When Bowie returned to music-making after an unprecedented three year break, looking tanned, healthy and suited for the first time in his career, it was with this relatively clean-cut album to match. Although featuring another definite new direction, with co-producer Nile Rodgers of Chic
helping produce a stylish post-disco dance sound, the Let's Dance
is a mixed bag. Much of the album's success was due to its three danceable hit singles: "China Girl", a sensuous Bowie/Iggy Pop
collaboration already recorded by the latter, the distinctive "Modern Love" and the funky title track. However, most of the rest of the album is bland and vapid, marking the start of a period of serious decline in Bowie's songwriting skills. A cover of Metro's "Criminal World" and "Cat People" are the only two other strong tracks, although the latter--previously released as a single in 1982--is not a patch on the original version. The re-release of Let's Dance
includes the Bowie/Queen
collaboration "Under Pressure". Although far from a highlight of the work of either of the artists involved, it is nevertheless a welcome addition for completists.--James Swift
It’s hard to imagine now how people felt when, in 1983, Let’s Dance emerged as if from nowhere. The general pop-buying public, at least, loved it – there are very few records shinier than this one, which glints like David Bowie’s new teeth and is full of treble and echoes like a robber’s cave.
Bowie’s choice of Nile Rodgers for producer was canny; Rodgers had moved away from the sophisticated disco of Chic and was becoming the person cool rock acts from Debbie Harry to Duran Duran would hire to give them a sheen of funk, rock and pop. Certainly nobody but Rodgers could have taken a song like China Girl (written by Bowie and Iggy Pop and originally recorded by the latter), with its paranoid references to "visions of swastikas", and turned it into a sweet, romantic hit single. And the combination of Bowie and Rodgers on the title track was perfect – Bowie’s epic lyric about dancing under "serious moonlight" (the name of his subsequent monster tour, which lasted until December and took in 96 shows) and the brilliant filching of the crescendo "ahh!"s from The Beatles’ version of The Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout were masterstrokes, each welded to a loud, stadium-ised drum and bass sound.
But older Bowie fans were less impressed. The last three years had seen Bowie mooch between soundtracks (his theme for Cat People is reprised here), one-offs and a jumble of often-great records that had little or nothing do with his excellent 1980 album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Let’s Dance may have had a ground-breaking sound and a popularity that Bowie clearly ached for, but it’s often a mundane album, as songs like Ricochet and Shake It mark time until a single turns up. (It’s possibly significant that one of the best songs here is Criminal World, a cover of a song by obscure Bowie clones Metro).
But when Bowie growled, on another of the album’s excellent singles Modern Love, "I know when to go out / And when to stay in / And get things done," he wasn’t kidding. Let’s Dance was literally the template for 80s Bowie – blonde, suited and smiling. It would, however, be a long time before he made another single as striking as Let’s Dance.
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