Back in 1970 David Bowie released an amazing album called The Man Who Sold The World. This was his third album as “David Bowie”. Aside from the title track, I never heard anything else from the album. That soon changed in 2003 when I finally bought the album. From the first listen I was thinking to myself, this is fantastic and why did it take me so long to get this album. Well I’m very glad I got it and in my opinion it ranks high among Bowie‘s ‘70s releases.
At this time the line-up was David Bowie (vocals, guitar, Stylophone), Mick Ronson (Guitars, vocals), Tony Visconti (Bass, piano, guitar, producer), Mick Woodmansey (Drums, percussion), and Ralph Mace (Moog synthesizer).
The music has a raw gritty sound almost heavy rock sound that would turn up in his music in The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, but in a more slick sounding production. According to his Wikipedia page, “this is where the story really starts”. After listening to the album several times, I can agree with that statement. There’s also some early goth rock elements that later influenced many bands within the goth of the 1980s and beyond.
From the opening iconic “The Width Of A Circle” (8:08) you hear a sound that was more akin to Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath than the more popular era of David Bowie’s career. There’s a dark ominous atmosphere on this song and such a grand way to open an album the only way that David Bowie can do.
“All The Madmen” (5:40) is one of my all time favorite Bowie songs. It deals with insanity, and is about and for his half brother Terry who was schizophrenic and an inmate of Cane Hill mental institution (pictured on the original US release of The Man Who Sold The World) until his death in 1985. This is one of my favorites off this album.
“Black Country Rock” (3:36) is an upbeat blues rocker. I’d have to say this is my least favorite off this album. I guess I would expect Bowie to be beyond doing a bluesy song, but then again maybe it’s just me.
“After All” (3:55) is dark song done in waltz time and primarily an acoustic. It’s been said that this is one of many songs from Bowie in the 1970s that showed an influence of Friedrich Nietzsche and Aleister Crowley. I agree with the statement from his Wikipedia page that says this is one of Bowie’s underrated songs. Another one of my favorites off this album.
“Running Gun Blues” (3:15) is Bowie’s commentary on the Vietnam war. This is another of my least favorites of Bowie. It just didn’t click for me.
“Saviour Machine” (4:28) is one of Bowie’s progressive rock style songs. There’s a constant tempo changes in this song. I think it can rival anything the progressive rock bands were doing at this time. This has grown to be one of my favorites of this album and the Bowie catalog.
“She Shook Me Cold” (4:16) is an odd bluesy track that reminds me of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love” in parts. It’s also very “fat” sounding almost muddy. This is another of Bowie’s songs that rivaled some of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath music of the same year, 1970.
“The Man Who Sold The World” (4:00) is the title track of this album and I first heard this not by Bowie but by Nirvana (a faithful cover). It prompted me to want to hear the original. This has a trippy almost psychedelic feel to it. I read that someone told Bowie, that is was cool that you did a cover of a Nirvana song. I’m sure that pissed off Bowie, I know it would me. Sadly the modern music listeners have such limited palate that shows the pure ignorance of some lazy people. Now in the computer age, it’s easy to do research, and look into stuff beyond the stuff force-fed to the populace.
Now we have the final track, “The Supermen” (3:42), which has lyrics based on H.P. Lovecraft as well as Nietzsche. I can’t comment on the Nietzsche influence, because I’m not versed in his works. I am however familiar with Lovecraft and his Cthulu mythos. This is another favorite of mine of both this album and Bowie’s entire catalog.
So for people such as myself that missed this album the first time it came out, I have to say this is a very important album of the 1970s output of David Bowie. Those that are aware of this album, possibly from when it first came out, will agree on the importance of The Man Who Sold The World. So if you haven’t already done so, I have to highly recommend this album!
Reviewed by Ron Fuchs on December 31st, 2010