In David Bowie's four-decade discography, there is much debate as to what his greatest record or period may be. Some prefer his pre-glam era, others bow down to the Ziggy Stardust and many point to the Berlin Trilogy as his most imperative. One album that always seems to appear on anyone's top-5 Bowie list is 1976's Station To Station. Despite the cosmos iciness to the album's six songs, it's without question not just one of his most heralded works, but possibly his best. Low may have been more conceptual, "Heroes" more uniform, Let's Dance more identifiable and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars more renowned but there's something about the consistency, the minimalist nature and the underlying performance that makes this one of David Bowie's essential albums. By this stage in the game he had distanced himself from the glam era, embraced soul, collaborated with John Lennon, acted in his first major role and as he set down in LA to record Station To Station he and was about to rediscover himself. Inspired in part by Bowie's performance of an alien in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth, Bowie created the character of "The Thin White Duke" and from there he produced six unyielding and obtuse songs totaling less than 40-minutes. Station to Station jump started a wildly inventive and lonely period in Bowie's life. This is delved into stupendously in the book, Bowie in Berlin: A New Career in a New Town by Thomas Jerome Seabrook. The opening chapters of the book deal specifically with STS and The Man Who Fell To Earth and the depths of his depression while recording, filming and touring during this period. This was the beginning of his transformation into an "artist" and more importantly, the beginning steps in reclaiming his life, as much of it during the mid-1970's was based around drug abuse and a loss of self. Rumor has it Bowie can't recall much of these sessions due to this aforementioned substance detour, but regardless, if you listen to the lyrics, you hear more than the character of "The Thin White Duke" screaming for help, but Bowie himself. The music provides an isolated ambience and foreshadow the material that would wind up on Low, "Heroes" and Lodger. This album proved to be the first time that guitarist Carlos Alomar, drummer Dennis Davis and bassist George Murray would record together and they solidified the rhythm section of the band that Bowie would use on every release through Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), in 1980. Filling in the blanks were overdubs by Bowie, guitarist Earl Slick and E Street Band piano player Roy Bittan. Together their instruments chime in harmony while elevating the mysterious lyrics. The trippy 10-plus minute opening title-cut sets the stage for the next chapter in Bowie's career; the Berlin Trilogy. Station To Station is ground zero for the most important and integral chapter in Bowie's career.
In a fall season overflowing with reissues, it's tough at times to grasp whether certain releases are worth your time and money. I'm here to tell you that both the special and deluxe editions of Station To Station being released are essential; this is without a doubt one of the few double dips that is truly indispensable. The actual album has been remastered a few times before, so main course for most is the bonus items. The focal point of interest to fans is a complete (minus a drum solo) long bootlegged recording of Live Nassau Coliseum '76, recorded March 23, 1976 in Uniondale, New York. This 15-track live recording finds Bowie backed by a 5-piece band who would later be dubbed Raw Moon. Led by the same rhythms of Murray, Davis and Alomar, the band is the lynch pin that hold everything together and as a whole. Rounded out by Stacey Hayden on lead guitar and Tony Kaye on keyboards, the band is in tip-top shape as they tear through current and vintage material. The band on these recordings is more than finely tuned musicians but they take the studio recordings and add flashes of brilliance, swirling grooves and an overall decadence to the proceedings. You'll sweat just listening to "Suffragette City". "Stay" has the rancorous guitar battle by Alomar and Hayden battle, never having one outdo the other, but in their discordant grooves there is a wonderful combustion of sound. "Waiting for the Man" is delivered in a make-over, more in-line with the current show's spacey arrangements rather than the piercing brashness of the Spiders version. "Life on Mars" segues into "Five Years" while "Diamond Dogs" is downright crashing. There is a swing to "Queen B*tch" and "Changes" that almost make the album counterparts seem detached and distant. For performing material that isn't just challenging but also a bit thorny, the band embraces it with unbridled elation and grit. With no proper live album ever released from this era, this is a most welcomed entry into Bowie's cannon.
The "Deluxe Edition" of Station To Station has a steep price tag attached to it, however, what it may very well be worth its weight in gold. Despite some bonus CD's (5 in total), a 3LP set, along with replica memorabilia from the era its true prized gem is the DVD. Instead of commercials or one-off performances, it houses solely high end surround and stereo mixes of the album, with the highlight being Harry Maslin's new 5.1 surround mix in DTS 96/24. The other mixes are all great but the 5.1 mix jumps out at you. Let me leave my subtleties to the side, the mix is downright revolutionary. The way Davis' drums punctuate your speakers on the title track, the little nuances of "Golden Years" and Bowie's vocals on "Word on a Wing" and "Wild is the Wind" are downright sublime. If the album never did much for you, you'll be astonished at the detailed nuances that flourish to the forefront of the mix. It's as if you have never heard the album before. This is what the future of music should be and not merely compressed MP3's. The airy atmosphere of Station is perfect for a 5.1 mix and it's a rare mix that brings the instruments to the forefront, and allows you to appreciate the work behind the scenes to make this album a reality. It's a shame the DVD can't be purchased separately because in my opinion, it's not merely good, but vital for anyone who loves Bowie. The mix will make you either fall in love with the record all over again or it will put it in a light you never knew possible. Station To Station may not be Bowie's best known or best selling record, but it may be his most unswerving. There are those who love the glam phase, the pop crooner, the difficult artist finding himself, but Station To Station is a full body work out and with a mere six-songs, there is no filler here. Whether you buy the Special or Deluxe editions is up to you, but regardless, you will be glad you made it.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
David Bowie - Station To Station Remaster