“Bowibury” Album Open Thread, Week 3

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Some readers are listening to a Bowie album every day this month. If that appeals to you, here’s a place to talk about what you’re hearing. I put up a new open thread each Monday.

Usual commenting guidelines apply: have fun; don’t be jerks, etc.

This week’s schedule is: Feb 15, Scary Monsters; Feb 16. Let’s Dance; Feb 17. Tonight; Feb 18. Never Let Me Down; Feb 19. both Tin Machine albums; Feb 20. Black Tie White Noise; Feb 21. Buddha of Suburbia.

Other odds and ends:

* Tin Machine II is out of print and is going for silly prices in the used markets. You shouldn’t buy it there: it’s up on YouTube for now.

* The book is back in stock on both UK and US Amazon, at long last. And the list price has been reduced (at last).

* I was sent a review copy of a new book assembled by the Historic Newspapers group—it’s a leather-bound, personalized collection of Bowie newspaper articles, dating from the early Seventies to his death. Most articles are from the Daily Mirror, and a few are fairly rare (the first article reprint is from April 1971, a look at “domestic life” at Haddon Hall; I’d never seen it before). Lots of good photos, too. Fans may find it of interest; price is rather substantial.

* A young man who goes by “Jack SS” has ambitiously tried to cover all of the Blackstar songs by  himself: you can listen here.

* Are you still interested in more “reissued” entries? Yea or nay in the comments.

152 Responses to “Bowibury” Album Open Thread, Week 3

  1. Jaf says:

    Reissues – yes please

  2. marta says:

    Yes, please!

  3. Matthew says:

    Reissues- please, makes me really listen to a song and check out different versions too. Also gives a focus once February is over till you feel ready to restart the blog.

  4. Galdo says:

    About the reissues, I missed them last week. I would like if it continues. Maybe with tracks of all eras – be a hit or a deep cut – which deserves an attention it didn’t recieved at the time of its posting.

  5. djonn says:

    yes please. as stated above the reissues are a good way to look at songs otherwise at the margins. and yes to all eras as well!
    and thank you as always for the book, the blog and the forum.

  6. rufus oculus says:

    Yes to reissues please. I think I was one of only around ten comments on Space Oddity, for example. Which really isn’t enough for such a key song.

  7. MC says:

    Yes, definitely keen on more reissues.

  8. T.E. says:

    more reissues ( and finish your next book while you are at it! )😉

  9. fluxkit says:

    I’ll try to keep up more this week. While I’ve listened to almost all of these albums quite a bit recently, I’ve neglected the first TM album for most of my life. I’ve really only listened to that one a few times. I took much more readily to (half of) TM II.

  10. Tim Nielson says:

    yea, enjoying the reissues

  11. Jasmine says:

    Reissues across the whole canon – would love that! Great blog,forum and book!

  12. Phil Obbard says:

    Reissues — yes please!

  13. Phil Obbard says:

    Some thoughts on SCARY MONSTERS, an LP I haven’t listened to intently in a year or two (until now).

    In the last few weeks, I bought a coffee mug that has images of every Bowie studio LP, including the 2 Tin Machine LPs and BUDDHA. 28 studio LPs over his life. It’s a nice mug; you can find them on eBay.

    The LP covers are arranged chronologically in 4 rows of 7 LPs each. This puts SCARY MONSTERS at the very end of the second row, as LP #14, and LET’S DANCE as the first LP on the 3rd row, as LP #15.

    That’s pretty much the central demarcation point of DB’s whole career. It falls cleanly in the middle of his recording career. And the shadow that SCARY MONSTERS casts over the next 14 studio LPs is immense. Even DB joked about the “his best since SCARY MONSTERS!” response that attended every new LP he released after TONIGHT or so. It was completely true, though, and attended the pre-release of BLACKSTAR just as it did HEATHEN and OUTSIDE and BTWN and probably every other LP he released in the last 30 years.

    Not that it’s without merit. SCARY MONSTERS *is* a great LP, and regular in my top #3 Bowie LPs for the last 20 years (alongside STATION TO STATION and LOW or HUNKY DORY, depending on my mood). Like the Berlin records, it has a timeless quality, sonically speaking: you wouldn’t know it’s 36 years old in the way, say, you know the Cars PANORAMA is, or Blondie’s AUTOAMERICAN. It sounds modern, always. This isn’t something that Bowie repeated often after 1980 – at best, OUTSIDE and the Visconti-produced efforts could lay claim to the same trait, but about half of his post-1980 catalog doesn’t even try for timeless

    Now, before I get to my point, I want to add some background: I “came of age” with Bowie around 1993/4 – I’d known of him since seeing “Let’s Dance” on MTV at the age of 9, and I’d bought Rykodisc’s CHANGEBOWIE when first issued – but it wasn’t until 1993 that I started exploring his catalog in earnest. BTWN and BUDDHA, the two most recent Bowie LPs at the time, got endless hours of play in my dorm room, and I still hold both in high regard. I’ve eagerly anticipated every Bowie LP since, and when we voted on our top 10 Bowie LPs a few months back on this site, both OUTSIDE and HEATHEN made my final list. In other words, I’m not someone who thinks Bowie ran out of interesting things to say (or interesting ways to say them) after 1980. Quite the opposite. In the past month, I’ve turned to HEATHEN far more than any other DB LP besides BLACKSTAR. Around the house, when I play just about anything post-Tin Machine, my wife calls it “our Bowie”, as opposed to the Bowie who appears on those earlier OGWT clips or sings “Space Oddity”, though we love those songs just as much. But those feel of their era (glam, early 1970s) in a way Bowie doesn’t during the Berlin and SCARY MONSTERS period. Again, they (including SCARY MONSTERS) feel timeless, and that helps maintain its stature after all these years (and all of these subsequent Bowie LPs).

    So I love post-SCARY MONSTERS Bowie. Yet I recognize: SCARY MONSTERS is that last LP where Bowie, to my ears, sings like everything depends on it. His vocal is impassioned throughout – “It’s No Game”, “Scary Monsters”, “Teenage Wildlife”, even weaker material like “Kingdom Come” and “Because You’re Young”. He’s trying to climb that mountain and he wants you to know it and FEEL it with him. He doesn’t waste a word across 10 tracks. Everything matters.

    After 1980, I can’t think of an LP where Bowie ever sounds so vocally urgent again. There are certainly individual tracks where I can hear it – “The Motel”, “No Control”, the title track of HEATHEN, “Slip Away”, “I Can’t Read”. Perhaps “The Letter”. Even the second verse of “Let’s Dance” has it, to some extent (“For fear your grace should fall / For fear tonight is all”). I believe it’s present on parts of BLACKSTAR, too, but it’s too early for me to separate current events from that LP to know for sure.

    Ultimately, I can’t think of a post-1980 DB LP where that urgency infuses the record the way it does on SCARY MONSTERS (or LODGER or HEROES or LOW or STATION TO STATION or DIAMOND DOGS… even on YOUNG AMERICANS, my least favorite 70s Bowie LP). That, plus its seeming eternal modernity, more so than the quality of songwriting/arrangement/production is why SCARY MONSTERS always feels like a peak Bowie never could climb again, a place he could never revisit, a key demarcation point on my coffee mug and a 50+ year recording career.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Yes please to the reissues.

  15. Kenneth Holzman says:

    Yes to the reissues. And I can’t wait for this section of Bowie’s career.

    I’ve been revisiting Tin Machine II lately for the first time in decades, and it’s MUCH better than I remember. Not nearly as sonically distinct from the rest of Bowie’s output as the first TM was, but not without its own merits. Similarly, I’m going to try to sit through Tonight in one go for the first time since … well, 1984? Needless to say, it’s not one of my favorites, but I’m finding that recent events have caused me to re-evaluate much of Bowie’s output, and I feel like I need to honestly re-evaluate it all now.

  16. Yea to the reissues.

    Yay tomorrow I get to listen to Tonight. I love the album, mainly for sentimental reasons.

  17. nomad science says:

    MVP of Scary Monsters? No, not Fripp…Dennis Davis. This is some of the most creative drumming you’ll hear on a Bowie album.

    I love the attention to detail in the mix. Every corner of the sound field is packed with guitar overdubs, synths, clinking percussion, Davis’s huge-sounding kit, sound effects, and voices. It’s a great headphones album.

    • billter says:

      Watching that “Five Years” doc the other day was the first experience I’ve had of hearing Dennis Davis talk. It felt like a landmark somehow, though they were very brief clips.

      In some parallel universe, instead of turning to Nile Rodgers, Bowie keeps the Davis/Murray rhythm section intact and brings back Mick Ronson for a one-off album. I want to hear that record.

  18. MC says:

    Ah, Scary Monsters, only #6 on my album poll but could have been higher. It has one dullish track (Because You’re Young) and one problematic cover (Kingdom Come, of course, which I actually rather like for its very awkwardness), but it would be years before DB made an album this solid. I completely agree with Phil above about its go-for-broke quality. it reminds me of a comment Martin Scorsese made about Raging Bull (also released in Fall 1980) to the effect that it was a kind of kamikaze film, a chance to pour everything he knew about filmmaking into one movie and then go find another kind of life. As much as SM seems, musically and thematically, like it could easily be the beginning of a new phase, Bowie’s first 80’s album in every sense, it’s pretty clearly the finish of something. For many who got off the bus with this record, it pretty much was the end. Maybe it is the last canonical album, the end of the Imperial Phases. I still think much of what was to come is pretty regal, obviously, but if Bowie had retired from music after SM, it would have been a suitably grand finale.

    This record holds a pretty special place for me, as it’s the first one released after my full-on conversion to Bowie fandom. Maybe for that reason, even though I still listen to it all the time, it brings me back to the time of its release with stunning vividness. Just a few bars of Fashion or Ashes To Ashes transport me back to the fall of 1980, the period culminating in John Lennon’s murder – in retrospect a real watershed moment for me. For me, more than any other Bowie record, SM is about facing up to hard realities, to how painful life can be, yet still finding the strength to go on: arguably it’s the underlying theme of every song on the album, from It’s No Game to Teenage Wildlife.

    One of the saddest moments on a record: the exquisitely muted anguish of the “I’ve never done good things” passage on Ashes To Ashes. Also, “I miss you/He really had to go” in Teenage Wildlife.

    Conversely, one of the most badass moments on record: the chanting at the end of the title track. Also, “Shut up!!!”

    Boy, this is a fantastic album – a big reason why what followed left so much to be desired. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

    • Phil Obbard says:

      “go-for-broke” is a perfect way to describe the record.

      Also thinking about “Kingdom Come”, the only cover on the record. I discovered Tom Verlaine’s 1979 solo debut the year before I discovered SCARY MONSTERS, and I love it – for me, it’s second only to MARQUEE MOON in Verlaine’s catalog. In the most current set of liner notes to accompany TOM VERLAINE on CD, Verlaine sort of writes the album off as just a bunch of songs he happened to record around the same time, but to me it’s always felt like a big statement — his first LP as a solo act, liberated from the internal tensions of his former band, Television, which had consumed the last 5 years of his life. It is the closest Verlaine has ever gotten to “go-for-broke”.

      “Kingdom Come” wasn’t an old song when Verlaine recorded it in 1979; it may be the most “recent” cover ever to make it to a Bowie LP (wait, it’s probably beaten out narrowly by “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday”). Thematically, it’s a perfect fit for SCARY MONSTERS. Arrangement-wise, it’s much less successful (in my opinion, Bowie covers — even in his “Imperial” phase — are pretty hit-n-miss). I do wish Bowie had tried to tackle this one a bit more straight; it’s really perfect in so many ways for David Bowie in 1980.

    • Matthew says:

      In agreement with you both here, Scary Monsters is my favourite Bowie album along with Diamond Dogs. DD was the first album I got really into but it was already a few years old, SM I bought as soon as it came out and was blown away. Seven oustanding tracks, Fripp on guitar it’s full of high energy stuff. If ever an album deserves Ziggys exhortion ‘to be played at maximum volume’ it’s this one, no chance of it being background music, too demanding.
      In hindsight one of the tracks I don’t much care for – ‘Because You’re Young’ – feels like it could be from Lets dance or Tonight if it was produced differently, or am I imaging this?

  19. Mike F says:

    We want reissues. We want Momus to come back. And throw in a pony while you’re at it!

  20. s.t. says:

    Yes please to the reissues!

    I don’t have much to add about Scary Monsters after MC’s and Phil Obbard’s excellent comments, but did want to include a shout-out for the oft underappreciated gem “Scream Like a Baby.” One of his best dystopian snapshots; utterly compelling and terrifying. And a hell of a lot better than the (admittedly lovable) original version “I Am a Laser.”

  21. Ramona says:

    Absolutely reissues. Yes!

  22. Brian says:

    So regarding the GaGa Grammy Performance:

    The good: She managed to channel David Bowie
    The bad: It was the Las Vegas Bowie of Tonight

    I was optimistic we’d get something like the medley from the Ziggy Stardust concert, but oh well. At least it was only six minutes. Tonight was thirty five…

    • Paul O says:

      Don’t want to seem ungrateful or like a hater, but there were so many things wrong about that performance that everything (anything) good about it was overshadowed.

    • sakura_starfall says:

      It was up there with Glass Spider for me. I had to switch off when Heroes came on…
      The Lionel Ritchie tribute on the other hand was beautifully done.

      • s.t. says:

        The show was overly slick and abbreviated Vegas fare, but the songs that they did were close enough to the originals to shrug off…except for Heroes. That was an abomination spewed from the depths of the Glass Spider’s abdomen. I hope Gaga or Nile weren’t responsible for that arrangement.

      • sakura_starfall says:

        The whole thing felt a bit drag show – I’d rather have seen two songs done well.

    • BenJ says:

      Mainly its problem was that it was a medley. Everything’s reduced to the highlights, which sometimes aren’t even really the highlights. But she’s got a good voice and if she wants to work, say, “Suffragette City” into her live act I think she could pull it off. (For “Fashion” she needs to find an abrasive guitarist.)

      Side benefit of the performance: The surrealism of seeing a full-costume Bowie tribute by a pop star who looks so much like 1970s Angie Bowie.

      • col1234 says:

        my tart comment while watching it was that it sucked, basically. not because it wasn’t reverent enough or anything; if she had done some full-out drag/Rocky Horror Show version of “Suffragette City” that could have been fun, but as Ben said the medley was just too overstuffed with song-snippets and the thing just didn’t flow. it clunked about, frenetically. like a bad cruise ship performance

        also having Nile Rodgers in your band and then keeping him in darkness for much of it, and barely letting him be heard, is a colossal waste of resources.

        i’d have been happy if she’d been hatched out of a space egg & done some wild version of “Fashion” or if she’d done some straightahead piano take on “Changes” or something. this just seemed like a bad jumble of half-considered ideas (which, to be fair, is a bit Bowie)

      • sakura_starfall says:

        The Angie resemblance was my first thought. Also Bette Midler in Beaches.

      • Phil Obbard says:

        “this just seemed like a bad jumble of half-considered ideas (which, to be fair, is a bit Bowie)” YES. It felt a little like the “1980 Floor Show” compressed down to a few minutes.

      • Patrick says:

        A cross between Angie Bowie, Barb Streisand and Liberace.

    • ramonaAstone says:

      just remember this was a Bowie tribute for the masses, not for “us”. I agree it felt rushed, but my real issues is that – I feel Gaga is capable of speaking Bowie’s “language” so to speak. She really gets him as a writer and a performer. I don’t know how much creative control she had but like the costumes were on point and some of the stage directions were explicit references, like the whole rope act.

      Basically, what I’m saying is that I feel Gaga was told to trim down the performance for a mainstream audience. If she had her way completely, it would have been glamorous. He was a legitimate influence on her and I think ONLY Gaga had the “right” to have done this tribute. Technically yes it was rushed and the band was weak and Rodgers should have had a bigger role (though you can see Gaga really clung to him!).

      In the end, just remember – this was Bowie for the common world denominator performed by a woman capable of bridging that world and Bowie’s. In a perfect world she would have done “Strangers when we meet”, I think her voice and style would match that song perfectly! Also, in a perfect world that would have been Bowie’s “Heroes” for the 90s.

      LAST THOUGHT – anyone else see Christian Bale clapping near the end and thought “haaaaa velvet”?

      • Paul O says:

        I can’t agree that “ONLY Gaga had the ‘right’ to have done this tribute.” In my opinion, if you wanted something for the “masses”—and the ratings for the Grammys this year (lowest since 2009) don’t necessarily support that—then why not have a tribute featuring several Grammy-winning or -nominated artists like Iggy Pop, Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, Prince and Janelle Monáe, who were either influenced by Bowie or had an actual history with him?

        And I agree with everyone who would have preferred a video/photo montage of the man himself, with a less imitative, over-the-top live performance on the stage.

      • ramonaAstone says:

        The ratings are definitely low, and that is WHY they needed a big star to do the tribute; and of course they were going to have to do a tribute, they had to.

        Considering those other artists, I’ll concede to Janelle Monae, but only because she’s still relevant, and she’s literally STUDIED Bowie and his approach to music and fame. I love her; though her Heroes cover was pretty awful.

        This is the Grammys, and most people watching aren’t going to recognize and/or care about seeing Iggy Pop, unfortunately.
        it’s telling when Nile Rodgers awkwardly comes out from the shadows halfway through…

        That’s why Gaga and (to a lesser extent) Monae, is best suited to do this, as she serves as an appropriate bridge across both of these “universes” between Bowie and mainstream America.

      • Paul O says:

        Relevance wouldn’t be such high criteria for me—remember the times Bowie himself was not considered “relevant”—but if you want a relevant and appropriate artist, one of my dream tributes at the Grammys would have been D’Angelo performing a medley of “Space Oddity” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” (Yeah, I dream big.)

      • buwie says:

        Why didn’t they invite Bruce Springsteen to the tribute? He would have save the day singing John, I’m only dancing (In the dark)

  23. Stolen Guitar says:

    Please continue with the re-issues, Chris. I’m an infrequent commentator on the blog, but I do read all the posts and entries. I’m just waiting until you get to Blackstar, though, as I’m sure it will be a substantial entry. What a way to end it all…

    PS Where’s Maj gone? I enjoyed her central European perspective and she always had something interesting to add to the conversation.

  24. Peter Benn says:

    This week (past) I have (only) been listening to:

    Tin Machine – I don’t have any issues with this album…but I bought it on vinyl when it was released…and didn’t have a turntable (you know, that time of life when you change just about everything)…so this is it’s first full play!!!! A great sounding album and nice to see some of those boys from ’77 getting back together again.

    Slightly off track, the other proper-listening-to was “Vampires Of Human Flesh” – an excellent insight into the development of Scary Monsters…

  25. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    Yes please to reissues – very much enjoying them, including your preambles.

    I’m now entering into unfamiliar territory: Bowie’s ’80s. The map of this week should be clearly marked HERE BE MONSTERS, in more ways than one.

    Scary Monsters I knew well, but the rest I think I’ve only listened to once before as albums ever.

    Scary Monsters itself – great album with some tracks that I genuinely don’t remember very well at all from having listened to them over the years. Because You’re Young seems to have made no impact on me previously, and not sure it did this time.

    Wot no Baal EP? If we’re doing all Our Hero’s output, including the Iggy albums, why wasn’t this included? I like this a lot esp The Drowned Girl. Best performance of the ’80s?

    Let’s Dance – problem I have with this album is it starts with the singles, each a solid-gold hit, if too long in the album versions for my liking, Then it tapers off quite rapidly, leaving very little that is memorable. May need more listens than I have given it, but not sure I want to honestly. I could merrily live with the singles I think. Heresy?

    • Paul O says:

      Personally, I could live with “Ricochet” and nothing else.

    • BenJ says:

      Bowie had been the king (or other royalty if you prefer) of weird and fascinating deep cuts, and he would eventually get there again. But yeah, LD started a phase of the singles being everything. I wonder if Tonight might have been scrapped other than “Blue Jean” and a b-side had it not been for the expense of recording in Jamaica.

      Second on the reissues. The preambles are interesting.

  26. billter says:

    Watching “Five Years” the other night, I was reminded of why I still hold a grudge against “Let’s Dance.”

    When Scary Monsters came out I was only 12, too young (in my own personal development) to really get Bowie. It was in the next few years after that I came to appreciate him as the patron saint of teenage alienation. So when he reappeared as Sunny Blonde 80s Bowie, I wanted nothing to do with it. That was other people’s Bowie, not mine.

    And you know…for once I think my teenage self had it right. Look what Blonde 80s Bowie wrought – years of increasingly bad decisions that almost destroyed the legacy of the best artist of the 70s. It got so bad that that Bowie had to be killed off, turned into the lead singer of Tin Machine, and from there it was still a long slog back to respectability.

    I don’t have much interest in reevaluating LD/Tonight/NLMD. Dipped a toe in the other day, and those ridiculous Def Leppard drums on everything are just too much to deal with. For me the whole period was a just a mistake – one that can be forgiven, but shouldn’t be wallowed in any longer than absolutely necessary.

  27. Mr Tagomi says:

    Random comment is probably the wrong place, but it occurred to me recently that “Cool Cat” may deserve a Bowiesongs entry. Isn’t that DB doing the spoken bit on it as well as the backing vocals?

  28. buwie says:

    Reissues: yes, oui, sí, ja. Can you repost the ones you changed your mind about the most?

  29. nomad science says:

    While it lacks the experimentation of the Berlin albums and Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance does conjure that icy sophistication of The Thin White Duke. Cold and distant and vampiric, but this time palatable to a mainstream audience: it’s that tension that makes this album special.

    I’m not a fan of SRV at all, but I get why this album needed someone like him on board beyond the synthesis of “white” and “black” American music. The whole thing is so…controlled?…that introducing an X-factor like Fripp or Belew would introduce the wrong kind of tension.

  30. nomad science says:

    Oh, one more thing: I’ve been listening to Let’s Dance while cleaning my house today, and I just realized as “Shake It” faded out I’ve been dancing for a solid 40 minutes. If the album’s called Let’s Dance, Nile Rodgers said, it had better make you dance. Well, it is a success in that regard.

  31. buwie says:

    Let’s dance: best Bowie record since Scary Monsters.

  32. Phil Obbard says:

    I listened to LET’S DANCE in its entirety today. I don’t think I’ve done that – all the way through – in close to 20 years, not since I was in my first hot Bowie phase (mid 1990s). As I listened, I spent time thinking of all the what-ifs that surround LET’S DANCE.

    What if LET’S DANCE never existed? What would the Bowie “world” look like today? Many of us were introduced to DB through LD, including me, stumbling upon the then-new video for “Let’s Dance” on a hotel TV at the age of 9. It would be another 10 years until I became a full-blown fan, but that’s where it started for me. And while it’s nowhere near my favorite DB LP, and never was, I’m glad to have the title track, and “Modern Love” (especially), and even “China Girl”. Would I have ever become a fan without this record? (And, worth mentioning: while I never cared much for LD as an LP, I do love the tour that followed, with its horns-heavy, “bright” arrangements and strong setlist. I was too young to see it, but I’ve listened to the Montreal Forum show, 7/13/1983, as much or more than any official DB live LP).

    As a fan immersing myself in all things Bowie-related in 1993/1994, the what-ifs of LD start to pile-up. What if Bowie had kept Tony Visconti on board? What if he’d kept Carlos Alomar, or Dennis Davis, or any of his other regular crew? What if he’d waited until he had more new material to record LD? Considering he’d hooked-up with Niles Rodgers to get the “hit” record that SCARY MONSTERS wasn’t, what if he’d seriously promoted SC with a tour in 1981 (as originally planned)? What if he hadn’t signed to EMI and felt the need to give them a hit record the first time out?

    Our host invokes a whole new what-if in his entry for “Imagine”: what if John Lennon had not been murdered, with Bowie only blocks away, in December of 1980? How did that change what came after for DB?

    Then there are the what-ifs that immediately follow LET’S DANCE. What if he’d followed that LP by retrenching in an experimental mode, rather than settling for TONIGHT, and let LET’S DANCE live in his catalog as his “Frank Sinatra” record? What if he’d just kept Rodgers & crew and tried for LET’S DANCE 2? What if he’d skipped TONIGHT and NLMD and gone straight to Tin Machine or BTWN? What if, instead of taking a 10 year recording break from 2003-2013, he’d taken one from 1983-1993 instead?
    The what-ifs are pretty much endless.

    But LET’S DANCE is what it is. It starts with 3 chart-topping singles, at least one of which (“Modern Love”) remains a favorite for me today (it’s also one of the only new songs on the album, if not the only one, where I’ve seen Bowie actually explain the song in-print – it was not an unconsidered composition). LET’S DANCE feints towards the experimentalism of LODGER with “Ricochet” but can’t commit. It includes the magnificent “Criminal World” – a song originally by Metro whose creation was no doubt influenced heavily by Bowie’s 1970s catalog – but gives it a fairly pedestrian reworking (the original can stand alongside Bowie’s late 70s catalog). Perhaps most alarmingly, it features two remakes (“Cat People” and “China Girl”) that are generally considered inferior to earlier Bowie versions – a first in his catalog. Compare them to earlier reworkings of his own material: the Arnold Corns stuff for ZIGGY STARDUST, “Holy Holy”, “The Prettiest Star”. “Stay” from “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)”. To me, there isn’t a clearer sign here that DB’s muse had abandoned him, or at least hadn’t show up at the sessions to sit in the lobby with him.

    Bowie would say, years later, that he just didn’t care in the 1980s, and it shows. LET’S DANCE works, when it does, because of Bowie’s charm and natural talent (let’s face it: he sounds great, vocally, throughout the record), and because he’s leaning very, very heavily on the talented Nile Rodgers – far more than he had ever (or would ever) lean on Visconti or Ronson or Eno or Plati or Alomar or Richards. And he’s leaning harder on Rodgers, than, say, Diana Ross did for DIANA. DB’s mostly rudderless on LET’S DANCE. He’s a man with no direction home. He’s a sailboat, adrift on the sea. Even though some of my favorite Bowie albums were yet to come, things wouldn’t be the same (couldn’t be the same) after LET’S DANCE and all of the what-ifs that came with it.

    • Matthew says:

      What if there’s a set of Lets Dance demos out there somewhere?

      • Phil Obbard says:

        +1. Didn’t Erdal Kizilcay say that he worked on demos for LET’S DANCE?

        And Bowie claimed, over the years, that the demos for TONIGHT and NLMD were superior to what we ultimately got.

        Someday, I hope.

      • Kenneth Holzman says:

        I really hope that Bowie’s estate continues the reissues that started with Five Years, and that they’ll include previously unreleased material (i.e. demos), particularly for the eighties and nineties work.

  33. s.t. says:

    I feel like Let’s Dance shouldn’t have existed. Its songs would have been better served as singles and B-sides. It would be a string of very strong art pop songs dominating the radio, and some less impressive but decent extra tracks.

    It would start out with the original “Cat People/Paul’s Theme” single, but could have gone from “Modern Love/Ricochet” to “Let’s Dance/Without You & Shake It” to China Girl/Criminal World. Never mind about that tepid remake of Cat People.

    Really, all of his post SM/pre-Tin Machine work would have benefited from this format. No pressure about an album’s cohesiveness or consistent brilliance, just some brief doses of sugar to tease the world with.

  34. Matthew says:

    Lets Dance – mixed feelings here I bought it on release and don’t remember being disappointed, but neither do I remember being excited. Like Scary Monsters it opens on the attack with all the hits up front, but seems unable to sustain the pace beyond those three tracks.

    Some of the songs on here are very strong but the production doesn’t bring out the best. For instance Guy Garvey (Elbow) recently sang Lets Dance as a tribute on BBC Radio 2, he slowed and stripped it right down and listening I was suddenly struck by how good a love song it is. Although I know the lyrics well I never really noticed what was beneath all the glitz.
    You can hear it here

    Then there’s ‘Cat People’, six and a half minutes of a fantastic track on the 12″ single ( or over nine minutes on the aussie only pressing) pretty much losing all its charm on LD

    Still Bowie thoroughly deserved mainstream success, if only Tonight had been a different type of follow up.

    • Phil Obbard says:

      “Still Bowie thoroughly deserved mainstream success, if only Tonight had been a different type of follow up.”

      Totally agree — so much of how we see LD now is colored by what came after.

    • Kenneth Holzman says:

      Bowie himself ultimately preferred a different take on Let’s Dance. Listen to the (very good) 2000 live show on the 3CD Bowie at the Beeb set. It starts off slow and jazzy before slamming in to the groove we all know. Though part of the appeal of the revisionist version is precisely that it plays against our expectations.

      For all its warts, I think that Let’s Dance (the album) is an essential part of Bowie’s discography, and that the rest of his career would have played out completely differently without this jolt of mainstream acceptance.

  35. deleted says:

    Love the reissues!
    Please please continue

  36. Brian says:

    I think it’s understandable to hard on ‘Let’s Dance’, as most listeners agree that the album drops its momentum quickly after the first three tracks. However, I have to say 1980-1983ish Bowie was at the top of his game vocally. His singing on Let’s Dance, Modern Love, and China Girl won him legions of fans for a reason. He managed to transition his haunting, brooding voice that sang ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ on SNL to ‘China Girl’ very well. That’s why I find the two follow up albums so puzzling, NLMD in particular, since his vocals just sound off compared to his earlier work in the decade. I think that album is plagued by him not understanding why people loved his singing so much on LD and also trying to sound like his younger self.

  37. Anne says:

    Yes, more reissues, please.

  38. tj says:

    Love the reissues, as I’m discovering them for the first time as a newish reader. Thank you for this site – it continues to be a wonderful and stimulating refuge.

  39. MC says:

    And now we come to the evil opposite of the Berlin Trilogy, the 80’s trilogy.

    Phil, I agree with you about the piling up of what-ifs around this DB era. It’s easy to see why the longtime Bowie watcher would be plagued by such thoughts, as the period is so misbegotten for the most part. I remember watching the Serious Moonlight tour video a lot about a month or so after Tonight was released, and finding it a rather comforting salve for my hostile indifference to the Tonight album. As flawed as some of the performances are in that show, it was a relief nevertheless to bask in the old classics. Chris mentions in his Tumble And Twirl entry that the followup to Let’s Dance was supposed to be a live album, and it seems to me that would have been the course to take, so DB could take his time with the next studio record, and really come out with something great. On the other hand, Bowie’s 90’s would have been very different if he hadn’t stumbled so badly in the 80’s, so who knows…

    Rewind to Let’s Dance. For what it’s worth, I think most would agree with me when I say that LD is Bowie’s best album of this period. At some level, though, I never really got past my initial gut reaction when I first heard the title song on the radio. I had just come off a period when I’d had the Heroes album on saturation play. With tracks like Joe The Lion, Neukoln, and Heroes itself as my Bowie benchmark, the brassy horns, chirpy backing singers, and DB’s stentorian reading of the faintly-ridiculous sounding “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues” could produce only one reaction: “WTF is this?” And so, when my big sister brought the album home, I was remarkably indifferent to it, in that snobby teenage way. Without giving it that much thought, I believe I basically felt like this wasn’t MY Bowie – a feeling captured ingeniously by Todd Haynes in Velvet Goldmine, when he has Brian Slade metamorphose into the blond-pompadoured Tommy Stone.

    After a while, however, I broke down and started listening to LD. A lot. The album pretty much ruled my summer of ’83. I made my peace with the title song, but what really swayed me was the quality of some of the other tracks. Modern Love was pop perfection. Without You was wonderfully beguiling, and Ricochet had enough of the old weirdness to pass muster. You could plausibly call LD the Young Americans of the 80’s, so it didn’t seem like such a betrayal. And Bowie was an artist who was always changing his sound, etc, etc. So my qualms about some of the songs, the dearth of original material, etc.all vanished in the summer heat. Anyway, it was a heady time to be a Bowie fan. His songs were all over the radio, the tour was a big deal (and my big sister went to see the Montreal show Phil mentions, leaving me somewhat pissed at her for inexplicably not taking me). And I was not immune to the excitement of having our man on the cover of Time, even if it was galling to have the writer pronounce LD Bowie’s finest record.

    Now the latter sentiment seems as dated as Betamax, of course. I agree with Phil that the album is now coloured by what came after, but it’s also coloured by our retrospective knowledge of the egregious impact of Reagan/Thatcherite ideology on mainstream rock and pop: we didn’t know then just how dull and bland music would get, and more particularly, how much established artists would struggle trying to adapt to the new conservative norms. Listening to it now, it’s an impressively-sculpted record – full credit to Nile Rodgers- but a good half of it is hollowed out and impersonal, emotionally remote in a way Bowie had never been before. It owes a lot to YA and S&S, but the weaker half especially simply fails to connect the way those albums do.

    As with Tonight and NLMD, I don’t believe I’ve listened to LD all the way through since the 80’s. Hearing it now, I’m feeling a renewed respect for its sequencing. It really flows well. Modern Love still sounds terrific, Without You still seems smooth as butter, and Let’s Dance is…still Let’s Dance. It works, but I don’t like it. The first horn solo in the album version is intriguingly discordant, however – a precursor to McCaslin’s work on the Blackstar album, perhaps?

    The other single off the album is the one that really swayed me when I started listening seriously to the album. It would be damning it with faint praise to call it the best of DB’s Iggy reworkings, but it’s only the truth. China Girl has a real weight and subtext beyond making an Iggy song suitable for listening at the beach. It’s the album’s finest arrangement, and what a commanding vocal performance!

    Now on to Side Two. Chris’ critique of Ricochet as a faux-Bowie art song is largely on the money, and I wouldn’t say it’s aged well, but I still find it oddly compelling, and I’d hate to think of LD without it. As for the rest, wow, I really haven’t heard Criminal World for a long time. I made a practice of listening or re-listening to every Bowie song after every new PAOTD entry, but I’m not sure I did so with this one. The “straightened-out” lyric is pretty bad, and unnecessary, but otherwise it glides by not unpleasantly. Next is the Cat People remake, a tossed-off diminution of the wonderful original track. Lots of place-filling happening on this side.

    Ok, here’s an original song. Oh wait, it’s Shake It. Haven’t heard this for a while either. The synth at the beginning suggests some kind of Prince pastiche, which shows that Bowie and Rodgers were somewhat ahead of the curve in 1982. Now comes the verse, with the Simms brothers in full effect. Oh brother, this is worse than I remembered. I recall in the tour programme for Serious Moonlight, which had an article by Charles Shaar Murray, in which he quotes a friend who said Shake It is Bowie, in one track, wiping out everything Talking Heads had done for the preceding 5 years. Even at the time, I thought Murray’s friend was obviously on crack. Now I will defer to Chris’ comment about it being “a song for former hippies dancing awkwardly at some corporate function.”

    I would like to second s.t. in his praise for Scream Like A Baby. If Scary Monsters is one of Bowie’s “dystopian” albums, then that song is surely its terrifying dark heart. The same could be said of Shake It in relation to Let’s Dance. It epitomizes not just DB’s somewhat lowered ambitions in this period, but also the dopey consumerism of so much 80’s pop.

    Ok, on to Montreal, and Tonight.

    • Paul O says:

      “You could plausibly call LD the Young Americans of the 80’s…”

      What a cruel thing to write about Young Americans.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        No, I understand what he’s getting at. Young Americans was such a departure from what he’d done before that it wrong-footed fans at the time (including me, I must confess) who were expecting and wanting more of the same.
        Like Let’s Dance,YA was also funky, mainstream, and very much appreciated by his record company at the time. (So much so that when he went off to Berlin to do all that “weird art-rock stuff” as they saw it, they begged him to come back to the States and cut another Young Americans.)
        Also applicable here is what someone alluded to before, about the context of both albums, ie/ what came after each. The fact that Bowie followed up Young Americans with Station to Station and the Berlin trilogy (yes, I know it’s an inaccurate term) allowed us to view YA as a one-off. So if we didn’t like it so much, as I didn’t, at least it was a launching pad for something brilliant. Unfortunately, Let’s Dance proved only to be a launching pad for the twin mis-fires of Tonight and NLMD, which I suppose was as 80s as the Challenger disaster (to continue the rocket metaphor).

      • Paul O says:

        I also understood what he was getting at, but here’s the thing: I’m also someone who was a Bowie lover for several years before the release of Young Americans. I had already witnessed the changes (no pun intended) from Hunky Dory to Ziggy to Aladdin Sane to Diamond Dogs and was therefore ready to embrace another shift, especially since I attended a concert on the Diamond Dogs/”Philly Dogs” tour and loved the new direction. And while I’d love to say that I was a unique and special fan, the truth is, I was far from alone in my appreciation of the funkiness and in my anticipation of YA. We were definitely not wrong-footed.

        But Let’s Dance, while highly anticipated after the post-Scary Monsters hiatus, left a bitter aftertaste in the mouth at the first listen, which only increased as the album and its singles became successful and one realized that this was likely to be the work that most people (in the mainstream) would associate with Bowie in the future. It is not a “funky” album; in fact, it is arguably the least funky record that either Rodgers or Bowie ever produced. Unlike YA, it is almost all surface and almost no grit.

        Station to Station, by the way, has several connections to YA, so I don’t see the one-off thing either: “Fame”–>”Stay,” “Golden Years”; “Can You Hear Me”–>”Word on a Wing”; “Across the Universe”–>”Wild is the Wind.” The so-called Berlin trilogy, brilliant as it is, was the real curveball for longtime listeners, in my opinion. (And there is nothing on LD that comes near the brilliance of “It’s Gonna Be Me,” which—dependent on arrangement—would have fit well on Diamond Dogs, YA or Station to Station.)

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Paul O
        I agree with you that Young Americans wasn’t exactly a “one off”, and it did kind of transition into STS (the fact that Fame and Golden Years were both performed on Soul Train affirms this.)
        But then Station to Station went all teutonic, anticipating Bowie’s next departure. This was a relief to me, as I’ve never been a big fan of Soul, R&B or Disco per se. But hey, I’m just a tight-assed white guy who doesn’t like to dance, and the Germanic 4/4 running beat speaks more to my heart.
        This is the reason as much as anything why YA disappointed me as a 14 year old upon release in 1975, and why it remains to this day my least favourite Bowie album of the 70s. It still craps all over Let’s Dance though, something else we can agree on.
        I don’t agree with your assertion that Let’s Dance isn’t funky though. You put any of those singles on at an 80s night and watch the dance floor fill up. Shake It even sounds like a Michael Jackson pastiche to these ears.
        Another similarity that YA and LD share, is that they both were designed to bring Bowie to a bigger audience. In the former’s case, while the kids on the coasts of LA and New York “got” Ziggy, the vast areas of America in between were never going to warm to a spiky haired limey in fruity clothes singing about outer space, so Bowie tempered his sound and image.
        Let’s Dance, as Bowie admitted, was an attempt to woo an audience who probably didn’t own any of his or The Velvet Underground’s records.

      • Paul O says:

        “You put any of those singles on at an 80s night and watch the dance floor fill up. Shake It even sounds like a Michael Jackson pastiche to these ears.”

        I rest my case.😉

  40. Anonymous says:

    Tonight: My life with Bowie began with Blue Jean. In 1984 I was fifteen and listened to “correct” music as Saga, Genesis, Oldfield, Fixx etc. (my uncles influences) and I already had Let’s Dance in my cupboard (besides Crises, Synchronicity, 90125 and all the other great albums from 1983).
    When I saw the Blue Jean video, it hit me like a hammer. This blue-faced mysterious guy was so fascinating. In autumn ’84 I received the 12″ (with those bizarre and nervous remixes of DWTBB on the B-side) as a gift from my uncle…..and between Bowie’s “lost years” from 1985 to 1987, I had time to build the basement of my Bowie-collection – a great time of great discoverys.
    So, Tonight for me is a very important album. I love it just for its nostalgia-effect. I like the over the top drama of God Only Knows, I love the jump from Neigherhood Threat to Blue Jean, the strange 6/12-groove (?) of Tumble And Twirl, of course the fabulous Loving The Alien and all the little nice 80’s-marimba-sounds all over the place.
    And after a long time of waiting, there came This Is Not America and Absolute Beginners – not too bad either.

    Daniel

  41. s.t. says:

    Bowie’s post-Baal releases all boasted some 80’s gloss, but to my knowledge “Loving the Alien” was the first to sport the plodding, murky, uninspired sound of the mid-80’s.

    Tonight presents its own kind of yin and yang. Aside from the two major singles (which are fine), the album flits from pleasant but forgettable elevator fare to some truly hideous rock-derived product.
    I vacillate between gratitude for the reggae-lite snoozes through Iggy’s catalog—which offer a soothing respite from abominations like God Only Knows and Dancing With the Big Boys—to a grudging respect for those more hideous tracks, because at least they elicit some kind of visceral reaction. Oh how the mighty had fallen.

    “Come see, come see remember me?”

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I don’t mind a bit of 80s gloss in limited doses.

      For me, the following tracks on Tonight are very good/good:

      Loving the Alien
      Neighbourhood Threat
      Blue Jean
      Dancing with the Big Boys

      Tumble and Twirl seems like it might have been good if done differently.

      The rest of it, I find it difficult to endure.

  42. nomad science says:

    I did have some nice things to say about Let’s Dance, but I don’t have much nice to say about Tonight. I love “Loving the Alien” despite the production. I also have a real soft spot for “Blue Jean.”

    I must say, though, that I love this cover of “God Only Knows.” Just as he did with “Across the Universe,” he found an emotional register that’s there, but buried, in the original and amplified it to the point of absurdity. I think that much of my love of the cover, though, comes from my misreading of the original. I never knew until now that the speaker of “God Only Knows” is addressing someone who is dead. All my life I thought it was about the moment of uncertainty before the end of a relationship: “I may not always love you,” “If you should ever leave me,” etc. It’s got a kind of teenage innocence, a lightness to it that makes it hard to take seriously. I always imagined high school lovers experiencing this confusion for the first time.

    That is the context for my love of Bowie’s cover. When you’re a teenager, everything is the most important thing that has ever happened. Bowie takes that feeling of importance and elevates it to parodic grandiloquence. In doing so, he takes one of the most beloved pop songs of all time and says, “isn’t this ridiculous?” It’s a desecration, and it is as punk rock as Sid Vicious singing “My Way.” I don’t know (or care) if that was his intent–he may have been going for another “Wild is the Wind” for all I know–but that is the effect created.

    It’s interesting that we see history repeating itself as tragedy here: in 1974, we got Pin Ups, a covers album, followed by a brilliant post-apocalyptic concept album. In 1984, we got a half-assed not-quite-a-covers album followed by what seems to be a failed attempt at a similar concept album about urban decay.

    • col1234 says:

      “I never knew until now that the speaker of “God Only Knows” is addressing someone who is dead.”

      did someone (Wilson, Asher) say this? news to me.

      • nomad science says:

        Oh, I misread the wikipedia entry:

        The song is told from the point of view of a man or woman contemplating life after death to his/her lover, as Asher describes, “‘I’ll love you till the sun burns out, then I’m gone,’ ergo ‘I’m gonna love you forever.'”

        In my hasty scanning of the entry I took it to mean that the speaker is contemplating a death that has happened rather than a death that will inevitably happen in the future.

  43. Matthew says:

    Tonight. I’ll try to be positive here. Firstly ‘Loving the Alien’,( until we started looking at the albums one by one I’d forgotten it was on Tonight, being more familiar with the Best of Bowie compilation.) Great track that I’d like to have heard given the Visconti treatment, I also like the Reality tour version. Red Dwarf (series 3 on) seem to have pinched a bit for the beginning of the theme song.
    Blue Jean – catchy pop song and great video, I mean he looked so cool.
    As for the rest only ‘Dancing with the Big Boys’ shows any real promise but needs a bit more aggression I feel.
    Err …… That’s it really

    Don’t Look Down sounds better than I remember though the reggae styling seemed so weird on a Bowie album.

    Looking through the album credits and rereading the above I notice the 3 tracks I enjoy are the only original songs written for this album.

    I expect Bowie was under so much pressure to come up with another global hit to follow Lets Dance’s success and maybe he figured all his new fans wouldn’t have heard those earlier Iggy / Bowie songs before. Can’t say I understand the thinking behind either of the covers though.
    So if only he’d given himself more time maybe ‘Tonight’ would have been a whole lot better.

  44. MC says:

    In light of what’s happened, I don’t relish the idea of seriously putting the boot in to anything Bowie did. It helps that Bowie himself was pretty merciless about this run of 80’s albums.

    Ok, when Tonight came out, I watched the Blue Jean video, listened to the album enough times to absorb all the songs, then filed it away, and returned to my then-current musical obsessions (namely Pride (In The Name Of Love), the Purple Rain album, and the Stop Making Sense soundtrack). All of these put DB’s latest firmly in the shade. I don’t even remember getting that annoyed about it; the record seemed to invite utter indifference (possibly mirroring Bowie’s own.) When I’ve heard pieces of it over the years, that apathy changed to annoyance at the rampant overproduction. No other Bowie album sounds so dated.

    Just now marks the first time I’ve listened to it straight through in its entirety since 1984. Do I feel my opinion shifting at all? Not really. Loving The Alien stands out as the most credible song on the album, but I still find it punishingly dull. Bowie’s vocal on Don’t Look Down offers a decent Sting impression, and the track would likely sound soothing while getting slowly hammered in your Caribbean beach chair, but it’s a totally boring revamp of Iggy’s wonderfully disreputable original. Ditto the title track. Neighbourhood Threat is a veritable eighties trainwreck; I would agree that the original was the weak link on Lust For Life, but it sounds like Love Will Tear Us Apart next to this mess. Blue Jean is inane and somewhat catchy; Tumble And Twirl is inane and a real chore to sit through. I Keep Forgetting is sheer marimba torture.

    I’ve often said that Tonight is DB’s worst album, mainly because it’s the one record of his with nothing to recommend it, with no songs I’d go out of my way to listen to at all. Over the years, my opinion has modified slightly. I really enjoy God Only Knows in a so-bad-it’s-good way; it sounds to me now like a wonderfully greasy Scott Walker parody. Then there’s Dancing With The Big Boys, which I re-discovered thanks to this blog. It’s a minor, hopelessly time-stamped throwaway, but it revives some of the old Lust For Life exuberance (and opens the door to the superior Blah Blah Blah). I get a kick out of the Yello-anticipating basso profundo “Big boys!”

    The sequencing is really odd, as well. It flies against LP norms in that the stately, languid slowies are all on the first side, while Side Two gets increasingly frenetic. Would the album sound better with the sides reversed? Probably not.

    Ok, before I ramble any further, to address the question of how Bowie lost the plot so badly, I wonder if Tonight was a passive-aggressive riposte to the record company’s demand for product, a la Lou Reed. (Or Iggy Pop’s Party album, which Chris mentioned as a possible template) The answer: probably not. Listening to it now, the arrangements are so intricate, the sound so polished, that it suggests a lot of care was taken to make the thing sound “good” (or 1984 “good”) Bowie really didn’t have Lou’s perverse streak, which bore wonderful fruit on 1974’s Sally Can’t Dance, though the Beach Boys cover comes close.

    Ok, my apologies to those who love Tonight. As a sometime Tin Machine fan, I certainly know what it’s like.

    Ok, bring on the big spider thingie.

  45. Peggy says:

    RE: Album a Day

    A general question.

    With the inclusion so far of somewhat “off-list” listens such as “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life” and a movie soundtrack in “Buddha of Suburbia,” chronologically speaking, shouldn’t we have run across the Labyrinth soundtrack between 1986’s “Tonight” and 1987’s “Never Let Me Down?” If intentionally left out, why?

    My Bowie history: My first album heard was Hunky Dory in around 1973. I immediately bought all DB music available at that time and ever after.’

    • s.t. says:

      I think the general rule is that people can bring up relevant non-album or soundtrack releases if they wish. You could do Labyrinth today or tomorrow.

  46. Mr Tagomi says:

    I never thought of Young Americans as a one-off or a discontinuity with what went before. I think there’s a clear evolution from album to album right throughout the 70s

    And then there’s a dramatic departure from that evolution with Let’s Dance. I suppose you could say there’s a new evolution through the three EMI albums, then another dramatic break with Tin Machine, and then another with BTWN.

    I am a big fan of most of the post-Scary Monsters music, but a compelling narrative ended with that album and he never fully got back to it, despite the brilliance of some of the later music.

  47. Brian says:

    Going back a bit to SM: I’d been bothered lately trying to figure out what a particular Bowie demo in my head was, and it turns out it was “Is There Life After Marriage”. The demo has the perfect mix of funkiness and that SM ‘aesthetic’ to me, and I would’ve much preferred it to be on the album over Kingdom Come (which I find forgettable).

    Speaking on that funkiness, I’ve been listening to Reality a lot lately (which has gone up greatly in how much I enjoy it), and I was listening to the extra track ‘Fly’. I found it to be a great song and I was saddened to learn it was Carlos Alomar’s last hurrah for Bowie. I think a comment Chris made that Alomar was Bowie’s finest contributor is 100% accurate.

    Of all of Bowie’s contributors, Alomar is probably in the most need of reevaluation and recognition, along with Dennis Davis and George Murray. You had these guys who got on board for the philly soul sounds of YA, and went on one of the most bold musical adventures of all time with Bowie from that album to SM. I can’t imagine how exciting and challenging it had to have been for them.

    (No wonder George Murray quit music, how do you follow up working on those albums?)

    If you think about all the genres The Idiot, Low, Heroes, Lodger, and SM helped pioneer, you also have to consider how each of them have at their backbone those three’s funk sounds. I think this helps explain why I find so many of Bowie’s ‘heirs’ in the 80’s anemic- I think many of them appreciated what his music sounded like on the surface, but never truly appreciated/recognized their funk backbone.

    • Phil Obbard says:

      You know that demo for “Is There Life After Marriage” is really the backing track for “I Feel Free”, right? Bowie used much the same arrangement when he finally got around to recording the song for BTWN 13 years later.

      Interestingly, “Kingdom Come” and “I Feel Free” aren’t miles apart, sentiment-wise. I prefer the former, but then again, I love Tom Verlaine’s original.

      Carlos Alomar: He was the great Bowie sideman – maybe David’s most essential, working with him continually from 1974-1987 (aside from the LET’S DANCE sessions). It makes me happy that his final LP appearance for Bowie was on the magnificent “Everyone Says ‘Hi'”.

      I’m sorry Bowie didn’t use him more post-NLMD but I can understand how both grew apart (Alomar has commented openly on this, especially with regard to the OUTSIDE era and subsequent tour).

      • Brian says:

        Yeah, which is why I mentioned I prefer it to Kingdom Come. When I first heard KC I didn’t like it much (or Because You’re Young). While BYY has grown on me a bit, after hearing the original KC I’ve liked Bowie’s version even less. For me SM loses steam after SLaB and I think it could have used stronger closing tracks.

  48. s.t. says:

    I know I was just ragging on Dancing With the Big Boys, but Day In Day Out takes that terrible 80’s rock feel, makes it even more garish, and consequently turns it to gold. An example of so stupendously bad it’s kind of glorious.

    And it stakes its claim in the first thirty or so seconds of the song! Right off the bat we have the gospel singers, a funky guitar, a synth choir, robo voices, that atrocious horn stab, followed by Bowie presumably trying to sound soulful but in fact sounding like he’s absolutely disgusted with himself and what he’s doing. If anyone makes a biopic of Bowie’s life, and wants to include a scene that depicts him at the artistic nadir of his career, this of course has to be the song for that scene. And they’ll have to include leather jackets and roller skates as well.

    The first half of Never Let Me Down is pretty enjoyable; you can imagine better versions that could have existed, or could later exist via inspired covers. But the second half is a slog. No fancy production or impassioned delivery could ever save New York’s In Love or 87 and Cry.

    But all in all, Bowie’s songs from 85 and onward are better than those on Tonight. This is Not America goes back to the icy pop theatrics of Cat People and China Girl, Chilly Down is one of the best pop songs Bowie ever wrote, and Time Will Crawl is the best Pop song that Bowie wrote rather than co-wrote or covered.

    And from here on out, it’s only *somewhat* embarrassing…

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      Never in the field of human endeavour has an album cover so perfectly reflected the faults of the music contained within than Never Let Me Down’s.

      • billter says:

        So true. I just find NLMD so painful on every level, from the artwork on down. “Let’s Dance,” for all its faults, more or less demanded to be a hit record. By NLMD, Bowie was reduced to begging for it. So undignified. So sad.

        That said, I have a weakness for “Beat of My Drum” that I’m hard-pressed to explain, even to myself.

      • billter says:

        Without question Bowie’s worst album cover ever. A complete embarrassment. I know a lot of people don’t like “Reality,” but at least in that case we can imagine it was done by some graphic artist without DB’s direct involvement. With NLMD, he was unquestionably there in the room. (Though maybe not entirely cognizant – I am led to believe he was drinking heavily at this time, which is an explanation, not an excuse.)

    • nomad science says:

      s.t. writes: “The first half of Never Let Me Down is pretty enjoyable; you can imagine better versions that could have existed, or could later exist via inspired covers.”

      I was going to say something similar in my comment. I don’t know if it’s Stockholm Syndrome from repeated listenings, but I am warming to many of the songs on NLMD to the point where I’m thinking about undertaking a cover of the album this summer with a slightly different track listing (add Girls, get rid of New York’s in Love, 87 and Cry, and–ugh–Too Dizzy). I bet there’s a good album under there if you can wipe off all the 80s glop.

      • s.t. says:

        A salvage-job covers album would be great! Too many people offer us takes on Heroes or Changes, when they could be doing Bowie and fans a service by bringing out the genius in his problematic tracks.

  49. Matthew says:

    NLMD, a Bowie album I’ve never heard so this should be exciting right? Having read the blog and all the comments I’m feeling slightly apprehensive

  50. danmac says:

    Yes to reissues!

  51. nomad science says:

    NLMD feels like two different albums cobbled together: a Glass Spider concept album, exploring some of the dystopian urban themes of Diamond Dogs, and a Big Dumb 80s Rock album. Sometimes even one song sounds like two songs from different albums spliced together. And then there’s the title track, which sounds like it should have been on Tonight (where it would have been the best song on the album).

    “Beat of Your Drum” would be a great, if somewhat silly, song if the chorus wasn’t just “Glory Days.” Seriously: “Glory Days” is A-D, “Beat” is D-A. Everything else about the riff is the same. But again, it sounds like two songs spliced together: a big dumb chorus married to a cool, detached verse. It somehow works on this song, though, except for that riff.

    New York’s in Love also suffers from sounding like two songs spliced together. The second verse of the song has some strange, interesting lyrics, but the rest of the song?😦

    Same goes for “Shining Star.” There are some Burroughsian or William Gibson-y (Gibsonian?) lyrics in it that make me imagine a futuristic dystopian setting. I like the sound of “Peter met Frank / Formed a dummy run gang”; very evocative. But then it’s followed by the eye-rolling “Trotsky, Sinn Fein, Hitler” line. Would have been great with Iggy Pop trading lines with Bowie instead of Mickey Rourke.

    Once you get into the actual song, “Glass Spider” is great. It seems to be the same kind of desperate cry as many of his most moving songs: I can’t read shit anymore, the water’s all gone, waiting for the gift of sound and vision, drifting into my solitude, they can’t do this to me I’m not some piece of teenage wildlife, once there were sunbirds to soar with and once I could never be down. But you have to sit through 1:45 of some story about a spider first. In another thread, a commenter remarked (and I hope I’m remembering this correctly) that “Future Legend” was his favorite track on Diamond Dogs, but if it were any longer, it would be his least favorite. Well, the first 1:45 of “Glass Spider” is that longer, unbearable “Future Legend.” And it’s a shame, because there’s a great song attached to it!

    I swear I’ve heard the opening sax lick in “Too Dizzy” in a used car lot commercial. Or maybe it’s just that it perfectly captures the utter banality of used car lot commercial Muzak. Not enough bad things can be said about “Too Dizzy.” I played the song for my wife once, and I feel terrible about it. She’s also a huge Bowie fan (and she’s why I became a huge Bowie fan), but she’d never heard the deep cuts from the dark days. I will never forget her face when the sax kicked in. It was like the first time you see your father fail at something and you realize he’s just a man like everyone else. Tonight is clearly the worst album, but “Too Dizzy” is the worst song. At least it’s all uphill from here.

    • nomad science says:

      ^That does sound a little more harsh than I intended. My criticisms are intentionally hyperbolic for comedic effect.🙂

    • Phil Obbard says:

      “NLMD feels like two different albums cobbled together: a Glass Spider concept album, exploring some of the dystopian urban themes of Diamond Dogs, and a Big Dumb 80s Rock album. Sometimes even one song sounds like two songs from different albums spliced together.”

      +1 to all of this. It makes me think of DIAMOND DOGS (an LP I’ve never related to NLMD before now), another album that was half-concept album, half-early 70s Stones pastiche — yet that mishmash works so well while this one falls so flat.

      “Time Will Crawl” isn’t bad, and neither is the title track, and neither is “Day In Day Out”, but all 3 fall under the category of “songs I’d probably never listen to if they weren’t recorded by David Bowie”. Mostly, when I think about NLMD, I wish the LP hadn’t been made (as per my LET’S DANCE post, I wish Bowie had just stopped all non-soundtrack recording between 1983-1993, or at least through Tin Machine).

      And then, I think about Bowie himself in 1987. He knew TONIGHT was phoned-in, he wanted to get back on track, and based on interviews at the time, he thought NLMD was the true follow-up to SCARY MONSTERS. Think about that – think about both of those LPs simultaneously, if you can – and you realize just had badly Bowie had lost the plot or his muse by 1987.

      In the end, NLMD just makes me sad.

      Addendum: The Glass Spider tour makes me sad, too, but not because of the choreography, the sets, the spoken dialog, the big hair, or Peter Frampton. I’m fine with all of that. It doesn’t even make me sad because it relies so heavily on such a weak LP (NLMD). It makes me sad because the arrangements are just so boring — like the music was secondary to everything else. Unlike the Serious Moonlight or Outside or Stage or Earthling tours etc, where Bowie would rearrange his back catalog to meet the style of his then-current work, everything in the Glass Spider tour is just so bland: “Rebel Rebel”, “Fame”, “Fashion” – there’s nothing to recommend these tour versions over the original studio cuts. Heck, even the LET’S DANCE material is less interesting here than it was during the ’83 tour.

  52. Matthew says:

    This is the first of my Bowie unknowns, Labyrinth was the last LP I bought and Hours the first CD. That’s seven albums in six days to digest. Please excuse the scattergun approach.

    Random first impressions:

    Ah ‘Time Will Crawl’ I know from iSelect and much prefer that version. Don’t like the shouted intro on this version .

    ‘You can’t make mistakes with babies’ line sounds like it’s from Young Americans.

    Should have been braver and spoken the whole of ‘Glass Spider’ to an ambient backing. (Or done a whole album of spoken word, that would have startled some people. He had the voice for it.)

    Day-In Day-Out a good start, great vocals

    ‘Rockets shooting up into space
    Buildings they rise to the skies’ – hilarious, it’s a wonder we didn’t get trains going into tunnels as well.

    Shining Star (Makin’ My Love) The vocal style doesn’t fit the lyrics at all, love or hate the rap – not sure

    ‘Girls’ better than all the rest for the first minute or so then just the same. Is there a hint of ‘Loving the Alien in there somewhere?

    ‘Julie’ The drums just seem too fast.

    I don’t have this album so no liner notes, is there a real drummer anywhere to be heard on NLMD? It all sounds so similar.

    Tried ‘When the Wind Blows’ from the bonus disc but didn’t make it past the three minute mark

    I need to listen several more times to get to this album, lyrically it seems much better than Tonight and more original too. Musically I think Tonight just shades it.

  53. After the success of Scary Monsters, David Bowie went into retreat, returning in the mid-Eighties with his album, Let’s Dance.

    Modern Love
    China Girl
    Let’s Dance
    Time Will Crawl

    Blue Jean
    Cat People (original version)
    Dancing with the Big Boys
    Loving the Alien

    • Paul O says:

      …but the 1987 release was a commercial failure: longtime fans of the artist were put off by the album’s glossy sheen and disjointed production, while the mainstream audience showed limited interest in the former ’70s glam rock icon after his seven-year hiatus. The second single released from the album—its title track—despite topping the UK charts, peaked at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100…

      • Quite possibly. But as a longtime fan myself (starting with Space Oddity when it was first released in the States), I would have liked this album better than what we got, although I was happy with LD when it was released. Happy enough. I began to have doubts when Tonight came out (I had always liked it that unlike the Stones, Bowie had never done a reggae arrangement); and the ironically titled next album more or less put me off new Bowie releases for a while. It felt like he had lost his edge.

    • Brian says:

      Needs Absolute Beginners, one of the songs that has aged well and sounded great in the 2000’s.

  54. Phil Obbard says:

    I haven’t been able to keep up the last few days, but I did listen to TONIGHT in its entirety in the last month. I have always held it in low regard – it doesn’t hang together well, the originals are pretty weak (yes, even the charming but slight “Blue Jean”, where Bowie doesn’t even manage the vocal competently) the covers are universally inferior to the originals — has that ever happened elsewhere with a Bowie LP? At least two of those covers, “God Only Knows” and “Don’t Look Down”, I have always loved, and then this blog turned me on to the amazing original version of “I Keep Forgettin'” – if you haven’t heard this yet, you should.

    Bottom line: With the possible exception of “Loving the Alien”, if the album didn’t exist, I wouldn’t miss it.

    That said, when I played it a few weeks ago, it didn’t sound so bad to me anymore. In fact, I found myself enjoying the overproduction and Bowie hamming it up on “Dancing with the Big Boys”. I’m sure a lot of that reaction was due to my emotional state with regard to all things DB right now, but part of it was just my reaction to the way Bowie oozes charm, even when he’s phoning it in.

    Still, in an idealized Bowie timeline, this LP never would have been made.

  55. MidnightBanshi says:

    The first album I actually ever heard of by David Bowie was “Let’s Dance”, and I was immediately hooked by the catchiness of the tunes and the way the songs sounded. We picked up “Tonight” when it came out, and I was Loving The Alien all over again. Ever since those days, I’ve listened to quite a few albums, singles, and other assorted goodies from the Thin White Duke. For me, David Bowie is just a never-ending stream of musical goodness.

  56. Kilian Hekhuis says:

    After reading the comments on Let’s Dance and Tonight, I just relistened both (after already playing them two days ago), but I can’t say I have the same dislike some of you have for the albums. I’m more partial to Tonight even than Let’s Dance.

    I’m a child of the 80s, getting involved with Bowie’s music in the late 80s, probably ’87-’88. Tonight is one of the first Bowie albums I listened to (on CD, borrowed from a friend), after I think Low (which even my mom liked somewhat :)). After that, Ziggy and the other 70s material.

    The 80s sound for me is one of extreme nostalgia, so maybe that explains why I’m partial to LD and Tonight. As for NLMD, well, I never liked it. Still don’t. It’s horrible, by far Bowie’s worst album. That isn’t to say it hasn’t got some likable songs, like Zeroes or Julie, and I do occasionaly (once a year?) listen to it.

    As for Tin Machine, all I can say is that it probably was a stepping stone to my 90s love of numetal, massaging my brains into excepting some harsher sound (though Ziggy may be partially to blame as well). I liked especially TM1 when it came out – the first new Bowie record after I became a fan. When I relistened it (was it yesterday or the day before? can’t remember), it had lost all it’s appeal, unfortunately.

  57. ric says:

    ah, Tin Machine. Need to find me a cassette player..

  58. s.t. says:

    The notion that Bowie could rely primarily on the sweat of others to carry on his legacy permeates his 80’s output. And despite being a welcome shift away from the excess of his radio pop phase, the Tin Machine period proved to be a continuation of this trend. As Chris has noted, the band format gave Bowie a place to hide and try new ideas without scrutiny, but it also provided new people to do his writing and arranging for him, particularly the ambitious upstart Reeves Gabrels. It was only until Black Tie White Noise that Bowie’s own hunger would finally return.

    But there’s no denying that Tin Machine is a clear improvement from much of the decade that preceded it. I’m not a fan of blooze rock, and the song goes on for too long, but to hear the sludgy swagger of Heaven’s in Here right after his last “hard rock” intro song Day In Day Out is to hear the sound of triumph.

    Now, part of Tin Machine’s legacy is wearing out their welcome. He should have kept the project short and tart. And the same goes for the albums themselves! Too bad they didn’t stick to the LP length rule for their releases, leaner meaner albums would have resulted.

    Here are my LP takes:

    “I”

    Heaven’s In Here
    Tin Machine
    Prisoner of Love
    I Can’t Read
    Bus Stop
    Pretty Thing
    Run
    Working Class Hero
    Baby Can Dance

    “II”

    Baby Universal
    You Belong in Rock n Roll
    If There is Something
    Amlapura
    Betty Wrong
    You Can’t Talk
    Shopping for Girls
    A Big Hurt
    Goodbye Mr Ed
    Hammerhead

    Note: Imaginary LP 1 produced by Steve Albini. LP 2 produced by Steve Lillywhite.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I was in the process of discovering Bowie’s back catalogue when NLMD came out, and I was sort of caught up in the hype.

      But still, it was a while before I got my hands on a copy of the LP.

      Tin Machine was the first DB album I purchased on release. I remember well the excitement of that first play of Heaven’s in Here. I thought it sounded great.

      Actually, even more than that I remember hearing a pre-release broadcast of Under the God on the radio and being very excited about it.

      I think there’s plenty of strong material on that first LP, as your list above demonstrates. (I see Under the God is MIA though!)

      Tin Machine II, on the other hand, was nowhere near as good. Like Tonight, it has about four worthwhile songs.

      • s.t. says:

        Yeah, Under the God is not for me.
        But I’m one of those weirdos who really likes A Big Hurt and Pretty Thing, so my opinion can’t count for much.

    • Chris Williams says:

      You’re Amazing!

  59. MC says:

    Falling a bit behind. Now for perhaps obvious reasons, Tonight and NLMD are, Toy aside, the only Bowie albums I do not own on CD. I do have my original vinyl copies, but at the moment no turntable to play them on. You Tube comes in handy, but playing NLMD was odd because whoever posted the album substituted a metal cover of Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again for the title song. Also, the edition put up is one lacking the legendary Too Dizzy, so it took a bit of darting around to get the tracks in order.

    I was wondering if listening to all the albums in Bowiebruary (Bowiebury?) would cause me to shift my opinions at all. The answer is, not for the most part. Except I enjoyed the Space Oddity album more than usual, while Shake It sounded far, far worse than I remembered. And NLMD – I like what nomad science said about Stockholm Syndrome setting in. I must say, I found myself enjoying a good portion of the album, at least the section starting with the great Time Will Crawl (DB”s best of this period), and encompassing Beat Of Your Drum, Never Let Me Down, Zeroes, Glass Spider, and, dare I say it, Shining Star (Makin’ My Love). Not that these are all good songs, mind you, but I found on yesterday’s listening that their trashy exuberance seemed rather likable. It’s the sound of a showman overeager to entertain us. (the guy you see on the album cover) Then the terrible back end of NLMD came on, and snapped me back to reality. I like DB’s gonzo soloing on ’87 And Cry: everything else is exhausting to listen to, notably DB’s Worst Song Ever, Too Dizzy. And Day In, Day Out: a good example of a song being swallowed up by its terrible video, so the two are now inseparable in my mind.

    Again, the what-ifs pile up. This latest bout of listening made me re-examine the notion that there were good songs here smothered by overproduction, and those garish 1987 gated drums. (It’s like there was an agreement among mainstream and alternative rockers to make their records sound as terrible as possible.) What if Bowie had gotten back to work with some of the old personnel: with Davis and Murray, and Carlos Alomar in place as the actual bandleader, with Visconti back at the helm. And MICK RONSON back on lead guitar. And all drum machines tossed out on the sidewalk. Then you might have had something.

    On the other hand, what if NLMD had been made as originally envisioned, with the skeleton crew of Kizilcay and Armstrong from the Blah Blah Blah sessions, and maybe just Alomar as well? I’m still partial to the Iggy album, and you can’t get more 1986 than that. Maybe some restraint was all that was needed, and some more judicious song-cutting.

    In any case, I think the alternate-universe NLMD might have been quite good, or at least not so terrible (and it would have to include Julie.)

  60. Matthew says:

    Just got in from work to find my copy of Rebel Rebel has arrived. Now to find some Tin Machine on youtube.

  61. billter says:

    Today I expected a pitched battle between the Tin Machine Haters and the TM Defenders. Instead it’s been crickets, pretty much. Not that I get off on conflict…I’m just surprised, is all.

    I place myself somewhere in the middle. I listened to TMone quite a lot back in the day – I found all those loud guitars quite refreshing after the High 80s slickness of the previous albums. But now I find it somewhat hard to listen to, whereas TMII sounds better than I remember.

    A question for discussion – I’ve always thought of Tin Machine as Bowie’s attempt to create his own Pixies. But if TMone came out the same year as Doolittle, can that be right? I don’t think of Come on Pilgrim/Surfer Rosa as being such an influence on the Machine, but maybe I’m wrong. Your thoughts please.

    • col1234 says:

      i think i got into this in the TM entries but “Surfer Rosa” was an influence. Doolittle, being recorded at the same time as TM I, obviously wasn’t.

    • billter says:

      P.S. I see that dealers on Amazon are now asking more than $30 for a used copy of “Oy Vey, Baby.” My, how times change.

    • Paul O says:

      “Today I expected a pitched battle between the Tin Machine Haters and the TM Defenders. Instead it’s been crickets, pretty much. Not that I get off on conflict…I’m just surprised, is all.”

      There’s probably a third group: TM Deniers. I’d be in that group, as I’ve never owned any TM stuff, have barely listened to it and am not really interested in it now. So I got nothing to say, one way or the other, except that it never grabbed me enough to pay attention. 1988-1992 I had other musical fish to fry. (And all my Bowie energy went to introducing my younger friends in Berlin to his 1971-1974 music.)

  62. billter says:

    I think that part of the reason I glommed onto TMone was that, having become a Bowie fan in the early 80s, I’d never experienced a new Bowie album that I liked. So I gave Tin Machine massive benefit of the doubt. It was, if nothing else, a very energetic piece of work. That energy now seems somewhat misplaced, but it was a step in the right direction, at least.

  63. ninvoid99 says:

    Hi, I just finished on covering the Tin Machine period in my music blog that I revived just for a project myself and fellow Nine Inch Nails fans are doing called 29 Days of Bowie. Tomorrow, I’m posting a piece on Tin Machine’s live album as I think the stuff Bowie did as part of Tin Machine was severely underrated.

  64. MC says:

    Count me in with the TM Defenders, though with qualifications. Listening to the first Tin Machine album again, right after NLMD, reminds me of my excitement over Bowie’s new band back in ’89. At the time, the record sounded lean, mean, and kickass in the best way. “Best album since Scary Monsters” seemed a simple statement of fact. Now, I think if I were to rank all of DB’s albums, TM 1 might not actually beat Let’s Dance on my list, though at some level, I’m still fonder of it than I am the latter record. At a certain point, Tin Machine became more important for what they represented in the course of DB’s career than for the music. I love the notion of Bowie reacting to the Glass Spider debacle by going back to Year Zero and re-forming the King Bees, while still trying to grab the leading edge of the new loud strains of alterna-rock. I think the gesture was wonderful and still deserves praise, and Bowie’s 90’s could not have happened without it (if only because it brought Reeves Gabrels into Bowie’s galaxy).

    As for the music, I’ve probably changed my mind more about this album than about anything else with Bowie’s name on it. I played it over and over again in the summer of ’89, then after a longish interval, around 1995 or thereabouts, I remember putting TM1 on, and my sister pronouncing Bowie’s vocals “shouty.” I had to agree with her there; it also dawned on me how silly the Crack City lyrics were. It was downhill from there for the Machine, but I always retained an affection for the TM idea. And a lot of the music as well. If TM1 is part of DB’s run of “dystopian” albums, today the most convincing manifestations of this theme are the more personal, despairing songs like I Can’t Read and Prisoner Of Love. These two tracks still give me chills. Of the rest, the songs I enjoyed most in this last listening session were Video Crime (an updated Running Gun Blues) and the title track, which still makes the apocalypse sound like a rollicking good time.

    It amuses me that TM2 has become such a collector’s item. Always the late adopter, I only got my first CD player in 1991, and this album was the first-ever CD I bought. Putting it on today was interesting; where I found listening to the first album only solidified my long-held position on it, I found myself liking the second a little more hearing it all straight through. That’s partly because it seems designed to elicit mixed feelings; for a Bowie album, it’s really all over the map. As a listening experience, it’s really helped by the fact that the opening and closing tracks are so strong: Baby Universal and Goodbye Mr. Ed still sounded great today, as always. I also particularly enjoyed some of the more tentative, equivocal tracks like You Belong In Rock & Roll and Betty Wrong. Amlapura seemed more shiveringly poignant today, and Stateside if anything seemed more interminable. DB’s “Kennedy convertibles” line in the latter still makes me smile, though, and I forgot that he plays sax on it. I’m reminded that back in ’91, what excited me most about the record was the return of the honking Bowie saxophone, for the first time on disc since the Heroes album. In restrospect, this was the first hint of what would come next.

  65. s.t. says:

    So, 1993: The phoenix had been reborn a few years back, but here’s when the fires ignited. Bowie and Rodgers reunited to create another “Let’s Dance,” except this time the intentions for artiness vs. commercial success were swapped.

    Sales aside, I’d say that the album successfully recreates the best aspects of Let’s Dance. Nile provided the sunny glossy grooves, and Bowie brought back his commanding bellows and croons. Most of BTWN is good, and a nice chunk of it is great. Bowie’s not always so great at cover songs, yet most of these work nicely.

    I would have gone for more tightness and consistency, though. Take out Don’t Let Me Down and Down and Wedding Part 1, and put in Real Cool World and Lucy Can’t Dance. And, while I like it as a standalone, take out I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday. It feels completely out of place. Perhaps he could have used it as a generous offering to Mick Ronson (who produced the original) for his album, rather than Like a Rolling Stone.

    Listening to the song now, I’m wondering of Morrissey’s reaction to Bowie death. Was there any comment or statement? I hope that he would be able to bury the hatchet by this time. I’m also wondering what he thinks about “Blackstar.” Moz was never a fan of any Bowie post-Monsters, but I think this last work could perhaps sway even Bowie classicists like him. Well, I hope that it happens some day.

    • s.t. says:

      …sorry I meant “take out Wedding Pt 2.”

    • Brian says:

      I also think BTWN could have used ‘Real Cool World’ and ‘Lucy Can’t Dance’ instead of ‘Don’t Let Me Down & Down’ and ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday’. I’m okay with both of the ‘Wedding Songs’, though. The Rock Mix of ‘Jumpy They Say’ is the definitive version in my opinion and should’ve been on the album. Did anyone ever figure out who plays guitar on that track?

      Considering how much we talk about how his post SM albums should’ve been, I think one thing the Reeves Gabrels albums don’t get enough credit for is the lack of cover songs and neglected tracks. That has made Outside and Earthling much better to listen to as a result. Can’t say I’m a fan of Hours… but I have the give the album credit for sticking to what it was trying to do.

  66. Matthew says:

    Listening now to BTWN and it’s a relief after two Tin Machine albums. On paper I should like TM but it just doesn’t work for me somehow, I get all Bowie’s earlier guitarists, (Ronson, Alomar, Fripp) Gabrels I just don’t. For some reason I just don’t like his style, anyone point to a quintessential Gabrels track I should listen to?

    More bad covers!? Why choose working class hero? If you’re going to do a cover you need to bring something to it or bring out another facet. That said TM version isn’t that bad just run of the mill. The best version of this song is Marianne Faithfull’s from Broken English, that’s how to cover a song.

    Loving the instumentals on BTWN, Looking for Lester’s a great track.

  67. comicalArchitect says:

    I noticed a certain softness, an almost dreamlike quality, to BTWN and Buddha, as if they were recorded on a cloud. I don’t much else to say about that; just an observation.

  68. s.t. says:

    Buddha of Suburbia found Bowie going inward for the first time in a long while, and perhaps this is why I find it to be his first truly lovable album since Scary Monsters.

    But notably, the love didn’t come instantly (and for songs like Untitled No. 1, required the help of this blog). Part of what makes its magic elusive is that it feels slight when compared to most of Bowie’s work. Aside from the title track and Strangers, the album is all introspection and no theater. Not to mention, the production’s not so great.

    To wary ears, the album can come off as a chintzy genre exercise. And it kind of is, but “exorcising” seems more important to Bowie here. What can sound slight sounds to me like earnest searching and resignation. It’s an album that reveals its splendor only to the patient and faithful. Like St. Catherine’s wedding ring, this is Bowie’s grower.

    • Kilian Hekhuis says:

      I liked BoS from the first time I heard it. I’ve never had problems with any of the songs either. I’ve always loved the dreaminess of Untitled No. 1.

  69. s.t. says:

    (uh-oh, looks like Leon’s slashing at time again. here’s a leak from tomorrow…)

    At the risk of sounding like a corrupted mp3 file, I will again note that, with respect to Bowie’s recorded output, the editorial apparatus of the compact disc leaves something to be desired. The later albums are mostly great, but they’re overstuffed. Surely Eno appreciated the merits of “constraint” on the creative process; he even took on the challenge of writing a 5-second piece of music that could be moving and meaningful.

    Well, probably against Eno’s protestations, Outside is one overstuffed release. Still, a testament to my fondness for the album is that I dare not try a vinyl LP length edit of the songs. I would gladly get rid of the segues, as well as I Am With Name and Wishful Beginnings. But every other song is essential. We’re talking 60 minutes of high watermark material here. A madcap celebration of the 1990s that nevertheless has the timeless feel of Bowie’s best work.

    Now, while I tend to also be against double-albums (Tago Mago being a rare exception), I am fine with bonus discs, or a double release of two distinct albums. So my preferred release format would have been my 60-minute cut of Outside on Disc 1, and “Leon” on Disc 2. Wishful Beginnings could have easily found a place within those larger experimental suites, perhaps somewhere in the I Am With Name piece.

    I am so happy that Leon finally got leaked in full. The music may meander, but there are countless moments of brilliance to be found, particularly in Bowie’s rambling. The “Enemy Is Fragile” suite is my favorite, just pure bliss from the Ramona’s exaggerated opening moans (“Life needn’t step on baby fingers…”) to the cartoonish yelps of “LEON, LIFT UP YOUR EYES!” at the end. It’s almost like a Bowie Beefheart album, just oozing with personality and a knack for the audacious. I still hope that Eno will take the lead on mastering an official release of Leon. Based on what Eno has mentioned recently, and the announcement of coming Bowie archival releases, it seems possible.

  70. nomad science says:

    Summing up the weekend’s listening:

    Others have made the same point, but I understand now that I have spent so much time with Never Let Me Down that the Tin Machine stuff isn’t all that radical of a break from NLMD. It is the “big dumb rock record” side of NLMD. It’s NLMD going underground, not trying to please a mass audience.

    I was really getting into Tin Machine earlier last year, and I remember watching a live video where Bowie introduces the band and then introduces himself as “the Hot Chestnut Man.” Since then I’ve referred to his TM persona as the Hot Chestnut Man. Who is the Hot Chestnut Man? I have no idea, but Wikipedia says this:

    “A natural mimic and impersonator, Morris first appeared on television as The Hot Chestnut Man, a short slot in which he was shown sitting roasting the chestnuts, he would tell a humorous yarn in a West Country accent, often ending with a moral.”

    And now the 90s…Bowie had a spectacular decade, didn’t he? “You’ve Been Around” is more Scott Walker than the actual Scott Walker cover on the album. Might be my favorite song on BTWN. I’m not crazy about the sequencing, though. It starts off so promisingly with “The Wedding” and “You’ve Been Around,” but then “I Feel Free” and the title track really drag things down. Those are the two worst songs on the album for me. This might be the album I know the least about…I need to go back and re-read this blog’s entries on these songs!

    Buddha of Suburbia has been among my favorite Bowie albums for a while now, “Dead Against It” one of my favorite songs. “The Mysteries” and “Ian Fish UK Heir” stand up to the ambient tracks on “Heroes” in terms of sublime beauty (of course “Subterraneans” and “Warszawa” are on another level entirely). I love the shoegazey arrangement of “Strangers When We Meet” but I prefer his vocal performance on the Outside version. This is just a beautiful album that puts me in a nostalgic mood, which is kind of bringing me down tonight!

    I’m looking forward to the home stretch next week, but I haven’t yet heard Blackstar in the context of a post-Bowie world. I listened to it the morning after its release and haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to it since…

  71. Lenny Baryea says:

    Sorry if this has been answered elsewhere, or the answer is obvious, but why were The Idiot and Lust For Life included in the list but not Blah Blah Blah? Not a criticism, or anything, I’m just interested to know. Thanks in advance.

    • col1234 says:

      a good question: i think the choices (which were Galdo’s I think? not me) were a bit arbitrary (why does Toy get a separate day but the first LP doesn’t, etc?) but this isn’t a rigorous thing by any means: talk about Blah all you’d like, really

      • comicalArchitect says:

        They were mine, actually. I wasn’t aware of Blah Blah Blah, to be completely honest, and looking back, putting Toy with Heathen would indeed have been a better choice than combining the first two. Sorry.

  72. MC says:

    Some quick thoughts on Black Tie, White Noise and Buddha Of Suburbia before we move into the last week. BTWN was a major disappointment for me when it was first released, but it was good enough to make me wish it was better, and bold enough to show that DB still had it.

    I always found The Wedding a stunning opener; listening to it on Saturday, it still seemed like the perfect marriage (if you’ll pardon the pun) of Bowie’s Philly and Berlin modes that the rest of the album should have been. The Wedding Song, which I always found a strange mix of the cloying and the self-parodic, attained for me an additional layer of poignancy. Jump They Say seemed really authoritative and powerful, and Nite Flights still sounded great; the other covers not so much.

    Listening through headphones, I could hear with greater clarity the intricacies of the arrangements on tracks that never did a whole lot for me, like You’ve Been Around and Pallas Athena. Clearly, a lot of work went into fine-tuning the record. If Bowie’s 90’s (beginning with Tin Machine) was largely an effort to redress the sins of the 80’s, BTWN was the most fate-tempting maneuver of all: returning to the scene of the crime, the Power Station, with Nile Rodgers again running the sessions. While Bowie was clearly determined not to pander to people’s expectations, and not to half-ass it (so, lots of participation on the musical and production end on his part), it’s strange that the album at its worst repeats so blatantly the main mistakes of the 80’s Trilogy, namely the dearth of original material and the rampantly cluttered overproduction. The abysmal I Feel Free exemplifies both tendencies (and what an anticlimactic coda for the Bowie-Ronson partnership). Based on the evidence, I’m not at all sure Bowie and Rodgers were all that well-matched (which Rodgers’ involvement in the Gaga tribute unfortunately bears out).

    On the other hand, what followed was surely the finest hour for two of Bowie’s least-loved collaborators, Erdal Kizilcay and David Richards. Of all the Bowie albums between Scary Monsters and Heathen, Buddha Of Suburbia is the only one I play in its entirety with any frequency. Sure, a couple of songs betray the speed of the album’s conception and recording (Sex And The Church and Bleed Like A Craze, Dad), and ending with the weak “Rock Mix” of the title track clearly shows that maybe an extra track was needed, but the section beginning with Strangers When We Meet (still my preferred version for all its demo-ness) and ending with Ian Fish, UK Heir may be the most sublime passage on a Bowie album since Side Two of Heroes.

    One of the striking things about BTWN was how anomalous its merging of rock and R&B and jazz seemed, at a time when musical segregation was the norm; arguably it presages the current moment, when genres seem more permeable than ever, and rock as we knew it is increasingly marginalized. It could perhaps be seen as the main precursor to Blackstar in Bowie’s oeuvre. Meanwhile, BOS, with its freewheeling blend of 60’s and 80’s sounds, anticipates the direction of cutting-edge pop in the 90’s. It’s Bowie tapping into the zeitgeist for the first time in years. These albums are the sound of Bowie forging ahead, coming out of his wilderness period.

  73. Matthew says:

    Budda of Suburbia somehow passed me by and now listening to it for the first time it’s obvious this is going to take many more listens to absorb properly.

    • Jasmine says:

      I hope that you will grow to like it Matthew – took me about 6 months as I just didn’t get it and put it away, I remember feeling ever so slightly disappointed with it. One day I was mooching about the house, not doing much and put it on randomly and I’ve loved it ever since.

      In that way it reminds me of ”Heroes” which is an album I have always struggled with, but BOS is Bowie getting it back again, doing his thing, being him.

      For me it’s like his ‘secret’ album, there waiting to be found. An Easter egg in plain sight!

  74. fingers says:

    Of course BTWN was Bowie’s ‘best’ album since, erm… you know when, but listening to it now there’s only 3 songs on it that I really rate. I’ve always loved “Jump They Say” & it still sounds great. Apart from that only “Nite Flights” & “Pallas Athena” do it for me. Would have been a great EP but at least it encouraged me to listen to a bit of Scott Walker (“The Electrician” in particular). Who would have thought then that his next album “Outside” really would be one of his best ever…?

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