A Transformation in Rock and Roll

By Alexandra Fileccia

“Moonage Daydream,” the third track on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), tells the story of an alien-messiah who shows potential in saving the human race, or so the theories say. All of the songs on Ziggy contribute to the overall concept of the album: Alien life forms serve as the only hope for Earth and the human race to survive.

At the end of the Space Race in 1971, David Bowie gave alien birth to the song “Moonage Daydream.” With its far-out lyrics and space-like production techniques, Bowie takes his listeners to another planet, which fits the generation of spacy coke freaks through the 70s, like Bowie himself. Bowie transcended the precedents of rock and roll with his glam rock appearance and obsession with space exploration. In a way, Bowie who started as an outsider to the genre, created a musical niche where he could finally belong.

Enter Bowie’s alter ego: Ziggy Stardust, the album’s main character. As a human in contact with aliens, Ziggy seems the most likely to save to world—a sort of angel on Earth. Throughout the album he transforms into a rock star. This Ziggy persona gave a new face to rock and roll. It challenged the way white artists played black music, and in a way, made rock and roll sound even more foreign—from another world. “Moonage Daydream” shamelessly and consciously exists as white music; he doesn’t even try to sound black, as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones famously did.

As Bowie’s early alter ego (he later plays the role of Aladdin Sane among others), Ziggy Stardust fuses “the sci-fi futurism of writers like William Burroughs and JG Ballard with a hard-rock sound and a transsexual campery borrowed from Lou Reed,” says Sean O’Hagan in his Guardian review of the book Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust. Bowie playing the role of the album’s character created a new way to experience and think about rock and roll. He did not have his own style (previous and future albums sound totally different, some even play with different genres); in fact, putting on a show and acting as his made-up character became his style. “And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign,” says Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his review of the album on allmusic.com. Bowie laces his lyrics with vocal theatrics in the style of Ziggy Stardust.

The opening lyrics strike right at the beginning of “Moonage Daydream” after a few powerful guitar strums and drum hits. Bowie confidently declares, “I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you.” On the word “you” he trails off with an exaggerated vibrato, which simulates a falling feel. “I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you.” Under this line, an acoustic guitar holds rhythm while the bass grooves along. The combination of acoustic and electric guitar in this song, in addition to Bowie eclectic voice, creates a modernized folkie feel. However, the way he shouts the next lyric and the bizarre image it creates, “Keep your mouth shut, you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird/And I’m busting up my brains for the words,” stays true to Bowie’s over-the-top stage persona, completely opposite of the folkie aesthetic.

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Muse: The 2nd Law

Published in Five Cent Sound magazine (formerly Chaos magazine).

By Alexandra Fileccia

After premiering their Olympic anthem “Survival” in London this summer, English rock trio Muse released their sixth studio album The 2nd Law. The title of the album refers the second law of thermodynamics which drummer Dominic Howard described in an interview with BBC as “The theory that all energy as we know it—in ourselves, on this planet, in the universe—is essentially running out and cooling down and dispersing.”

The album opens with the thick chugging of heavy bass in “Supremacy.” This military march echoes how people are sick of the spiraling economic situation. “Policies, have risen up and overcome the brave/ Greatness dies, unsung and lost, invisible to history,” yells lead singer Matthew Bellamy in the second and third lines of the song. It is definitely a song appropriate for before an epic fight scene in a movie—inspiration for revolution. If you listen carefully, the faint whisper of the 007 theme song can be heard under the distorted guitar solo, adding to the suspense.

Economic turmoil is the main theme threaded through each track on the album. In “Animals,” Bellamy calls out big business saying, “Crush those who beg at your feet/ Analyse, franchise, spread out/Kill the competition/And buy yourself an ocean.” The song then ends with sounds of a rioting mob.

The following track “Explorer” channels Freddie Mercury combining “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”-like melodies that take a chill pill after the angsty “Animals.” The repetition of the line “There’s nothing left for you or for me” follows up on the evil corporate world mentioned in the previous song. In the chorus, Bellamy asks the listener to free him from this world. It is clear that the lead singer is not content in the pessimism he is surrounded by so he is asking for a change in policy—an improvement in the quality of life.

Bellamy, Howard and guitarist Christopher Wolstenholme lay down the funk in “Big Freeze.” Though lurking with gloom, the song bounces with the staple funk and a melody that reflects the sound of their previous album Resistance. “Panic Station,” another groovy track, pushes forward with its Michael Jacksonesque bass line. The chorus mimics the melody of the beginning verses in “Thriller.”

The pop-rock single “Madness” takes a little from the electronic world with its wobble bass though I would certainly not call it dubstep. It’s very minimal compared to the apocalyptic, showy sound the band is known for. If you’re looking for a song to pin as dubstep, “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” would be just that. This song used in their album preview video explains what the second law of thermodynamics in a creepy, robotic female voice before it goes into a drop of grinds and warps of machines. This song sums up the entire album in just its name—the notion that the world we live in today is unsustainable and is heading toward its doom.

The 2nd Law is a step in a new direction for the English trio. Yes, it is different than previous albums and may be seen as “selling out” due to electronic influences and if it’s old school charm, why would they be selling out?, however the album is powerful nonetheless. The compilation of songs captures the “end of the world” attitude that the second law of thermodynamics theorizes. If we don’t make a change now, then Earth is headed toward its end—that is what The 2nd Law is all about.