Saturday, May 1, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1470: David Bowie

This next artist is a bit like Led Zeppelin, in that I know I should like them better than I do, but just don't.

Disc 1470 is…. Let’s Dance

Artist: David Bowie

Year of Release: 1983

What’s up with the Cover?  A shirtless David Bowie prepares to…box with someone? Maybe he’s just issued a challenge like, “let’s dance, motherfucker!” Spilling down beside the Thin White Pugilist and his name, the album title plays out in a series of dance steps, should everyone decide to shed their anger and hit the dance floor instead of each other.

How I Came To Know It: This album was everywhere when I was a kid, and the songs blared out at many a high school dance. The reason it is in my CD collection is because Sheila loves this record and bought it.

How It Stacks Up: We have four David Bowie albums, and this one is my least favourite so…#4.

Ratings: 3 stars

Outside of “Ziggy Stardust” I have never got David Bowie in the same way other people do. My wife, many of my closest friends and critics aplenty all rave about this guy, but with the exception of a couple early records, I have never fallen for his modern love. This record is a classic example, where I can objectively see why people think it is great, while still being unable to wrestle my ears into agreement.

Bowie goes through a lot of style changes, and here we find him in his Thin White Duke eighties incarnation. “Let’s Dance” was a huge record. It went multi-platinum, was #1 all over the world and (as noted above) served as the soundtrack to many a high school dance in the mid-eighties.

When I first loaded it up on the car stereo and it launched into “Modern Love” I became nervous. Would this record be so familiar, that I wouldn’t be able to see it with fresh eyes? Or perhaps a deep cut or two that I had overlooked through the years would jump out at me for the first time? As it played out, it was the hits that provided the best experience, so let’s begin there.

Modern Love” is a great opening, with that guitar riff that jumps about somewhere between funk and New Wave, letting you know that Bowie is once again going for a “sound”. Bowie is like Madonna in that he always seems to be at just the right place on the popularity curve of a style or sound to maximize the public’s interest.

Here we get treated to the mid-eighties in all its grotesque and artificial glory. A hollow drum, tinkling piano and the ubiquitous saxophone solo all careen of each other like bumper cars at an amusement park. Against all odds, “Modern Love” makes this work. It is even more amazing when you analyze the lyrics and are left just wondering what the hell it is all about except that it is “modern!” and it gets him to the church on time. Whatever, it is a good song.

The other hit that appealed to me is “China Girl” which works in some Far East sounds into a Western pop song in a beautiful way. “China Girl” showcases the deep and mysterious tone that makes David Bowie’s voice so cool and sexy. This is the record’s best song.

As for the title track, it starts out pretty solid, with a series of interlocking and instantly recognizable pop hooks that makes it born to play in the background of movies and commercials for decades to come. However, Bowie drags this thing out for over seven and a half interminable minutes. As minute after minute ticked by I went from a grudging respect to seriously hating this song. It is just a bunch of weird percussion, soulless drum. It has one great line “under the moonlight, the serious moonlight” which is awesome, but not so much that I forgive that long trail of thumps, bumps and solos on the saxophone and (I think) the bongos which dominate the latter half of this tune.

Bowie is not alone in thinking we want to hear a song drone on for this long. Dire Straits (“Brothers in Arms”) and Blue Rodeo (“Five Days in May”) are also worthy entries in the “this song should’ve ended five minutes ago” sweepstakes. However, those songs are so awesome I forgive them. I do not forgive “Let’s Dance”.

The deep cuts, which were unfamiliar to me, were a mixed bag. “Without You” is solid, and Bowie tones down the weird here enough that a pretty pop song is allowed to emerge. “Without You” has a fluid feel that proves eighties pop can be serious and romantic when it wants to be. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is OK, although that guitar solo is not nearly as rock ‘n’ roll as it thinks it is.

Ricochet” and “Criminal World” are both hard to suffer through, with so much going on that (to borrow a phrase from “Cat People”) they sound like they’re trying to put out a fire with gasoline. The album ends with “Shake It” which has the vacuous energy of a song from a high school musical. I found it embarrassing to play, as I sat at a red light on the drive home from work yesterday. I refused to turn it down, however, firmly believing the CD Odyssey should never show mercy. A full listen, monkey.

Best tracks: Modern Love, China Girl, Without You

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