Is Station to Station the best transitional album in rock history? Even though it heralded the introduction of David Bowie’s latest alter ego, the Thin White Duke, it still falls in the grand scheme of the man’s career into the “lost” years between his first classic era (the genre-defining glam rock of Hunky Dory through Diamond Dogs) and his second (the Eno-assisted Berlin trilogy). I hate to call a David Bowie album from 1976 underrated, because there’s no serious rock fan who will disagree with the opinion that his ‘70s output is probably the greatest decade any artist has had post-Beatles. But because it doesn’t fit neatly into one of Bowie’s famous personas, a lot of people don’t realize that Station to Station is the best album he’s ever made, period.
As disheveled as his life was during the making of Station to Station (by all accounts, his cocaine intake during this period was somewhere between David Lee Roth circa 1978 and Tony Montana circa 1980), Bowie has never sounded more assured or locked-in. The music is an outgrowth of the so-called “plastic soul” of the previous year’s inconsistent Young Americans, but this time, Bowie wisely dropped the soulman presentation and focused on the songs.
And the songs are some of the best of his career. “Word on a Wing” is an all-time great Bowie ballad, up there with “Life on Mars?” and “All the Young Dudes.” The sprawling, 10-minute title track and “TVC 15” hit upon an absolutely devastating fusion of the R&B of Young Americans and the angular art-rock he would explore in greater depth on his next three records. And then there’s the straight-up funk stuff: Bowie’s falsetto shines on “Golden Years” and “Stay,” as does the guitar work of Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar. Discussing the best Bowie album is no small task—there are around 10 for which you could make a pretty convincing case—but to my ears he’s never been better than he was here.
As for this particular reissue of the album, Bowie has created an industry around repackaging his classic work that is rivaled only by Elvis Costello and KISS, but the three-disc Special Edition of Station to Station is probably the best of the bunch. The remastered version of the album sounds stellar, and it’s coupled with a blistering New York concert from 1976, often bootlegged but released officially here for the first time. Backed by a killer band, Bowie rips through most of Station to Station and revamped funk-leaning versions of Ziggy Stardust-era standards.
(It should be noted that an ultra-pricey “Deluxe” edition of the album was also released that adds vinyl versions of all three discs, a DVD of surround-sound mixes, and two extra CDs, one featuring the original 1987 reissue of the album and the other featuring single edits of five songs. Because, you know, who hasn’t said to themselves, “I really want to listen to Station to Station right now, but I don’t want to have to listen to full-length versions of the songs that add up to a total of 38 whole minutes. If only there was a disc of shorter versions of every song. Somebody at RCA needs to get on this”?)