The evidence of ["Space Oddity" and "The Man Who Sold The World"] is that Bowie shouldn't have needed all that hype and probably doesn't need most of the camp theatrical razzamatazz that now surrounds him.
The songs here prove that he should have made it on the music alone, and would have done so a long time ago if we'd only had our ears open. Indeed, I've a sneaking suspicion that we may have "discovered" him too late. For in many ways these albums are more satisfying than the flashy, brittle and superficially more clever stuff he's doing now.
For all its occasional naivety, "Space Oddity" remains an album of daring imagination and breathtaking beauty. It's the work of a man still searching for a coherent style of his own—but that's half its charm. Most of these songs tell a story, and their dramatic, theatrical quality (in the true, non-glitter sense of "theatre,") is enhanced by the chameleon-like changes in Bowie's vocal style….
"The Man Who Stole The World" is a much more coherent album, much closer to what Bowie is doing today…. "All The Madmen" is a pretty scary journey to the further limits of madness—librium, electric shock therapy, lobotomy and all. "After All" is a dark, secretive song with a chorus like the fragment of some half-remembered song from childhood. Even a fierce-burning rocker like "The Width Of A Circle" has oblique, sensuous lyrics.
Personally I find Bowie's current image a little too calculated, the posturing too self-conscious and contrived. These albums are a welcome (and musically brilliant) reminder that even the swishiest star has roots.
Alan Lewis, "Bowie Has Roots," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), November 18, 1972, p. 30.