Thursday, June 20, 2013

A David Bowie Retrospective - 2. Never Let Me Down (1987)

I wasn’t looking forward to listening to Never Let Me Down. Bowie himself said it was the worst album he’d ever made and that opinion seems to be shared by many fans and critics, but let me say from the outset that I disagree. I’m not suggesting you rush out and buy the album, but it is actually quite listenable – very much more listenable than the boring, bland Tonight.

The opening track, ‘Day In Day Out’, and a couple of other songs – ‘Zeroes’ and ‘87 and Cry’ – are quite decent. The problem is the production and arrangements. I hate the drum sound and some of the keyboard and guitar licks, which should hang high in the hall of rock clichés. Bowie was pretty fed up with what he was doing by this stage and took little part in the making of the album other than turning up with some tunes and singing them, and the lack of engagement shows. This is an album sounding as if it’s been made by dutiful session musicians – skilled musicians but lacking creative spark.

The stand-out track is ‘Time Will Crawl’. At least, unlike on Tonight, there is a stand-out track. It wouldn’t make a list of Bowie’s greatest achievements, but it is a catchy number that gets into your head and not unpleasantly so. The song’s video shows Bowie looking like he’s turned up for a Wham audition several years late, a concession to commercial demand rather than someone at the centre of musical style (let alone substance).

The rest of the album is relatively forgettable. ‘Glass Spider’ is intriguing with a spoken intro and an untraditional structure – it’s just not that good, but it is a welcome advance on Tonight’s lack of adventure. The title track and ‘Shining Star’ would fit nicely onto that album! The other songs aren’t interesting but not terrible either. One track, ‘Too Dizzy’ was removed from future pressings of the album. I found it on YouTube and it is pretty awful! Basically, if you have listened to all Bowie’s classic albums, this album is worth a listen on Spotify, but don’t get too over-excited at the prospect...

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