AllMusic Review: David Bowie had dropped hints during the Diamond Dogs tour that he was moving toward R&B, but the full-blown blue-eyed soul of Young Americans came as a shock. Surrounding himself with first-rate sessionmen, Bowie comes up with a set of songs that approximate the sound of Philly soul and disco, yet remain detached from their inspirations; even at his most passionate, Bowie sounds like a commentator, as if the entire album was a genre exercise. Nevertheless, the distance doesn’t hurt the album — it gives the record its own distinctive flavor, and its plastic, robotic soul helped inform generations of synthetic British soul. What does hurt the record is a lack of strong songwriting. “Young Americans” is a masterpiece, and “Fame” has a beat funky enough that James Brown ripped it off, but only a handful of cuts (“Win,” “Fascination,” “Somebody Up There Likes Me”) comes close to matching their quality. As a result, Young Americans is more enjoyable as a stylistic adventure than as a substantive record. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine
All tracks are written by David Bowie, except where noted.
AllMusic Review: Ziggy Stardust wrote the blueprint for David Bowie’s hard-rocking glam, and Aladdin Sane essentially follows the pattern, for both better and worse. A lighter affair than Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane is actually a stranger album than its predecessor, buoyed by bizarre lounge-jazz flourishes from pianist Mick Garson and a handful of winding, vaguely experimental songs. Bowie abandons his futuristic obsessions to concentrate on the detached cool of New York and London hipsters, as on the compressed rockers “Watch That Man,” “Cracked Actor,” and “The Jean Genie.” Bowie follows the hard stuff with the jazzy, dissonant sprawls of “Lady Grinning Soul,” “Aladdin Sane,” and “Time,” all of which manage to be both campy and avant-garde simultaneously, while the sweepingly cinematic “Drive-In Saturday” is a soaring fusion of sci-fi doo wop and melodramatic teenage glam. He lets his paranoia slip through in the clenched rhythms of “Panic in Detroit,” as well as on his oddly clueless cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” For all the pleasures on Aladdin Sane, there’s no distinctive sound or theme to make the album cohesive; it’s Bowie riding the wake of Ziggy Stardust, which means there’s a wealth of classic material here, but not enough focus to make the album itself a classic. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine
AllMusic Review: Borrowing heavily from Marc Bolan’s glam rock and the future shock of A Clockwork Orange, David Bowie reached back to the heavy rock of The Man Who Sold the World for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Constructed as a loose concept album about an androgynous alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, the story falls apart quickly, yet Bowie’s fractured, paranoid lyrics are evocative of a decadent, decaying future, and the music echoes an apocalyptic, nuclear dread. Fleshing out the off-kilter metallic mix with fatter guitars, genuine pop songs, string sections, keyboards, and a cinematic flourish, Ziggy Stardust is a glitzy array of riffs, hooks, melodrama, and style and the logical culmination of glam. Mick Ronson plays with a maverick flair that invigorates rockers like “Suffragette City,” “Moonage Daydream,” and “Hang Onto Yourself,” while “Lady Stardust,” “Five Years,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” have a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll. And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign. Bowie succeeds not in spite of his pretensions but because of them, and Ziggy Stardust — familiar in structure, but alien in performance — is the first time his vision and execution met in such a grand, sweeping fashion. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine
AllMusic Review: After the freakish hard rock of The Man Who Sold the World, David Bowie returned to singer/songwriter territory on Hunky Dory. Not only did the album boast more folky songs (“Song for Bob Dylan,” “The Bewlay Brothers”), but he again flirted with Anthony Newley-esque dancehall music (“Kooks,” “Fill Your Heart”), seemingly leaving heavy metal behind. As a result, Hunky Dory is a kaleidoscopic array of pop styles, tied together only by Bowie’s sense of vision: a sweeping, cinematic mélange of high and low art, ambiguous sexuality, kitsch, and class. Mick Ronson’s guitar is pushed to the back, leaving Rick Wakeman’s cabaret piano to dominate the sound of the album. The subdued support accentuates the depth of Bowie’s material, whether it’s the revamped Tin Pan Alley of “Changes,” the Neil Young homage “Quicksand,” the soaring “Life on Mars?,” the rolling, vaguely homosexual anthem “Oh! You Pretty Things,” or the dark acoustic rocker “Andy Warhol.” On the surface, such a wide range of styles and sounds would make an album incoherent, but Bowie’s improved songwriting and determined sense of style instead made Hunky Dory a touchstone for reinterpreting pop’s traditions into fresh, postmodern pop music. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine