Friday, 15 May 2015

Bowie Albums Rated - Part 6

Never Let Me Down (1987)

The appalling effort that was 'Tonight' was, unsurprisingly, an unmitigated disaster. Bowie's fanbase was worried, and they had a right to be. Bowie himself, meanwhile, admitted to feeling disconnected from the new audience that his previous two records had brought him. He had to do something to put things right. The trouble was, he was in a bad place both artistically and motivationally. 'Never Let Me Down' was an attempt to make a record like the old days - properly written new material, recorded as a band. While significantly better than its immediate predecessor, 'Never Let Me Down' didn't succeed in winning his old fans over, and time hasn't treated it well.

Some of the songs are actually OK. What lets things down more than anything else is the production. The 80s have a hell of  lot to answer for, and loud, gated-reverb drum sounds are right at the top of the list. It gets so annoying at times, you can't actually hear the songs; they're drowned out by the relentless echoey pounding. Zeroes could have been one of the better tracks were it not for those fucking drums! I'm sure there are some good songs buried beneath it all somewhere. Time Will Crawl is one of Bowie's all-time faves, and it does stand out as one of the most listenable tracks. Beat Of Your Drum is also half-decent, while 87 And Cry is Bowie's anti-Thatcher song, which is worthy of a thumbs up for that alone, even if the song itself is little more than average.

The best bits are used up early on though. By the time we get to side two, things take a distinct turn for the worse. Glass Spider's intro is embarrassing, with Bowie's narration probably inspired by his acting turn in Labyrinth a year or so before. Shining Star is terrible. It's not sure if it wants to be pop or soul, but it ends up bringing out the worst elements of both. Not even the presence of Mickey Rourke rapping can redeem it. Too Dizzy is so poor, it has been left off subsequent reissues altogether at Bowie's insistence. Oh, and there's another pointless Iggy Pop cover in there too.

Initially Bowie seemed quite happy with 'Never Let Me Down', but over time he's come to hate it, Time Will Crawl notwithstanding. The ill-fated Glass Spider Tour which followed ended up making this once feted musical genius the subject of ridicule and derision. The game was up, something had to give. Bowie slipped away and formed a heavy rock band.

3 / 10



Black Tie White Noise (1993)

The Tin Machine project Bowie initiated after 'Never Let Me Down' may have been as critically derided as his recent solo output, but he emerged from it refreshed and rejuvenated. He had also married again and using this and his renewed artistic momentum, he made a fresh start. A new song, Real Cool World, from the movie of the same name, hinted at a new electronic direction. And so it was that in 1993, 'Black Tie White Noise' was unleashed - and it was different to anything we'd heard from David Bowie before.

The first thing to say is it was immeasurably better than its two immediate predecessors. The sound was fresh and modern and what it may have lacked in great songs, it made up for in imagination and creativity. Perhaps to play down his return, there were a couple of rather interesting decisions made. Firstly, it was released on a small fledging label - Savage - and secondly, the choice of its lead single. Jump They Say didn't exactly have strongest of melodies, and it was influenced by Bowie's schizophrenic brother who had died some years earlier. The same brother influenced Bowie's choice of covering Cream's I Feel Free. I'm not entirely sure it was a good call. Ditto for his rather camp gospel take on Morrissey's  I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday.

There was plenty to be positive about though. Miracle Goodnight is a superb track, a unique pop song that ought to have been the first single, not the tragically ignored third. Pallas Athena is also to be admired. It was the most experimental and intriguing thing Bowie had done for years. Sadly, there were some horrors too. Looking For Lester is just dire, and the final third of the album in general lacks the momentum that had kept things going up to that point.

Overall, while 'Black Tie White Noise' was far from the dreck that infected our lives during Bowie's "Phil Collins period" (his words), it wasn't a fully-fledged return to form. It did display a vigour and energy he had been lacking though, so it bade well for the future.

6 / 10


The Buddha Of Suburbia (1993)

I said at the start of this series that Bowie's soundtracks would not be included. I stand true to that. While Bowie did provide the soundtrack to the rather wonderful TV adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's novel of the same name, the album released as 'The Buddha of Suburbia' wasn't actually the soundtrack. Instead, only the title track was featured in the series, while the rest of the songs were created using some of the music he composed for the original soundtrack. What we hear on this record bears very little resemblance to what we heard in the show.

This way of working enabled Bowie to come up with some of his most interesting and innovative music in more than a decade. Sex And The Church builds on the electronic nature of his previous album, and is a real highlight. It was probably never heard in clubs of the time, but had someone dared to play it, I'm sure it would have gone down pretty well and a hundred remixes would surely have resulted. Dance Like A Craze, Dad is a lot of fun in a psyche-funk kind of way, and Dead Against It is a driving electro stomper.

Strangers When We Meet is, like the title track, one of the more traditional-sounding songs on the album and was clearly highly regarded by Bowie. Unhappy with it being overlooked as part of this record, he later re-recorded it for 'Outside'. This original version is faster, louder and altogether more satisfying, though. There's also a nod to past glories - The Mysteries and Ian Fish, UK Heir are both ambient instrumentals not unlike those that appeared on side two of 'Low'.

While as a whole it's not perfect - the jazz instrumental South Horizon is one for the skip button - 'The Buddha Of Suburbia' works for me as a bonafide Bowie album. There's a good balance of eclecticism and consistency, and it serves as a good link between the two records either side of it in his discography. Sadly, categorised as it was as a soundtrack album, 'The Buddha Of Suburbia' suffered from a lack of marketing and was largely ignored as a result. It was even unavailable for a number of years, despite Bowie citing it at the time as his favourite record. It remains one of his least known albums, which is a real shame as it's actually one of his better ones.

7.5 / 10



  1. Agree yet again although Time Will crawl apart I detest Never Let me Down - this is partly due to being unfortunate enough to See the Glass Spider tour. Black Tie White Noise is an odd lp - doesn't really fit together ,almost sounds like a compilation of ideas rather than a coherent lp. However it has some great tracks on. Somewhere around this time he did a tour where he announced it was the last time he was going to play his old songs. The contrast with glass spider couldn't have been bigger. On stage with a tight band all dressed in black and white , a set of greatest hits and fav lp tracks as well as some stunning screen projection it is still one of the best gigs I've been to.

    1. With you completely here! NLMD is only worsened if you saw Bowie on his late 80's pistache/panto Glass Spider Tour. All involved in that should be extremely embarrassed or removing it from their CV.

  2. Like many I had pretty much given up on him around this period

  3. Good analysis. 'Black Tie' was seen as a return to form at the time and yet 'The Buddha Of Suburbia', an actual interesting piece of work, was criminally ignored. Go figure.

  4. I was into Bowie in a big way in 1987, and even I realized that NLMD wasn't very good, especially side 2... not sure I have heard the second half of the album in 25 years. Sadly, if you went into my collection you would find every 12" from that period. Sick. I was working in a record shop when Buddha came out. We ordered an expensive import copy to listen to in the store, and I was the only one that took to it. Bought it after only one play. On the whole, my favorite Bowie from the '90s.