The jump from his debut to Space Oddity is huge. He’s traded in the silly children’s songs for child-like whimsy and star-gazing, and it’s like he’s found his path all of a sudden. Listening to this in retrospect, you can hear it all in this one album, his true debut album. It’s not just the lyrics either (a big upgrade here), but the instrumentation and songwriting as well. Still folk, but more rock.
Space Oddity was the kind of career-defining song that most musicians probably want and also want to run away from. It’s rough in comparison to the songs he would be writing by the time he was Ziggy Stardust, but it’s looking out to the same point in space with a strong emotional core. Listen to “I think my spaceship knows which way to go” and don’t cry, that’s a dare.
The rest of the album is just as varied and interesting as Space Oddity though! There are a number of cool folk-rock tracks like Unwashed, the strongest being Janine. That should be on every David Bowie best of list. Bowie goes hard with one speak-singing vocal under a shouted vocal, and the guitar is so catchy.
At a whopping 10 minutes, Cygnet Committee is a clear show of the kind of songwriting he’d do on The Man Who Sold the World, it’s like a test pilot for The Width of a Circle, and although it’s a little overlong for me for the style, it’s cool.
The ballads are really so nice too, reminiscent of his debut but with more relatable and interesting lyrics and vocal style. An Occasional Dream is lovely, but Letter to Hermione is both the loveliest and one of Bowie’s best songs, period. It reminds me a lot of Tom Waits’ Martha, and I love this kind of wistful sentiment in my folk songs.
The album closes with a three-song run of some super hippie but super wonderful anthemic songs. Wild-Eyed Boy takes the fairy-tale feel of his debut and repackages it in a narrative of the self. Memory of a Free Festival uses a droning instrumental backdrop to hold down Bowie’s story of love before a sing-a-long ending chorus. I hate to do it, but I’m gonna – it’s very “Beatles”.
From the very beginning, Bowie was preaching togetherness and love. I think that’s awesome.