short, yes. Jim thinks Ocean’s a contender to be the next Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. Not only is he bringing new sounds into R&B, but he’s writing about money, sex, and class in a way that’s honest and gimmick-free. What’s getting him riled are those interstitial skits and snippets of conversation. They break the flow of the record and make channel ORANGE a Burn It for him. Greg echoes Jim’s praise but isn’t as bothered by the skits. For him this record is all about a singer telling emotion-packed stories. He gives channel ORANGE a Buy It.

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