Top positive review
22 people found this helpful
Bowie's soul album...
on 27 February 2006
In the Summer of 1974 while Bowie was taking a break from the "Diamond Dogs" tour he booked himself into the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia to record what would later turn out to be one of his most influential albums of the 70's as years later this recording would give 80's bands such as ABC, Spandau Ballet and Simply Red a blueprint to follow.
The influence of American music had been hinted at on previous albums such as "Aladdin Sane" and "Diamond Dogs", albums which have a rougher R'n'B slant to them, think of "1984" from the latter and you have a clear indication of what was to come.
For this recording Bowie had assembled a bona fide rhythm and blues band for the making of the album, which included Willy Weeks on bass along with Andy Newmark on drums and on saxophone the Jazz legend David Sanborn.
The recording sessions of this album was split into 3 main sessions with 2 of them in Philadelphia and a last minute session taking place in New York with the late John Lennon taking part on 2 tracks adding vocals and guitar to "Across the Universe" and "Fame".
The title track starts off the album, this has at it's heart a frantic shrieking alto saxophone played by Sanborn this is introduced by a run on the piano by long serving Bowie side-man Mike Garson which is played off the sound of Latin flavoured percussion this adds the beat with Luther Vandross leading the backing singers, Bowie croons about everyday life in America after Watergate.
The groove is urgent and compulsive, with Bowie even borrowing a catch phrase from the Beatles when the backing singers sing the line "I heard the news today, oh boy" at a crucial moment, but the killer line is when Bowie sobs "Ain't there one damn song that can make break down and cry".
The following cut "Win" (4.44) which has echo-filled saxophone flipping from speaker to speaker with Bowie singing "I say its hip to be alive" if you listen closely to the delivered vocals the tone in his voice doesn't support the message of the delivered line, Bowie revealing himself after years of role-playing, when he sings the line "well you've never seen me naked and wired" you can hear the struggle between the distanced, contrived poseur and the newer real vision, this is a haunting melody with a rippling synthesiser sound and melting backing vocals that give this exercise in positivity at it's heart the line "All you got to do is Win" this neatly states the message of the song the resigned vocals are at odds with the message.
The next song is an adoption of a Luther Vandross composition called "Funky Music (Is part of me)" Bowie has changed the title to "Fascination" this song has benefited most from the CD re-mastering process, the piece now has more of an echo to it which gives this dance floor workout a new sheen, listen to the chorus "Fascination Sure' nuff Takes part of me Can a heartbeat Live in the fever Raging inside of me?"
The song "Right" (4.15) has the most authentic soul sound to it with a smoochy riff which is built around the line "Never no turning back".
The next track Bowie has written around the phrase "Somebody up there likes me" (6.30) which was the original title of the album, this one line in America has reached the status of folklore, since the 50's it's main manifestation was as a title for a biographical film about a boxer, the part that had elevated Paul Newman to stardom.
Lyrically this is one of Bowie finest songs, as it contains a critique of the corrupting powers of the media, which is pretty ironic as Bowie is criticising the very image he had become, with the line "There was a time when we judged a man by what he had done /Now we pick them off the screen / What they look like / Where they've been" this cut has some killer sax and a wonderful sounding arrangement on the backing vocals.
Usually when Bowie covers a song he brings something new to a song but here with his version of "Across the Universe" (4.29) the Lennon and McCartney composition his delivered croon is ill suited to the song or to his personality and is the weakest part of the album.
The soul ballad of the album "Can you hear me" (5.03)is a yearning song which teeters at times on the verge of clichéd and cute, Bowie shows the ease in which he gets to grips with the genre, when he builds to the line "Why don't you take it right to your heart" his singing is stunning.
To close off the album Bowie has chosen the other track recorded with John Lennon "Fame" (4.16), this turns out to be Bowie's big U.S. breakthrough and gives him an American number 1.
Carlos Alomar's infectious rhythm guitar riff which he borrowed from the James Browns song "Hot (I need to be Loved, Loved, Loved)" is the perfect foil for Bowie's catalogue of evils and woes with the line "Fame, is what you want is in your limo / Fame, what you get is no tomorrow".
One of the great album experiments by Bowie in 70's, and is an essential part of his back catalogue.