Day-In Day-Out

Day-In Day-Out (vinyl edit).
Day-In Day-Out (video).
Day-In Day-Out (dance mix).
Day-In Day-Out (live, 1987).

The Prologue, in Heaven*

In the heart of the Eighties, the mime-trained theatrical musician released a long-anticipated album. It found the artist, who had sometimes gone lost in their hall of mirrors, sharply reengaged with the world: it offered a view of contemporary life as refined through the artist’s intelligence and bloody imagination. A generation of the ambitious young have since stolen from it. From its mastery of the synthesizer to the intricate beauty of its compositions to its brilliant sequencing, which made it both a compelling whole and a compilation of top-shelf singles (its run of interlinked videos are as good as the medium ever got), the album was, is, and should be, revered.

David Bowie was alive and well in the mid-Eighties. Her name was Kate Bush.

The Prologue, on Earth

My nadir was Never Let Me Down. It was such an awful album. I’ve gotten to a place now where I’m not very judgmental about myself. I put out what I do, whether it’s in visual arts or in music, because I know that everything I do is really heartfelt. Even if it’s a failure artistically, it doesn’t bother me in the same way that Never Let Me Down bothers me. I really shouldn’t have even bothered going into the studio to record it. [laughs] In fact, when I play it, I wonder if I did sometimes.

David Bowie, 1995.

The man didn’t want to go into the studio to record an album. When you let the political agenda of a record company infiltrate your mood, there’s no inspiration.

Carlos Alomar, to David Buckley.

Never Let Me Down lies in the valley of the “worst-evers”: it’s Bowie’s equivalent to Ishtar, Gigli, the Zune. And like many of these wretched sinners, it doesn’t quite merit such condemnation. That’s not to say Never is any sort of lost classic. The album is by any account a failure: a botched record with some awful songs on it. But you could say the same about a few other Bowie releases— Tonight comes to mind, obviously. Why did Never get the brickbats?

Its critical savaging was gradual, as its first American reviews were mild, some even glowing: Glenn O’Brien in Spin gave it a rave (“an inspired and brilliantly crafted work”). Never was framed as that deathless critical cliché—the “return to form” (Billboard), with Bowie going back to his roots, back to rock and roll, back to real music, not the poncing pop stuff. Never was what his core audience supposedly craved: a hard “rock” record from a refreshed Bowie, who was now addressing Important Issues like prostitution, homelessness, war, environmental degradation, and so on.

Its timing was acute: in an era of Boomer revivalism, Never bluntly trafficked in Sixties nostalgia, with Bowie imitating John Lennon, Smokey Robinson and Neil Young on various songs. And it was the work of a man fully awake. Unlike his previous two records, there was no lack of new material, and Bowie was far more engaged in the project, even playing some of the guitar solos.

The backlash started in the UK, especially once it was obvious that Never wasn’t selling: its lead-off single only hit #17 and soon fell off the charts, while Never itself peaked at #6, the worst performance of a Bowie album in the UK in over two decades. The smug cross-Atlantic promotional junket Bowie and EMI had devised to sell the album didn’t help things. The whole enterprise—album, global mega-tour, the latest edition of Bowie with his crescent-moon haircut—seemed like an extravagant product launch for second-rate goods. So the late Tom Hibbert, who in Smash Hits had been baiting Bowie for years, giving him the nickname “The Dame,” saw Bowie stumbling and went in for the kill: “If Dame David Bowie is such a bleeding chameleon, why, pray, can’t he change into something more exciting than the skin of an ageing rock plodder?

Bowie’s new music wasn’t offering a lost future, it wasn’t forging a past, it wasn’t even trying to be pleasant pop; it was just loud and pointless. He wanted to be taken seriously again, but he wasn’t making serious music. Never‘s commercial failure wasn’t a surprise—I was there at the time, and the record (at least to a 15-year-old), seemed tired and exhausting, a hyped-up response to a question no one had posed. Bowie seemed stranded out of time, yet seemingly unaware of it.

The Nineties begin in 1987: it’s the year of the first major Happy Mondays, Pixies, NWA, KLF, My Bloody Valentine, Guided by Voices, Soundgarden, Stone Roses and Public Enemy records;  the early peak of house; it was when everyone from Prince to the Cure to Husker Du to Game Theory issued their end-of-an-era 2-LP summaries. What did Bowie have to offer? Peter Frampton and a glass spider.

Bowie would spend the Nineties trying to beat his way back in, trying to learn a new tongue. So he quickly began downgrading Never, publicly disparaging it as early as the Tin Machine days, and by the end of the decade he’d all but deleted the album from his catalog (he’s never performed anything from it after the Glass Spider tour.) Still, at the time, he was proud of Never: it was solid, real work again, a renewed commitment to craft after years of indifference. “I am really happy with the songs I’ve written,” he said in one of his press conferences, and he sounded humbled. Sure, it was a sales pitch. But Never Let Me Down was meant to be a record far better than it was. There’s no sadder evidence of Bowie’s decline as a composer and a performer. It’s a hard, demoralizing album to listen to.

Never Let Me Down is Bowie’s ugliest, most chaotic-sounding record since Diamond Dogs, and I think Dogs is the best way to interpret NeverDogs is the parallel minor to Never, its secret sharer. In both albums there’s a sense of a frustrated Bowie with something to prove (down to playing the guitar solos), each album inspired Bowie’s most over-the-top theatrical tours, and each held clues for the direction Bowie would soon take: the Shaft-inspired “1984” presaged Young Americans, while some of Never seems like first-draft Tin Machine.

But the difference was that Bowie cobbled together Dogs out of the ruins of three failed projects, and filled it with blood and cracked grandeur. He saw Marc Bolan foundering, saw glam collapsing, and he fought his way out of the corner. Never lacks any sense of desperation, of anything being at stake—it’s just a man rummaging through a box of tricks one last time. Freed of his demons and addictions, spiritually exiled from his time, lacking any real creative partners, living a comfortable life in tax exile, Bowie was left with spectacle, which had served him well enough in the past. But his tricks weren’t working anymore.

Worse, whatever ambitions he had for the record were soon compromised. Bowie’s original intention for Never was to cut a set of quick-and-out hard-edged pieces in the style of Iggy Pop’s Blah-Blah-Blah. But this ran straight against Bowie’s responsibilities as one of EMI’s marquee artists. And EMI had had enough of him. It had been two years since he’d cut an album—and he hadn’t toured to support Tonight, either—and much of his soundtrack work had been for other labels. The last straw was Bowie writing and producing a relative hit record, Blah-Blah-Blah, for a rival, A&M, while on EMI’s dime.

Christopher Sandford’s bio quotes from some internal EMI documents in 1986—one worries about “the declining prospects of a viable product” from Bowie. With Absolute Beginners and Labyrinth both flops, Bowie’s reputation was in freefall, so EMI wanted a new record in the can by Christmas and for Bowie to do a global tour to promote it in 1987. And Bowie diligently obeyed. For the last time in his life, he would be a good shareholder.

So Never Let Me Down wound up over-thought, over-produced and qualified at all corners. It was an album warped by waves of overlapping tensions and confused motives. Bowie designed songs to suit a theatrical tour with a dance troupe, but yet he also wanted, he said, a “stripped down” set of material fit for a five-piece band—and then he took his fairly spartan initial tracks and crowded them with horns, percussion and backing singers. Bowie wrote some of his most ambitious top melodies in years, some which he struggled to sing, and then set them to uninspired chord progressions and at times appallingly poor lyrics. And there was frustration for some of the musicians: Carlos Alomar came in expecting to play his usual role—to work out songs with Bowie in the studio, to sound out and add depth to Bowie’s ideas—only to find that Bowie mainly wanted him to re-record Erdal Kizilcay’s guitar lines from the demos (Alomar’s understandable reaction was: you hire a dude to play like me, then you want me to copy him?).

And once the sessions moved from the isolated Mountain Studios to the Record Plant in New York, the bloat really began: the Borneo Horns returned; session singers came in to fatten up tracks; a master funk percussionist, Crusher Bennett, was hired to enliven a set of supremely unfunky songs; Mickey Rourke did a guest-rap. Few of Never‘s songs were allowed to breathe, so they died.

The frenetically monotonous “Day-In Day-Out,” the album’s lead-off track and single, starts as a catchy song in the vein of “Let’s Dance,” with Carmine Rojas playing a similar descending bass hook in the chorus. Except here it’s Socially Conscious Bowie, so instead of red shoes and serious moonlight we get a prostitute who was “born in a handbag” and who’s in “in the pocket of a homeboy.” And the stiffly “tough” way that Bowie sings the last word makes the song unintentionally comic here, enough to cause the verse to fall apart on him, with Bowie sounding increasingly ridiculous, first with the barked “gonna get a shot-gun….POW!” and the twerpishly-intoned nonsense of “spin the grail, spin the drug.”

“Day-In,” which Bowie said was meant to show the callousness and indifference of society to its caste of undesirables, is dedicated to repetition and stasis, Bowie hammering home how trapped his heroine is, how she has only one path ahead of her. So most of the song is built on two chords, G and F, which gives it an underlying tension, as you’re never sure what key the song’s in—each tonal base is vying to dominate, while the two chords are irreconcilable together.** The problem is that this deliberate stasis—the sense that the song is never going anywhere, can’t go anywhere—becomes deadening after a while. The verse and chorus are indistinguishable, harmonically, and the chorus itself is dull, with its grade-school rhymes and weak call-and-response hook. Worse, it’s inescapable—the chorus opens the song, unhappily returns four more times, then gets a workout in the coda.

Bowie’s in good voice for much of the track, if he’s struggling in places (the last set of ooh! ooh!s, a run of high Cs and Ds, in the bridge nearly defeats him) and unlike other Never tracks, there’s a decent sense of space in the mix here, letting the elements cohere—Alomar and Frampton’s guitars scrap together nicely, Kizilcay’s drumming is as solid as granite (if as stiff); the house-ish piano accompaniment (either Kizilcay or Philippe Saisse) that zips in during the second verse is a welcome novelty; Sid McGinniss’ 16-bar guitar solo helps wake up the song. Still, for a track meant to be an opening salvo, an angry statement of Bowie’s intentions, “Day-In” is more sound than fury.

I always liked pop that had a sense of wonder in it. I mean, would you rather see David Bowie on roller skates—like he was in his “Day In, Day Out” video—or would you rather see David Bowie dressed as a clown, walking along the beach at Hastings with a bunch of New Romantics? I imagine you’d rather see him dressed as a clown in Hastings—I know I would.

Neil Tennant.

For me, “Day-In” is tarred by Julien Temple’s video for it, a piece of urban blight pornography. Shot in Los Angeles with a cast that included actual homeless people, the video’s akin to a Victorian tour of slum neighborhoods—as John Lydon said, it’s a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Bowie serves as the video’s vampirish roller-skating narrator, the earthly counterpart to the angels filming the whole mess on clunky video cameras (you’d think Heaven would’ve sprung for some early 21st Century camera phones to cut the angels a break, but I guess God keeps His celestial tech time-appropriate). In one notorious scene, a prostitute is shown being assaulted by a john, while Bowie zips by on his roller skates and then leers in for some color commentary. Just to emphasize this: Bowie’s lip syncing during an attempted rape scene. In a pop video. Then Temple has the actress run down the street in her underwear, be grabbed by extras arranged in a gauntlet, until she’s arrested by the police, with a last lingering close-up of her ass. This is exploitative horseshit masquerading as social commentary, and worse, Bowie seemed to get off on the video being banned and altered by the BBC and MTV.

Recorded ca. September-November 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland, and the Record Plant, NYC. Released on 23 March 1987 as EMI America EA 320 (c/w “Julie,” #17 UK, #21 US). There’s also a Spanish version, “Al Alba,” that was played once on Spanish radio and which allegedly is circulating on bootleg—I haven’t heard it (translation was courtesy of Alomar). As with most of the Never Let Me Down tracks, the vinyl edition had a shorter edit, which in this case trimmed the last verse. Bowie only performed “Day-In” during the Glass Spider tour, as well as in a few press conferences to promote the tour.

* Apologies to Goethe and Crowley.

** If “Day” is in G (as the sheet music says) then it should be an F# chord; if it’s in F, it should be a G minor. The bridge, in which the song briefly breaks out of the loop, with a C major and Am7, makes the case for “Day” being in G, but it’s never firmly established.

Top: Set of nine faces-and-hands, assembled from various issues of Watchmen (Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons), 1986-1987.

70 Responses to Day-In Day-Out

  1. Carl H says:

    Oh god.. great write up, bad record! Struggle to find something redeemable.

    The Day in Day Out-video actually has something 90’s about it, as the “social exploitation” style would be more popular later on with directors like Jonas Åkerlund.

  2. Diamond Duke says:

    OK, OK, seriously now… 😉

    I’m almost out of time right now, so I’ll come up with a proper review of my own later on today!

  3. Jeremy says:

    I agree totally with this write -up. The last time I actually listened to the LP was about five years ago and I remember thinking, well, that’s actually not as bad as I remembered it – I’ve never played it since though!

    Day in Day out, to my mind, is Bowie’s worst ever song – just terrible in every way – sorry David. At least some of his other lesser efforts have some kind of charm, but this is totally charmless and totally cynical. An awful video too – I agree.

    There are some decent songs on NLMD though – it wasn’t a total failure, and at least he learnt from it.

  4. Sofa Head says:

    This is such a great write-up that I’m going to have to listen to the wretched track again, curse you!

    I should mention, in passing, that I’m looking for volunteers to help me hunt down and execute Julien Temple and burn all of his films. I mean, I wouldn’t have cut my hair short and burned my flares if I’d known I was helping to give mediocrities such as him a job for life…

    • Jaf says:

      That’s a bit unfair on Temple if you don’t mind my saying so. His recent documentaries on Joe Strummer, Dr Feelgood and Requiem For Detroit have been superb. The Sex Pistols doc was good too. His eighies stuff might have been crap but he’s more than redeemed himself since imo

  5. Jaf says:

    In 1987 I was in my mid twenties and was going to warehouse parties and raves all over London, listening to classic soul, hip hop and house music. I’d been a Bowie fan since Ziggy and dutifully bought every record on the day of release from Aladdin Sane onwards. I can remember taking NLMD home, playing it and being completely underwhelmed. It was so out of touch with everything that was going on it wasn’t even funny.

    I don’t think I played it more than twice, I went to Glass Spider and that banged the nail firmly into the coffin. A soulless football stadium with yuppies braying into their mobile phones while Peter Frampton screeched along to Sons Of The Silent Age. *shudder*

    Great review though

  6. MC says:

    A friend of mine said that the terrible LP cover alone screamed “I don’t know what I’m doing!” – a feeling borne out by the contents, of course.

    Another great piece, which really captures the bleak air of disappointment this record still generates for long-suffering DB fans. For myself, I still remember the feeling of anticipation around NLMD, the denial process soon after, as we tried to convince ourselves that this was the return of Glam Bowie the news of the tour and the early reviews promised, and then the cold, hard acceptance of the album’s crappiness that ensued. Funny how some of the song titles seemed to anticipate the backlash – the title track, obviously, which really rubs our face in it in restrospect, also Zeroes and ’87 And Cry, as if Bowie wanted to provide the critics the titles for their withering reviews. It’s also worth mentioning that this was the first of DB’s records to carry the “best since Scary Monsters” imprimatur, in this case helped along by Bowie himself, in a contemporary Rolling Stone interview – serious wishful thinking, in this case.

    • col1234 says:

      the cover also allegedly is a bunch of references to images in the album’s lyrics, but i can’t pick out of any of them, except the most obvious (cannon= “Bang Bang”)

      • MC says:

        Really? Never picked up on that. On close examination, I can’t find any references either, except maybe the beach in the painting – an allusion to “I wander lonely to the sea” from Bang Bang perhaps?

      • Pierce says:

        Or ‘I never sailed on the sea’, from “Time Will Crawl”.

        album cover/lyric references are few and far between. You can see an angel from the Day video holding a clunky video camera, and ‘The clouds are stuck like candy floss’ in New York’s in Love, fwiw.

        I like the cover and Bowie’s crescent moon hair – a shame he resorted to the mullet for the accompanying tour.

      • MikeB says:

        There’s a cloud stuck like candy floss.

  7. david says:

    Splendid write up and completely on the button. Up until around the time of Lets Dance, I can recall how difficult it was to admit you were a Bowie fan because it inherently set you up amongst the less astute in the schoolyard, as being a ‘fookin’ puff.’, and I can remember innumerable occasions having to duke it out for the Duke.
    Being a David Bowie fan around Never Let me Down, and Tin Machine was much worse, because there was nothing to defend against-it was just cack – endorsed by Pepsi and dressed in a mullet cack nonetheless.

  8. giospurs says:

    Wow, now we’re reaching new levels of awful-ness.
    I just happened to listen to the first three songs of Let’s Dance before this, and the really puzzling thing about this late-80s period for Bowie is that he’s already shown he’s capable of writing some great catchy dance-funk pop songs. That kind of thing will never be my favourite Bowie style but it’s not as if he just can’t perform in that idiom. I suppose it all comes down to just losing that special creative spark – coming out of that amazing run of albums in the 70s it seems Bowie could do anything he tried his hand at but suddenly, soon into the 80s, he becomes just any old hack, and a really tasteless one to boot.

  9. jopasso says:

    I heard the Spanish version. I’m Spanish.
    And I must say that the English version being a pile of shit as it is, is a masterpiece compared with the Spanish one.

    • Eduardo VM says:

      I’m Peruvian. I concur. It will haunt for many years, that awful, awful destruction of a beautiful language.

  10. Jasper says:

    I dreaded putting on this album again, I have not listened to it in many years, my girlfriend found the LP in the street some time ago and I saved it for when we got to it on this blog. I don’t blame the one putting it there.

    It is not as bad as I recall, well some of it is and maybe worse lol. It is still the record on the bottom of the Bowie pile for me. I would love to hear those demos thou, a couple of the songs might be good in very simple versions, others I can not imagine being good in any version.

    But something in me still likes this record, in a nostalgic way, I was 17 when it came out, lots of great stuff happens when your 17 😉 I was still absorbing everything Bowie, it didn’t matter what he did, I thought it was all great at the time. His tour didn’t come to my city, so I had to wait till the Sound & Vision tour to see him, probably for my own good.

    As for the song, maybe Bowie thought he would have his Lennon moment with direct social criticism, if he did, he failed, It is hard to take serious, where Lennon always seems personal or sincere Bowie comes on as being untrustworthy. He comes on as too distant from his subject, not that you have to experience what you sing about, but it have to feel like it really comes from the person singing it, this feels more like someone clicking thru the TV channels, and not in the great TVC15 way.
    In my mind I keep hearing a snip of a song, I tried goggling what song and who it was by, but could not find it, the line in the song goes something like: “Who needs another rich rock singer, singing about the poor”, the Google results came up with a lot of people talking about Bono, but I came no closer to the song, so my memory must be failing me.

    As for the video, I had forgotten about the rollerskating, not a plus in my book. What I remembered the most was the tank that breaks into the house, with the sign on the end of the barrel/rod, cut out of the video linked to here, it said something like Have A Nice Day, that sign was on it when they borrowed it from the LAPD. When it comes to the voyeur angels, they probably had a good look at Wim Wenders great movie Wings of Desire that came out in the beginning of 1987.

    After today it will be a long time till I play that song again.

  11. Jasper says:

    Nice one, when I was reading the book, I was waiting for Bowie to be dissected, fun to read.

  12. Remco says:

    Some very insightful remarks in this post. I haven’t listened to the album yet but ‘Day-In Day-Out’ clearly hasn’t aged very well.

    I remember seeing the video with Dutch subtitles, which is something they did at the time for songs where the lyrics were really important, like ‘Papa Don’t Preach’. Being eleven years old I still didn’t understand what it was about but I did quite like it. He sounded sincerely pissed off, which was new to me (in 1987 I bought George Michael’s debut album, I should’ve bought the first Pixies album) I still like the vocals but overall it’s pretty bad, not nearly as as the video though.

    I hadn’t really noticed the faces and hands motif in Watchmen before, it fits the song far better than the video does.

  13. ian says:

    He really lost his way and never recovered. I think this is due to several factors: He was bored with the music biz and making music, this is evident even in Lets Dance. So much of it was recycled and rehashed earlier stuff. His legal agreement with MainMan was over and he wanted to bust out with a big commercial hit, which he did, but it destroyed his art. The money that success brought allowed him to live a lifestyle far removed from the cutting edge of music, and his boredom only compounded the problem. He ended up just flailing about. every album was a exercise in throwing shite at the wall to see what might stick, and nothing ever did. One can smell the desperation in each release and if you go back and read the interviews he gave in the late 80’s early 90’s there is a manic and false enthusiasm that is very telling. Only later with Heathen do I think he reconciled himself that whatever genius he had was long gone.

    • David L says:

      “He really lost his way and never recovered.”

      Gotta disagree with this, I think he recovered nicely with Buddha of Suburbia, the great unknown Bowie album.

      • s.t. says:

        Yes, agreed. Even Black Tie is mostly respectable (save for that awful title track). And Outside has some of the best Bowie of any era (and a bit of the worst).

  14. Remco says:

    of course that should’ve been ‘not nearly as BAD as the video though’

  15. Anonymous says:

    Bowie timed his retirement perfectly. As the final session for Baal drew to a close, he announced to a surprised pit band that he had now done “all that was necessary” and retreated to his farmhouse high in the Alps to live out his days in peace and happiness, deaf to the increasingly desperate pleas of record companies. He left an astonishing and unblemished musical legacy behind him.

    And if he broke his own rules occasionally (there were memorable turns as Nicola Tesla and Andy Warhol here, an entire soundtrack album for a BBC miniseries there), it was only to do something for the sheer fun of it, and to reassure the world he was not some crazy recluse but merely a man enjoying all that was best in life, and content that he had found the right place to stop.

  16. Diamond Duke says:

    Hope you liked my little “Patrick Bateman” review above! 🙂

    Something people may not have noticed:
    Check out the moment at the 4:21-4:22 mark in the video. Now…is that who I think it is? If so, then I’m sure that’s a “man’s dress”! 😉 (But then again, I could be wrong…) 😉

    Now, then, for my “real” review…

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
    Out of all the records David Bowie has released in the 15-year span of time between 1980’s Scary Monsters and 1995’s Outside – two albums which both share company in my own personal Bowie Top 5 – Never Let Me Down is the one I’d be most likely to play just for the sheer pleasure of it! And yes, that does include both Tin Machine records as well as the two Nile Rodgers production jobs which more or less bookend that period (not counting The Buddha Of Suburbia). And why, pray tell, does this record hold such appeal for me? Well, not because there’s anything particularly innovative or special going on, because I’m more than prepared to admit that Bowie is treading water here. It’s just that there’s this wonderfully crass, out-and-out RAWK!! feel to the album’s overall sound and production which instantly grabs me in a very visceral way (often in spite of my better intellectual judgment). Please understand that I’m very much a typical American FM classic-rock radio-bred hard rock/heavy metal brat and that the record came out shortly before I became a junior in high school. (And I was a somewhat clueless classic rock/metal brat in many ways. I wouldn’t have known a Husker Du from a hole in my head until the early ’90s, and they were from my home state of Minnesota, for frig’s sake!)

    Personally, I would unashamedly rank songs such as Time Will Crawl, Never Let Me Down, Zeroes and Glass Spider among my all-top Bowie “deep cuts.” On the other hand, alas…I personally believe Day-In Day-Out to be one of the album’s weakest moments, and the decision to lead off the album with it and put it out as the first single in front of the album itself was probably a fatal pair of decisions. It’s got this kind of instantly dated, stereotypical ’80s rock/dance vibe about it which tries its damnedest to get a groove on, but it’s just too stiff! As dodgy as Julien Temple’s video is (and I agree with the comments made above), it ultimately makes the song itself seem more interesting than it actually is!

    Lyrically, too, it’s not exactly appealing. One writer whose name I can’t remember just now once made a rather damning comparison between this song and the Rolling Stones’ Undercover Of The Night, in that both songs represent the desire of aging millionaire rock stars to be socially conscious and relevant and connect somehow with everyday street-level concerns.

    Still…I’ve just got to have a soft spot for the way that on one hand the first line of the song makes a reference to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, and later Bowie drops the word “homeboy”! I dunno…there’s something very quintessentially Bowie – high meets low – about such a juxtaposition! (Although, yeah, that’s hardly the best example within the Bowie canon…) 😀

  17. Gnomemansland says:

    All you can say is that so much other 80s music is shit as well – it was like nearly every mainstream artist lost their way seduced by crashing snares, digital reverb, cod funk bass and percussion lines, and a general level of bombast…..

  18. Maj says:

    Hey, a song I actually know! I think I first “met” this song when I got myself the Best of Bowie DVD for Xmas back in 2002/3. Back then my reaction was basically WTF…since it followed the Labyrinth videos, the transition was a *bit* weird, even if we take to account this is Bowie we’re talking about here.
    It’s just odd that someone who played it so cool for such a long time (if we ignore Tonight as a MOR holiday and Dancing as homoerotic fun with a fellow rock star fossil) he started to go all plod-y-preachy.
    That being said the song is not THAT bad, it’s just not cool at all…and the video kills it for me.
    Nah, gave it two listens…it IS a bad song. But the video is worse.

    Great piece, Chris. Plus this Kate Bush & Pet Shop Boys fan appreciates them being appreciated & quoted around here. 🙂

  19. Pierce says:

    Great review as always.

    Actually don’t mind the album. I play it and Tonight a bit more compared to some of the following albums..

    • Carl H says:

      I agree, I think the 90’s got a too fair of a deal with many Bowie fans. Much of it is even worse or as bad as the 80’s crap.

      I’ve for one like a few songs of Outside, but I’ve NEVER listened to all of it.

  20. ian says:

    Hey, another Ian!
    In any case, as I’m wont to do, I’m going to do my best to defend the coming eras. I mean, most of that defense is going to be directed at Tin Machine (and Outside, durr), not this.

    The whole album is such an odd mix of trying too hard/not hard enough. It’s like he was trying to nail the oppression and sorrow he felt in the world at the time, but only really succeeded in nailing the oppression and sorrow his stifling career was bestowing upon him. “Mo’ money, Mo’ problems” would be an equally apt title.

  21. Joe the Lion says:

    Great to see a mention of Kate Bush here – The Dreaming and Hounds of Love were what the 80s should have sounded like. Shame Bowie himself couldn’t hear the way through the decade.

    Incidentally, as Bowie improved in the 90s, Kate Bush struggled, reaching her low point with The Red Shoes, but came back in 2005 with another masterpiece, Aerial, around the time it became clear Bowie was taking a breather. And now it’s obvious he’s retired, she releases yet another masterpiece in the form of 50 Words for Snow. I doubt there’s anything symbiotic going on, but Bowie and Bush have so much in common that it’s hard not to make a link.

    I mean, have you ever seen them in the same room together?

    • ian says:


    • col1234 says:

      the other great Kate Bush rumor is that she, under the pseudonym “Christopher Bailey,” wrote the great early ’80s Doctor Who serials “Kinda” and “Snakedance.” a rumor sadly disproven when the actual Bailey showed up for documentaries years later.

      • Ian McDuffie says:

        Ugh, “Kinda” just keeps haunting my every day life. Kate would have such better taste in inflatable Snakes than that. (I don’t understand “Kinda”‘s high regard, but it might just be the Adric Effect.)

        Oh my god: Adric/Doctor Who = Kzilcay/Never Let Me Down ?

  22. Marion Brent says:

    Bowie did re-record Time Will Crawl only a few years ago so he hasn’t totally disowned the album. In fact, I think he’s said the songs were actually pretty good and that they were ruined in the recording, so he’s still a little delusional about that era…

    Tonight is his real nadir, not this one, but even at the time Tonight was just a throwaway effort while there is a certain tragic epicness to the failure of NLMD, it really is the Dame stripped bare and having nothing left to show the world…

  23. algeriatouchshriek says:

    I don’t know how to shorten links, but you can buy the Spanish version of DIDO here. Though I wouldn’t recommend it. I did and its almost unlistenable.

  24. algeriatouchshriek says:

    …also like to add that I too was 17 when NLMD came out and bought it immediately. I too shared a sense of disapointment, but strangely, over the years its become the work of his I listen too most! How odd.

    I think its because its a sort of ‘Bowie for Beginnners’, offering a pick and mix of elements from his career and personae (bit of sci-fi silliness, some camp theatrics, bit of rock, bit of odd-pop etc). This makes it easy to listen too and its brightness and sheen are easier to digest than – say – TMWSTW or Scary Monsters … but its definitley not as nourishing as either.

    Plus, there is something about the act of repeated listening (and fandom I suppose) that can iron out wrinkles until you begin to hear the version you hoped was always there. Is that mad?

    Anyhoo DIDO is a clunker and if I have an overall criticsm its that his voice sounds so strained and pulled. The Groucho 12″ has some redeeming features, but the Dance Mix’ – oh dear!

    PS. ‘she was born in a handbag’ must surely rate as one of the his most nintenscioulsy camp lyrics.

    • Marion Brent says:

      Isn’t the “born in a handbag” line a reference to The Importance Of Being Ernest? Camp indeed!

      • algeriatouchshriek says:

        I suppose it is an oblique reference. …. at least doesn’t sing ‘she was born in a haaaaaabhhhhaaag’!

  25. Brendan O'Lear says:

    Yes, it’s very sad in that he does seem to be trying but doesn’t have it any more. It’s like watching a great heavyweight go in to the ring one too many times. (And I’m only talking about the cover; couldn’t bear to listen to the actual song.)
    On the other hand, this write-up almost makes it seem worthwhile: great and poignant writing about something very sad and tragic in its own way.

    • Sigmata Martyr says:

      Yes! These write ups are so poignant and wonderful,and that they remain so as we get deeper into the eighties shows how much serious work is going into this project. Bravo!

      The write up for Ashes to Ashes remains my favorite, I got a lump in my throat when I read that…

  26. Sigmata Martyr says:

    It’s very strange to remember how rabid and positive the media was towards NLMD when it was first released. Like there was a gentleman’s agreement to kick over the traces of Tonight, side step LD altogether and hype “the return of Ziggy…” In the US there was a stratified radio culture in which Bowie could be heard up and down the dial, but in completely different points of his career that would not overlap playlists for the different markets. Top 40 played LD, Classic Rock maintained Ziggy, Diamond Dogs Aladinsane with bleed out to Thin White Duke era and bleed back to Hunky Dory, college stations played foreign language and 60’s rarities and shared the Berlin trilogy with public radio syndicate shows like “New Sounds”. Everyone played the Little Drummer Boy duet at Christmas. R&B/Urban stations would pull out Young Americans and STS songs like Stay at the same “white stag”frequency as Grace Jones’ Pull Up To The Bumper, a throw back, this is your parent’s disco groove novelty. At this time it was as if the powers that be wanted their “classic rock Bowie” it happened again with TinMachine, I think… Algeriatouchshriek really has something with the “Bowie for Beginners” idea. It seemed like rebranding Bowie as a Frankenstein made up of pre Let’s Dance parts. Emi might have wanted Bowie tucked away safely in the radio programming strand for baby boomers for, but couldn’t resist the lure of MTV that skewed younger, and couldn’t shake the idea that Let’s Dance level sales might be possible again.
    And Bowie often came off as being resigned to play the role of “David Bowie” in these interveiws- godfather to all these new pop types, the Ziggy you know and love, not really gay,thank you, have you met my fiance?… at least two magazines had the byline “his newest role is himself”.He often seem defeated by events,even as he came off game for these media promo things. I do wonder if his came out of LD wondering if he could replicate the success without Nile Rogers, and then, having spun out badly, limped back to EMI’s bidding in mid life crisis mode.
    I have thought that Day In Day Out was a less elegant attempt at the vibe Lou Reed got with “Dirty Boulevard”, I didn’t google so I don’t know off the top of my head which was first. Bowie concerned himself with the woman, Reed focused on the kid but also let drop lines about the traffic being backed up, giving an in to people who aren’t part of the low income kid’s background but a part of the shared space,”New york” Both the song and the video seemed inclusive in a way that DI/DO failed to do and left that tourist/do gooder/standing like zoo spectators bad taste lingering.

    • Ian McDuffie says:

      “New York” came later, which makes it a thorough lashing/floor wiping of what Bowie was “trying” to do with NLMD and Tin Machine. I think the difference is totally in the details. Bowie says “this thing that I’ve heard of is bad I will describe how I think it is bad.” Lou’s more “this thing I’ve seen is bad, I will describe exactly what’s happening.”

      The reality is much more terrifying than imagination. Bowie’s Supermen came true, but at a smaller scale. And when your paranoid dreams come true, what on Earth are you supposed to write about? (Apparently Glass Spiders, I guess.)

      • Sigmata Martyr says:

        Thanks for giving the timeline for “New York”, I had an inkling it came later but I wasn’t sure.

        “And when your paranoid dreams come true, what on Earth are you supposed to write about? (Apparently Glass Spiders, I guess.)”

        That’s great!

    • Remco says:

      I’m not sure if Lou was spending much time on the New York streets in those days, but that’s not really the point anyway. The point is that Lou plays the role convincingly, where Bowie fails utterly.

      One of the great things about Bowie at his best is the distance he keeps; he’s never quite part of the crowd, singing about love songs instead of love. That distance has led to some of his finest work but it also makes him completely unfit to play the role of social commentator. You need to at least have a semblance of being part of the society you’re criticizing. Maybe that’s what makes this song such a disappointment, Bowie trying to come off as a sincere, socially conscious rocker which is the complete opposite of what made Bowie great.

      • Maj says:

        “Bowie trying to come off as a sincere, socially conscious rocker which is the complete opposite of what made Bowie great.”

        Well put.

        I have to say I never considered Lou Reed (who is 70 today!) to be part of the crowd either but he’s always been a story teller. And his lyrics use “real” language…he has a gift to make you feel/think what he sings about are real stories regardless of if they actually are. Bowie on the other hand has always been one foot in an unreal world (reflected in all components of his work) so this socially conscious rocker thing just rang completely shallow. Also unlike Under Pressure which some view as lyrically social conscious rocker-y stuff as well, Day In Day Out just doesn’t have a killer melody, harmony…anything musically interesting in it. So the result is a complete fail: the message, the song writing, and the production.

    • algeriatouchshriek says:

      Aw thanks!

    • algeriatouchshriek says:


  27. Frankie says:

    I hated that bland plastic clatter, though when I first saw the video I thought it blew that lame song away…the harshness of it, but now I can see it was tasteless as well. Thanks for dispelling that spell.

  28. humanizingthevacuum says:

    The track is a mess – thwackety, poor use of space, clattering – but there’s worse on the album (I can’t wait until the Mickey Rourke track!).

    Nevertheless I give this album a half letter grade improvement over Tonight, which was merely a stone bore.

  29. TWDuke says:

    Interesting that the blogger recently turned 40 just as he begins his NLMD writeups, and Bowie had just turned 40 when this album came out.

    Algeriatouchshriek is spot on in saying this is Bowie for beginners. I’m about 40 also now here in 2012, and although as a teen I’d liked Let’s Dance and even Tonight and was on the verge of exploring Bowie’s older treasures anyway, it was NLMD (admittedly a horrible album) and the attention Bowie got upon its release, that really deeply drew me into his music. I wonder if it was the same with NLMD for other Americans my age: a bad album actually served the purpose of hooking you in as a fan, and you discover much better things because of it.

    I actually don’t mind the song NLMD. Not a favorite by any means, but it has a certain bland 80’s power. I’ve always loved the long, menacing synth note that starts the song.

    I actually like the video, although I never thought too much before about the rather disturbing subtext of Bowie just standing there on roller skates as a woman is brutally attacked and chased in front of him. I’d love to know the arrangements (monetary pay-off?) that EMI had with MTV to play the video so much. For such a dud of a single, I remember the video being frequently played for what seemed like 2-3 months in its full length (looooong opening shot of baby crying on steps…) in prime MTV position at the top of the hour, and constantly hyped (“coming up soon, we’ll being playing David B’s new video!”).

    The album art is also Bowie for beginners. Colorful. Exotic. A little bit of everything poorly thrown in. But it did draw me in. Would love to know if there’s any secret meaning to the “Illuminati and Freemasons go to the circus” imagery of the album cover”.

  30. David L says:

    Another great write-up, fascinating stuff.

    “Carlos Alomar came in expecting to play his usual role—to work out songs with Bowie in the studio, to sound out and add depth to Bowie’s ideas—only to find that Bowie mainly wanted him to re-record Erdal Kizilcay’s guitar lines from the demos”

    Oh god. Oh God, what could have been. It hurts to think about it. And what if he’d asked Davis and Murray back too? The old crew doing their Young Americans/Station to Station thing? I would have LOVED to have heard what the old approach would have done to these songs.

    Erdal would eventually have his moment as Bowie’s collaborator with Buddha, though. But the 80s? Not so much.

  31. humanizingthevacuum says:

    “(monetary pay-off?) that EMI had with MTV to play the video so much. For such a dud of a single, I remember the video being frequently played for what seemed like 2-3 months in its full length (looooong opening shot of baby crying on steps…) in prime MTV position at the top of the hour, and constantly hyped (“coming up soon, we’ll being playing David B’s new video!”).”

    MTV nominated him for Best Male Video.

    I find the video creepier and grosser than album’s reverb and drum machines, es when the thing in its last minute descends into an inchoate montage: police sirens joining the racket of backup vocalists, chopped-up horns, and Bowie’s out of tune vocals.

  32. humanizingthevacuum says:

    er, “I find the video creepier and grosser than the album’s reverb and drum machines, especially…”

  33. PH says:

    Well, despite even Bowie’s assertions that NLMD is his nadir, I’d take it 1,000 times over the ghastly Tonight and even Let’s Dance, both of which are lazy affairs with very little original material,or much for a Bowie fan to sink his teeth into. At least it felt like he was trying to sound like himself again, even if he wasn’t being particularly successful. With those other two albums it was more like he was trying to pander to somebody else’s audience.
    Perhaps his estimation of the album was coloured by bad memories of the Glass Spider tour, which was admittedly an overblown disaster. But I guess that’s what happens when you take the worst song off an album and build a tour concept around it. Incidentally, I found another image from the album cover that’s illustrated in a song lyric “the clouds are stuck like candy floss” from New York’s In Love.

  34. Marion Brent says:

    I’ve just listened to Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing Reprise for the first time in ages. I just can’t believe it’s the same man who wrote this anemic, melodically and lyrically flat piece of blanded out pop-rock that doesn’t even work on its own feeble terms. I’m reviving the theory that some time in 1982 Bowie died and was replaced by a clone…

    • David L says:

      maybe he was replaced by the same madman who created the “Faul Paul” android that replaced Paul McCartney after that car accident …

      • Diamond Duke says:

        In his recent book The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie and the 1970’s, Peter Doggett humorously speculates that the faux Bowie of the ’80s may actually have been a stray replicant from Blade Runner… 🙂

  35. diamond dog says:

    Love the american psycho review. !! Gotta say I quite like dido at the time but I was disappointed that he had still not returned to form I was giving up on him for prince. The video was pretty awful bar the bit with the band where he is on a moving platform? Pity that band was not used live with a burroughs look alike. It was looking back bad bad bad I cannot believe that this man made LOW its unbelievable he was so out of touch he was disappearing up his own arse. EMI must have paid off a lot of journos and pluggers to get this to be a hit it was an awful album opener. Too much money was thrown his way and a bloated clunker of a tour. Since 83 he has only made 2 good albums buddha and heathen I think he has exhausted his artistic pot he has nothing to offer his older fans anymore worse was to come. I would rather listen to nlmd than bltie white noise that is the forgotten shit album and tin machine is dire.

  36. princeasbo says:

    I can’t argue with the critique, but I would point out that the use of ‘their’ in the Heaven prologue (‘the artist…had sometimes gone lost in their hall of mirrors’) is incorrect, the singular ‘artist’ being the antecedent to the plural article ‘their’. I appreciate that the conceit requires gender neutral language, so perhaps simply amending ‘their’ with ‘a’ would do the trick.

    Sorry for the pendantry.

    • col1234 says:

      Not at all. the conceit, as you said, required gender neutral pronouns and possessives, which led to some very awkward writing, unfortunately. If only English had the equivalent to “das.” But amending the phrase to “a” would change the meaning I intended: the artist’s own specific house of mirrors.

  37. PH says:

    So. It was Tom Hibbert from Smash Hits who dubbed Bowie with the insulting and disrespectful nickname “The Dame” was it? Pity it stuck. Good riddance to you and your rag Tom. Your particular brand of gutter journalism won’t be missed.

  38. Putting aside the very legitimate criticism of Bowie’s music from this era, I have to say that there is one very identifiable thread to the backlash coming out of music journalists at the time, and that is one of sheer agism. It is hard finding an eighties-era review that doesn’t obliquely or directly refer to Bowie being-gasp-fortyish when he made these albums. That this sort of agism also comes from contemporaries shows that people really didn’t grasp the idea that a person could be making rock music as he headed into middle age. The same exact criticisms were leveled at his contemporaries, and it is understandable since Bowie was really among the first generation of rockers to hit that point. Both the rockers and the fans were hitting a collective midlife crisis, and it’s hard to know what they could have done other than respectfully dying that could have helped. There is definitely a kind of self-loathing evident when a middle aged music journalist makes fun of a rock star for being middle aged.

    New Order dropped Bowie because he didn’t kick it in the head when he reached 25? The Who were criticized for not dying before they got old. McCartney was already being referred to as someone’s grandpa and I daresay the same would have happened to Lennon if he had survived.Tina Turner was one of the few who got a pass for aging, but even the articles about her inevitably had the tone of, “Gosh, isn’t it amazing she can still wear heels at 40?”

    Middle age is a no-win situation for rockers. If they go the Rod Stewart route and start covering standards they are mocked as being irrelvancies and sellouts. If they still try to make rock and pop like Bowie or the Stones they are told they should grow up and leave it to the youngsters.

    This goes hand in hand with the musical elitism that comes from fans as soon as their heroes start appealing to others. People want to feel like part of a select club and want their artists starving in a garret. Even the dead ones like Jeff Buckley start getting criticized for popularity they didn’t even experience when songs like “Hallelujah” start getting added to every soundtrack.

    That Bowie survived the inevitable backlash and continued doing what he wanted to says more about him I think than his handful of mediocrities.

  39. s.t. says:

    Just wondering: How come no one has (as far as I know) attempted their own improved version of the Never Let Me Down LP? Of course, the best option would be a remixing job by Bowie a la McCartney’s redo of Let It Be Naked, but another band or artist could also do their best to salvage these songs from murk & mediocrity. Either stripped down arrangements, or completely different musical contexts to give these songs the life they could have had (well, most of them) if megastardom hadn’t destroyed Bowie’s sense of taste, control and perspective.

    Musicians out there: get to it! You know you want to secretly do your own grand version of Zeroes…

  40. Ramzi says:

    The worst part of the video is after he finishes leering in on the rape and as we see the car speed away, he actually does a spin in his rollerskates!

    “She’s in the pocket of a homeboy. She’s gonna taker her shotgun, POW!”

    POW! Unbelievable.

  41. Brian says:

    I’ve finally decided to listen to this album. Reading this as listening and…

    “The frenetically monotonous “Day-In Day-Out,” the album’s lead-off track… starts… in the vein of “Let’s Dance,”… Except here it’s Socially Conscious Bowie… “Day-In,” which Bowie said was meant to show the callousness and indifference of society to its caste of undesirables.”

    So weird reading this to see that the album was burdened by being “socially conscious” when in 1981 he wrote Under Pressure, which is more socially conscious and better than anything else he wrote. Why go in this direction if he already did well? What was his motivation, I have to wonder. Maybe I’ll find out in further entries or somewhere else…

    As for the song, it’s okay. Nothing in the lyrics stand out as memorable to me. We’re off to a good start!

  42. While this album is not my favorite – yes, it’s branded by 80’s over-production, I find it strange that nobody has mentioned that the title song is actually one of the best channelings of solo John Lennon committed to vinyl. Sang it as John, and damn well. And the opening of ZEROES also recalls the ‘jet scream’ of Beatles days, the kind of pop mania we don’t see anymore. I’ve always loved the Glass Spider track, it’s a bit of old-time mythology placed in a modern setting. And while it’s third-person storyline mars it, Time Will Crawl may be prophetic in regard to its hint that the CIA’s of the world are distorting global politics with their cultish even metaphysical attempts to grab power and profit at any level. Again, a little mythological. Overall, the lambasting this album has received is a bit of overkill, I think. Feel the same way about Tonight. I would have liked more tracks in the vein of LOVING THE ALIEN, the strongest track on the album, but other than the totally expendable and overwrought Beach Boys cover, the rest of the songs have great character and zeitgeist portraits. And everything after Heathen is the kind of music I wish somebody was still writing. Miss him so much and I will probably miss him more and more as the current stagnation of popular music grows more pale and melancholy with every passing year.

  43. RamonaAstone says:

    Such high and absolutely correct praise for Kate Bush. Ugh. Why in God’s name did the two never collaborate? Did she ever cover him at least???

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