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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
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MP3 Music, June 5, 2012
Audio CD, Import, Original recording remastered, September 25, 2015
Vinyl, Limited Edition, Original recording remastered, February 26, 2016
Audio, Cassette, Original recording reissued, June 15, 1990
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Format: Vinyl LP album. RCA Records, UK release from 1972. Classic LP from Bowie and Mick Ronson et al. Jacket has the Gem Production credit and no Mainman credit. Also comes with the original inner lyric sleeve. 11 tracks including: Five Years; Soul Love; Moonage Daydream; Starman; It Ain't Easy; Lady Stardust; Star; Hang On To Yourself; Ziggy Stardust; Suffragette City; Rock 'N' Roll Suicide. No barcode. Record has some light scratches.
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There is a curious phenomenon happening in the world of Bowie CD remasters, which we can hope portends an attitude change in the music industry as a whole regarding the remastering of classic albums. This phenomenon is, simply put, going back to basics. More specifically, it appears as though EMI is actually starting to recognize that the sound of the original Bowie albums, at the time they were made, doesn't require improving upon. Rather, the best a remastering can do is present the original sound in the most faithful manner possible, from the best possible sources. This 40th Anniversary remastering of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars does just that.
Ironically, the original RCA Bowie CDs from the 1980s, which were lambasted at the time as subpar, actually did a pretty good job of staying faithful to the sound of the original LPs. Although they are rumored to have been from latter-generation sources, rather than the original master tapes, they have nevertheless held up very well in light of the reissues that followed: the anemic and overly bright Ryko reissues of the late `80s, and the bloated, heavily compressed Virgin/EMI remasters of the late `90s, which remain the standard versions available today. However, it was the 30th Anniversary edition of Ziggy Stardust that represented the nadir of all Bowie remasters: it sounded worse than even the '90s EMI remaster; worse yet, it actually removed portions of the music and reversed the stereo channels. It was an absolute travesty that never should have seen record store shelves, and it seemed to confirm the belief among audiophiles and music enthusiasts that the more the record companies tried to justify double and triple dips, the worse things got.
Then things started to change. The Aladdin Sane 30th Anniversary remaster actually was a bit less loud than its previous remastering, and with a more subtle EQ - not quite on the level of the original RCA LP or CD, but definitely a step in the right direction. Then came the Station to Station deluxe reissue in 2010, which really nailed it, faithfully reproducing the basic sound of the RCA LP and CD, but with the added benefit of going back to the original master tapes for a cleaner presentation. It was exactly what a remaster should be.
This newest release of Ziggy Stardust continues the trend, and may be the best sounding Bowie CD reissue yet. Remastered by Ray Staff, who engineered the original album back in 1971, this version comes full circle, sounding remarkably similar to both the original RCA LP and CD, but with a bit more sonic pop and presence, as well as clarity resulting from a superior transfer of the original master tape. This is miles better than either the 1999 EMI remaster or the ghastly 30th Anniversary edition (stereo channels are as they should be, and the segues are restored); it bests the Ryko version, as well. There is a certain irony that it took four CD reissues just to come back to the sound RCA got right in the first place, but with this remastering, we finally have the definitive Ziggy on CD. Here's hoping EMI makes this permanently available, and never seeks to improve upon it with a subsequent release. They really cannot do better than this.
I'm sure David Bowie was super cool in 1972. Whacky guy in crazy costumes! Songs about a band from space! Woah! However, this album is like a giant 1990's cellphone; interesting at the time but now we snicker at them as we browse the Internet on our iPhones. The glam rock idea has been greatly improved upon; look no further than The Darkness, Adam Lambert & Semi-Precious Weapons for proof. Heck, even Lady Gaga's outlandish persona (and fantastic songs) would make Ziggy green with envy. Ditch this silly ancient artifact.
Why he NEEDS alter-ego's at all is a mystery, perhaps it's to fool us into thinking he's more interesting than he actually is, or not blame him when things are wrong. Some hope.
Anyway, 'TRAFOZSATSFM' is a dreary, humourless excursion. Dull as dishwater with a subtle-as-concrete premise; Messianic traveler descends, and is distraught to find our civilization is on it's last legs. We're all to blame, and we're about to take the last ride on self-destruction highway.
Fair enough - so what's he gonna do about it?
Well, he's going to play some of the coarsest, stupidest, badly dated songs you can think of, in ludicrous make-up and a clown costume. The planet's saved! Go Ziggy!!
I suppose what really irks me here, is the fact that this is almost reverentially over-praised, with little or no dissention - no sane voice of reason pulling it up, and having a second look.
It's accepted-as-fact that it's a work of unencroachable genius, despite the fact it's got no guts or soul, or anything that would make you warm to it. Anything that makes you remember it fondly, mark a time in your life by it.
I can already hear the screams of outrage and disbelief as this 'great work' is dismantled (and that's the easy bit, a slight glance past the hyperbole and it falls apart), but I kid you not; this is some of the most clapped out, weary music that exists in the world - and in that sense, it's no wonder Bowie needs to hide behind a 'persona' to present it.
Despite all the bombast and show, Ziggy's not that interesting (either!), it's as if someone's decided to construct him loosely, in the shadow of Bowie's own psyche, of a perception. And he's delighted to go along with it, myth establishing and ego massaging as he goes.
Cue that false, aloof, but-not-so-aloof-that-you-don't-buy-my-records, grin.
Concepts like this should be done with a flourish, with a smile, with a lightness of touch. Laugh-a-minute-Dave uses a mallet.
He should prefix the closing (excruciating!) 'Rock n Roll Suicide' with a Mike Yarwood style: "and this is me", just to reassure us; let us know it's just a lark, a druggie blast, and not to take it too seriously.
No chance. Deadly Duke Dave plays this severe grey charade to a grim death, and that's why the album dies one.
So fresh from the package today, I played it. Side 1 was flawless, and from side 2 Lady Stardust played flawlessly. But then from Star onward, there is constant skipping. Star is downright unlistenable and the other songs afterward become hard to listen to because if the skips. I plan to contact Amazon about this, but I'm wondering if others have experienced the same thing?