By 1976, David Bowie didn’t know where he was going. He’d played an alien—on record, in concert, and in The Man Who Fell To Earth—and created his own school of hard plastic soul with Young Americans. His follow-up to that album, Station To Station, opens with the simulated sound of a train chugging to parts unknown as Bowie offers a sketch of his latest persona, The Thin White Duke, a soulless shell of a man fond of “throwing darts in lovers’ eyes” and shocked by any emotions he can’t dismiss as “side effects of the cocaine.” He’s an unsettling host for an album about unmoored people heading toward uncertain destinations, not unlike the man who made it at the time.
Bowie didn’t know it then, but he was heading to Berlin, his home base, as he recorded three albums in collaboration with Brian Eno that combined Kraftwerk coldness with tragic romanticism. Station To Station hangs suspended between Bowie’s past and future, reviving Young Americans’ soulful croon and its predecessors’ science-fiction distance while favoring ambiance and repetition over hooks. Not that it ignored hits, or Bowie’s gift for pop. But even Station To Station’s best-known song, “Golden Years,” works by locking into a hypnotic groove and refusing to let go. While it’s the definition of a transitional album, it remains satisfying as an end to itself, even more so in this deluxe edition, which adds a much-bootlegged 1976 Nassau Coliseum concert originally broadcast on the radio. The live set finds Bowie playing songs old and new in the Station To Station style, an experiment that, in classic Bowie fashion, suggests that past, present, and future were all just so many poses to assume and discard as needed before heading on to the next stop.