Station to Station is Bowie’s tenth album. Considered a transitional album as its title indicates, it blends his musical past and future as elements of funk and soul from Young Americans commingle with the synthesizers and electronic sounds that would soon appear on his Berlin Trilogy. In 2010, it was re-released in expanded formats.
The album opens with a brief audio prologue as a train moves across the speakers on the title track. Bowie sings of “The return of the Thin White Duke/ Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes,” reflecting the coldness the persona would traffic in during its existence. The arrangement is in two parts. The guitar and electronic keyboard leads a drone that gives way at the halfway point and the song becomes a jaunty, guitar-driven piece with a piano replacing the keyboard. I appreciate the boldness of opening up the album with a 10-minute song. It signals a confidence about the journey the album offers the listener.
Written for Elvis Presley, “Golden Years” is Station‘s biggest hit. It was released as a single a few months prior to the album’s release though its slow, funk guitar and plastic soul vocals were not a good representation of the other songs and likely fooled people into thinking they were going to be getting Young Americans II. “Word on a Wing” is a piano-led ballad with the narrator singing of a religious awakening while still retaining his skepticism as he states: “Just because I believe/ don’t mean I don’t think as well/ Don’t have to question/ everything in heaven or hell”.
On what would have started the album’s flip side, “TVC15” is a surprisingly upbeat number that finds the narrator’s girl swallowed up by a TV. E Streeter Roy Bittan on piano adds to the juxtaposed joviality throughout, as does the guitar that comes to the forefront of the arrangement on the choruses but the plaintive sax line buried in the mix offers an emotional counterpoint.
The dual rock guitar attack of “Stay” plays over a disco rhythm section. The Thin White Duke continues his emotional detachment as he wants to tell the other person to stay but doesn’t, even though he wants to so badly. Written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, “Wild is the Wind” is a love song from a film of the same name. Its inclusion at the end indicates a crack in the Duke’s façade as someone’s love offers “life, itself”.
Coming in at 38 minutes, Station to Station is a great piece of work. The special edition comes in a box with three postcards, modern-day liner notes by Cameron Crowe, and a year-long chronology starting in May ’75. Best of all is the inclusion of the previously unreleased two-disc Live Nassau Coliseum ’76, recorded on March 23, 1976, a couple of months after Station‘s release.
The concert opens as the album does with “Station to Station” and then throughout the set he plays “Word on a Wing,” “Stay,” and “TVC15.” Guitarist Carlos Alomar, drummer Dennis Davis, and bassist George Murphy support Bowie as they did on the album. Guitarist Stacey Heydon and keyboardist Tony Kaye make up the rest of the touring band.
The setlist is populated with Bowie classics from 1971’s Hunky Dory to 1975’s Young Americans, skipping only 1973’s Pin Ups, an album of covers, but a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man” fills that spot. “Life on Mars?” opens the second disc, but Bowie only plays half the song before segueing into “Five Years.” “Changes” allows Kaye some time in the spotlight. Completists will be annoyed that “Panic in Detroit” has most of the drum solo cut, which is a nice “screw you” to Davis and lame for fans since there is plenty of room on the disc.
Station to Station is special on its own, and the Special Edition is well worth owning for the live album.