I've heard this album was Bowie's attempt at heavy metal. I'm not sure I agree, but the album is definitely one of his heaviest efforts. This is Bowie's second studio album, & it is strikingly different from his folk-oriented "Space Oddity". Bowie excellently employs legendary glam-rock guitarist Mick Ronson for a blusier, heavier, more distrotion-driven guitar sound.
"The Man Who Sold the World" (TMWSTW) couldn't have opened with a better piece than "The Width of a Circle". It's a long, segmented song with a variety of tempo changes and it also moves the listener through a plethora of moods. "All the Madmen" is a song about, well, madmen. The eerie wooden whistles add a nice touch of lunacy to the song. "Running Gun Blues" is an all-out rocker about a war vet who comes home & embarks on a shooting spree not unlike the DC sniper incident. "She Shook Me Cold" is a dark, bluesy ditty with obvious lyrics describing a sexual encounter. My favorite song on the album is the conclusion, "The Supermen". It's a lofty, echoing piece about an apparent race of superhumans that existed before time...It reminds me of short stories from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. The timpani and octave-leaping moans in the background give the song a weird, other-worldly feel.
The album cover for TMWSTW is characteristically Bowie, with him sporting a tight fitting, Victorian-era silk dress. He is holding playing cards while reclining on a sofa. It's a feminine image giving off a sense of subtle danger.
A drawback to TMWSTW is the sometimes muddy production of the album, thanks to Tony Visconti (maybe he's a bass player first, then a producer...). There are also a few songs like "After All" & "Saviour Machine" that I consider rather weak & forgettable.
Overall, if you want a change from Bowie's (*powder-puff*) 80's & 90's material, this is an album to invest in.