Friday, June 14, 2013

A David Bowie Retropective - 1. Tonight (1984)

I was listening to David Bowie’s classic seventies material, which contains arguably the best songwriting and most influential body of work in rock music history, and I realised I hadn’t paid much attention to his later work, specifically the albums since Let’s Dance brought Bowie to a mass commercial audience in 1983. I have decided to listen to the albums he’s brought out in the last 30 years (30 years!) and see what he’s been up to all this time. I have hopes for the more recent stuff. Not so much for the eighties and nineties, but I am open to be proved wrong or at least to hear a few great tracks buried among the mediocre ones.

I started off with 1984’s Tonight, an album I did hear a few tracks from at the time, none of which interested me. Would I change my mind 29 years later? Well, I’m afraid not. It’s a weak, dull, anodyne product. Given that’s it’s generally thought to be stronger than the two that came afterwards, I’m already looking forward to the getting beyond them!

One problem with Tonight is that there isn’t a single stand-out song. Everything sounds as if it’s originated in a syth-pop minor hit factory, the kind of songs that peak at number 73 in the singles chart. Easily the best track is the opener, ‘Loving the Alien’, but the production is terrible, in an eighties kind of way, ironing out any interest the song might otherwise have had. There are several low moments – a poor cover of the Beach Boys’ fabulous ‘God Only Knows’, a truly awful song called ‘Neighbourhood Threat’, and a directionless mishmash of Billy Ocean, drum-machine rockabilly and bland soft rock for the rest.

I’m told the album was recorded in a hurry and the record company wanted something that would appeal to the massive commercial base Bowie had established with Let’s Dance. It worked and Tonight was a number one album in the UK. Which just goes to show... But it’s entirely forgettable. It seems that Bowie now feels most of the album was a waste of time too and you have to admire something who is as self-critical as he often is.

But no, Tonight gets a definite thumbs down from me. Onto Never Let Me Down now, from 1987, often regarded as Bowie’s worst ever moment. Should be fun...

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