Aladdin Sane

I look at my watch, it says 9:25,

And I think: Oh god, I’m still alive!

It’s a Friday night and I have limited time – I’m going to see Django Unchained, and I’ve procrastinated too long. I leave in a rush, fumbling with the volume buttons on my phone, trying to find a place between permanent eardrum damage and the ability to hear over traffic. In-ear headphones help, but it seems I am only able to adjust them in 500 decibel increments.

I resign myself to Shatner-level-tinnitus, and move quickly to the sound of Watch That Man. Tonight I have a clear goal: keep this run to 50 minutes, leaving 10 minutes to cool down, and enough time for a cold shower before the film. Without this, I will sweat like a motherfucker all night.

I pay close attention to the lyrics. Aladdin Sane marks the first 70s Bowie album I’ve only listened to a few times. The prevalent  electric guitar and funky-ass backing vocals on Watch That Man provoke me to run faster. The first time through, the lyrics “he walks like a jerk, but he’s only taking care of the room” are interpreted by my ears as follows:

He walks like a duck, but he's only takin' care of the 'roo

He walks like a duck, but he’s only takin’ care of the ‘roo

The title track begins, and it takes me some serious time to realise that Aladdin Sane is not just a randomly chosen name. The song is repetitive, but the avante-garde keyboard solo is incredible.

The subject matter of Drive in Saturday doesn’t sound like the bones of a song destined to fail –people of the future have forgotten how to have sex, and “try to get it on like once before”. They learn though, by emulating “the video films we saw.” Through subtelty, though, it succeeds at both the lyrical and music level – with its mix of 50’s prom night doo-wop backings, and Bowie’s clearly enunciated vocals.

Time is one of my favourite tracks from any of Bowies albums. The punctuated keys, all male backing-vocals and lick-driven guitar in the second section is another example of the clear Bowie influence on The Killers’ Sam’s Town – an album I suspect would have gotten a lot more exposure but for Flowers’ grandiose claims. I’d be remiss if I didn’t repeat the most memorable line from the song: “Time, he flexes like a whore. Falls wanking to the floor. His trick is you and me”.

The rest of the album falls well within the gamut of rock-n’roll that Bowie had in the bag at this point. They’re good tracks, with catchy choruses (chori?), and some great lines “He sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile. She love him, she love him – but just for a short while”. Still, from Time through to Lady Grinning Soul, the album lacks originality. I choose not to get snarky, and instead just enjoy the pace of the music, and the way it matches my need to get home. My attempt to enthusiastically speed up the early hills of the run, however, have ensured that I’m stuck at a slow jog for several kilometers after.

Eventually, I feel good enough to get back to a decent speed – about the same time as another standout track begins – Lady Grinning Soul ­– with its sad, expansive piano, distorted melodies and multiple key changes. There’s something about the guitar/key combo that comes in after “she will be your living end” that strikes me as one of the most original things I have ever heard.

The bonus tracks take me through the remainder of the run. When they finish I  stretch,  shower, throw on my clothes, and prepare to see whether Django Unchained lives up to the hype.

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