David Bowie – New Wave (Pop) Success and Failure

Album after album David Bowie managed to create new and wonderful works, yet despite the great changes in style and substance, he remained a force in an industry that sometimes shies away from experimentation…especially when an artist radically changes his or her sound.

Yet David Bowie kept making changes, and following his very successful Berlin Trilogy, he would release in 1980 what some (again!) consider his absolutely best work, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.  The album was more “commercial” in design than the previous Berlin albums.  It was also reflective in, as it turns out, my two favorite songs on the album.  While Fashion may be the song that received the most radio play from the album, my favorite track is Teenage Wildlife, a song about new and upcoming (young) artists.  Terrific work.

My second favorite song is also reflective, in this case a look back by Mr. Bowie at his life via reference to his first hit song, Space OddityAshes to Ashes follows Major Tom, who shares more than a casual similarity to David Bowie himself…

Just as there was a Berlin Trilogy, so too do I believe 1983’s Let’s Dance, 1984’s Tonight, and 1987’s Never Let Me Down were something of a trilogy as well.  One could look at them as David Bowie’s “Pop” albums, or perhaps “New Wave” works.  Alas, they were a trilogy that, unlike the Berlin Trilogy, wound up giving diminishing results.

But let’s start with the good: Let’s Dance is, to me and contrary to many other’s opinions, a great album.  I happen to love its energy and bounce…David Bowie, after years of hard work, drugs, and torment (self-inflicted or not), sounded genuinely happy on this album.  The music is so upbeat and positive and its hard not to smile while listening.  My favorite song on the album is Modern Love.

My runner up favorite is Mr. Bowie’s reworking of Cat People (Putting Out Fire).  I absolutely love the original version of the song from the Cat People movie, but this version is equally great, in my opinion.

Let’s Dance proved to be one of Mr. Bowie’s most successful releases, even managing to dislodge Michael Jackson’s Thriller from the charts…though briefly.  But after so many years of working in the music industry and after the success of that album, it appeared Mr. Bowie was slowing down, at least creatively.  Tonight, the follow up to Let’s Dance, was a decent album, but one that a critic at Rolling Stone magazine appropriately noted appeared to be a tennis “lob” rather than a smash.  In other words, even while the critic liked the album, s/he felt Mr. Bowie wasn’t trying as hard with this album as he had with his others.  There was an insinuation, alas, that Mr. Bowie was resting a bit on his laurels instead of pressing the envelope.

I believe they were right.

Nonetheless, the album delivered some great songs, including Loving the Alien, which had a seriously strange music video…

My runner up favorite from the album is Tonight, which features a great duet with Tina Turner.

There is a certain perverse irony to the fact that what many consider Mr. Bowie’s “worst” album is named Never Let Me Down.  Yet that’s the fact’s ma’am.  Released in 1987, it was the first album that I listened to of Mr. Bowie’s that I thought something was off.  It appeared, to me, that Mr. Bowie was trying -too hard- to make another “hit” album.  The songs weren’t terrible, per se, but the whole thing just seemed artificial, overly contrived.

So, yes, I would agree with those -including Mr. Bowie himself!- that feel this is the artist’s nadir.

Yet having said that, there are some pretty good songs within the album worth a listen.  My favorite is Time Will Crawl.

Runner up…I guess I’d go with Day-In Day-Out.

Next: David Bowie – The Latest Works