Top positive review
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"This ain't rock 'n' roll - this is genocide!"
on 6 May 2017
Following the death of Ziggy Stardust & the break-up of the Spiders, David Bowie was keen to move onto pastures new & inspired by George Orwell's novel '1984', he came up with a concept album - there, I said it! - incorporating elements of that great work & his own vision of a dystopian future set amidst the wilderness of America's vast urban landscape. For many, it was his last glam rock record; for others, it was his first tentative step towards funk & soul. Whatever the music side of things, it was an experimental album, not only in its concept but also in the way in which Bowie approached his lyrics, for he was heavily influenced by the writings of American author, William Burroughs & often employed his 'cut-up' technique in their construction. Furthermore, Bowie, as writer, arranger & producer, had more control of his music than he'd ever had before. So, this was an album that was very much how Bowie intended it to be...
1. Future Legend - Amidst discordant, synthetic sounds, Bowie's treated voice narrates his post-apocalyptic tale of Hunger City & its peoploids. Burroughs influence is never stronger than it is here.
2. Diamond Dogs - A cracking rock track which was only a moderate hit on its release in 1974. In it we are introduced to Bowie's new creation, Halloween Jack, who is a real cool cat who lives on top of Manhattan Chase.
3. Sweet Thing - The next three tracks really comprise a single narrative as they blend so seamlessly from one to the other. It begins with a slow fade-in which resolves into a single piano line from Mike Garson. The whole song drips with decadence & decay as Bowie sings of cheap sex in doorways in one of his finest vocal performances.
4. Candidate - Though continuing the narrative, this song shifts gear as a militaristic drumbeat accelerates the music into a frenzy of violence & despair...
5. Sweet Thing (reprise) - ...which resolves into a saxophone squall. Bowie then sings ever more theatrically before the song descends into a riot of guitars & squeals of feedback. Taken together, these three songs are one of Bowie's finest moments on record.
6. Rebel Rebel - One of his signature singles, it boasts a rare lead guitar from the man himself & a fantastic riff.The Rolling Stones would have been proud of this one.
7. Rock 'n' Roll With Me - Co-written with his school-friend, Geoff McCormack (Warren Peace), it is a charming ballad with a great piano intro. The lyrics hint at a certain rootlessness which Bowie would touch on in later songs, such as 'Be My Wife' from 'Low.'
8. We Are The Dead - Mournful, disturbing & underrated, this song is one of those to survive from the original album concept of Orwell's '1984.' There is a wonderful multi-track vocal which helps create the sense of a nightmarish environment.
9. 1984 - An excellent, funky, up-tempo number with a cascading string arrangement reminiscent of Issac Hayes 'Theme from Shaft.' Why it was not chosen as a single is anybody's guess!
10. Big Brother - Another favourite of mine from the album, it features some spacey synthesizers & distorted saxophones & suggests that 'Big Brother' is "someone to claim us, someone to follow" & how easily we can succumb to totalitarianism.
11. Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family - The album reaches its apocalyptic climax with a hypnotic, relentless chant that culminates in the first syllable of "brother" being repeated over & over until it echoes into silence. A strange & unnerving end to one of Bowie's darkest albums.
With so many great songs here I'm a little puzzled as to why I don't rate this album alongside his very best work... Possibly, I find it a little too dark but I'm not really altogether sure. Whatever the reason, it's still a must buy!