The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie

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The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie
The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie

Album Released: 1970

The Man Who Sold the World ::: Artwork

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1.The Width Of A Circle8:08
2.All The Madmen5:40
3.Black Country Rock3:36
4.After All3:55
5.Running Gun Blues3:15
6.Saviour Machine4:28
7.She Shook Me Cold4:16
8.The Man Who Sold The World3:59
9.The Supermen3:40

Reviews

After several years unsuccessfully 'finding his voice', the real Bowie emerges. Adding guitarist Mick Ronson was a crucial addition, as his guitar dominates this album and the ones that follow it.

I'm of the camp that views Ronson as the vital catalyst that made the early Bowie sound so compelling - Bowie works best with collaborators, and his other essential material aside from the Ronson era was the late-70's Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno.

I've also recently read a Mojo article about the late Ronson, that suggests he had a huge role in the songwriting and overall sound of this album - "She Shook Me Cold" was apparently written entirely by him, with Bowie only adding lyrics later. Ronson's zippy, crunchy guitar sets this blues-based, Acid Rock, nascent Heavy Metal album apart from the post-Cream pack - particularly because his trebly attack is so bluesless it gives the album a non-dated, almost modern flavor.

The production is very odd, emphasizing the bass and slicing Ronson's guitar to a razor-thin sharpness, lending the album a cold synthetic quality. As does Bowie's singing, some of the most affected he's sung - which for him is saying a lot. Compellingly weird - when Ronson's guitar slams in and at the same time a piccolo doubles the melody, you know this isn't your typical early-70's Heavy Metal album.

Some of it sounds more interesting than enjoyable, and structurally the songs are very conventional despite the unusual production. The title track, covered two decades later by Kurt Cobain, stands as the highlight, and there are several other classics as well - "Saviour Machine" about an insane computer; the anti-Vietnam War "Running Gun Blues" with bloodthirsty, psychopathic imagery; "The Supermen" which has echoes of Led Zeppelin; and the perverted and pretentious "Width of a Circle" in which Bowie meets people who have weird sex, and thinks he has a religious experience. You could say it sounds like Black Sabbath with real songs, which is better than that suggests.

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise (blogging at Creative Noise)


Even if I was the biggest David Bowie fan the world had ever seen, I'd always have trouble liking The Man Who Sold the World.

I actually like the two previous albums in his discography more, even though this release has much more in common with his 'classic' period. David Bowie and Space Oddity were fun and diverse pop albums, but The Man Who Sold the World is a boring and confusing attempt to combine pop with Heavy Metal.

Bowie at least had a proper guitarist to work with - Mick Ronson was brought onboard to become the leader of what was to become the Spiders from Mars. Just compare any song on this album with “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” and it's immediately noticeable that this time David Bowie's band can actually *rock out* instead of be boring and lame. So it isn't the band's fault that The Man Who Sold the World blows - it's David Bowie's fault (I think Bowie knew it wasn't that good, which is why he wore a dress on the cover. Instant controversy you see!).

The first thing to mention about this album's downfall is David Bowie's wimpy little voice. As you probably know, his voice can be terribly annoying, and that is more evident than ever with this album. Heavy metal requires a heavy voice, and Bowie's mousy little duck quacks seem out of their element trying to wail over those heavily-distorted guitars.

Also, the songwriting here is really dull for the most part. Whilst there are a few very good riffs here and there - “The Width of a Circle” is notable for example - as a whole these songs just don't cut it. Many of them are terribly paced, and there's scant few engaging vocal melodies.

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by Reviewer: Don Ignacio (blogging at Don Ignacio's Album Reviews)


Bowie has the bulk of what would become the Spiders from Mars backing him here, and they and producer Tony Visconti were given a lot of freedom, the reason being Bowie was reportedly too distracted with his then girlfriend to pay much attention in the studio.

Tony Visconti apparently doesn't have particularly happy memories of the recording of this album, because Bowie left everything right to the last minute. So musically, this album bears little resemblence to the album that preceded it.

Given that, the lyrics are fantastic, the music is sometimes great, and Mick Ronson creates some crushing and hugely enjoyable guitar riffs. Although Bowie wrote all the songs, his input into the musical arrangements was negligible. Still, it gave him a new sound, one he'd work on and stay with in the years after this album was released.

An example of the freedom the band had is the opening song, which runs to 8 minutes, with a lot of group interplay and jamming. But however enjoyable "The Width of a Circle", it's hardly "Space Oddity", and all it did at the time was confuse Bowie's at-the-time small fanbase.

A song such as "After All" more closely resembles the Bowie of the immediate past, a hippie acoustic guitar thing, with mellotron or some other strange keyboard device - it's rather rambling to be honest. "She Shook Me Cold" underlines how it might've been better had Bowie taken more control in the studio - the track is just aimless jamming.

Still, the bulk of this album is solid. "Running Gun Blues" includes some fascinating lyrics, built around a loose acoustic demo, then embellished and arranged heavily by Bowie's studio band, "All the Madmen" is an effective band + Bowie performance, and the title song contains the best melody on the entire album.

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by Reviewer: Adrian Denning (blogging at Adrian's Album Reviews)


Born David Jones, Bowie changed his name to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees, and pottered around as a solo artist in London with unsuccessful material like "The Laughing Gnome".

Then in 1969 he gained some recognition with the single "Space Oddity", but the accompanying self-titled album flopped, such that by the time of The Man Who Sold the World Bowie was still a relatively obscure figure.

Although the album did nothing to change that, it's still a respectable if formative effort. One key to Bowie's improvement is guitarist Mick Ronson, later a pivotal player in the Ziggy Stardust band, and a tangible force here. Producer and bass player Tony Visconti is also onboard, though his influence is more ambiguous - his bass playing is fine, but his thin production does take away some of the muscle that drove Ziggy Stardust. That isn't necessarily a problem - what was possibly intended to emulate early Led Zeppelin is given a slightly more creepy and cerebral edge.

Despite the cross-dressing cover, the album couldn't be accurately described as Glam, especially as the style wasn't yet formally defined. This is more like geeky Hard Rock, with a dash of music-hall and psychedelics thrown in. It's probably fair to say that Bowie would never again write such dorky lyrics as The supermen would walk in file - guardians of a loveless isle, and gloomy-browed with superfear their tragic endless lives. It's not necessarily detrimental to this particular album, but demonstrates he hadn't defined his image as much as he would later.

The problem with the record is the inconsistency of the material. Although the album is completely overlooked by some Bowie compilations, there is in fact some fine stuff here, but there's also disposable material, especially towards the front. The title track is easily the most famous song here, mostly courtesy of Nirvana's cover version on their Unplugged album. It's probably the only song that has a life outside the album, thanks to its darker feel and more universal theme.

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by Reviewer: Fyfeopedia (blogging at Fyfeopedia [Defunct])


I was about ready to say 'Bowie got it right', but I don't know if that's quite accurate ... did he ever 'get it right'? Not even my favorite Bowie platters are close to being flawless, but - like this one - they're interesting enough to keep me saying 'hell yeah, that's a record!'.

On The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie discovers Hard Rock, darkness, sexuality, and Mick Ronson, all of which were good enough for him to get some cash in the bank, via one of his most interesting albums to date.

The transformation in sound and approach between Space Oddity and this album is absolute - the Bowie singing on this album is not a spacey hippie whatsoever - here, he's a doped-up Satanist metalhead sex fiend who talks about gay fucking and killing Gooks. He may be doing it in the spirit of irony, but with Bowie, who can tell? If there's ever been a fascist rock star, it's Roger Waters, but if there's ever been a fascist rock star who was photographed wearing a housedress for an album cover, it's Bowie.

And you know what? I dig the grooves of this album in all its sludgy, shades-of-grey-and-brown glory, and not just because the mood is cantankerous and the guitars loud (though I have to admit that has something to do with it). I also like that Bowie's stopped his idealism cold, leaving himself with only his close friends - nutballs, military murderers, misguided scientists, and of course, gay dudes who fuck a lot.

It's a veritable funhouse of weirdness a la Alice Cooper, though Bowie's ice-king weirdo delivery trumps Cooper's late-show hootin' and hollerin' in terms of not giving the ghost away too early. And all the hard-luck tales of everyday Joes are played over loose funky Hard Rock grooves that are the brainchild of Ronson, a sort of proto-punk guitar hero who combined the thick riffing of a Tony Iommi with the rootsiness of a Keith Richards, in a catchy / flashy flurry of hard-rockin' notes, while Bowie goes all Iggy Pop over the top. And the rhythm section just tries to stick with it (sometimes, they don't).

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by Reviewer: Capt Bonanza (blogging at Capn Marvel's Bonanza [Defunct])