Wednesday, February 17, 2016

29 Days of Bowie: Never Let Me Down

Released on April 27, 1987 by EMI Records, Never Let Me Down is the 17th studio release by David Bowie that has him continuing his exploration into 80s pop as he would try to blend it with elements of rock to create something that was unique but also accessible. Produced with David Richards, the album would feature contributions from recurring collaborators in guitarist Carlos Alomar and bassist Carmine Rojas as the album also features Bowie’s first collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Edral Kiziclay. Also featuring guitar work from famed 70s superstar Peter Frampton and a vocal appearance from actor Mickey Rourke. The album would mark the end of a troubling and polarizing period for the artist who was known for being uncompromising only to compromise.

The album’s first two singles in Day-In Day-Out and Time Will Crawl as the former is an upbeat but very powerful song that features very dark lyrics that has Bowie commenting on the plight of urban decay as it has elements of R&B and rock that features big beats and a blazing guitar solo from famed session guitarist Sid McGinnis. The latter is a mid-tempo piece that features a mixture of rock and jazz as the latter is provided by Edral Kiziclay’s trumpet that would play into Bowie’s vocals as he sings about the state of the world that includes guitar work by McGinnis. The album’s third single in the title track is one of Bowie’s underrated singles as it’s co-written with Carlos Alomar as it is this song of devotion that is dedicated to Bowie’s longtime assistant Coco Schwab as it is this smooth, mid-tempo track with Bowie providing some somber yet evocative vocal work.

Beat of Your Drum is this track with these hard-hitting beats by Kiziclay as well as some driving guitar work from Alomar and Frampton while Bowie sings these lyrics that play into something that is dangerous but the production is very slick and all over the place. Shining Star (Makin’ My Love) also suffers from the production as it’s a song that sounds very typical of 80s middle-of-the-road song yet it has elements that are playful due to Bowie’s vocals and a mid-rap from Mickey Rourke as it’s got some nice rhythm elements and guitar spurts. New York’s in Love is this fast, driving rocker that include these elements of steady rhythms from Kiziclay’s drums and Carmine Roja’s bass along with excellent guitar work from Alomar and Frampton. Bowie’s vocals are also top-notch in its exploration of city life but the production sort of takes away some of the exciting elements due to some of the unnecessary synthesizers in the background.

The album closer in a cover of Iggy Pop’s Bang Bang is an example of a good song that gets undercut by its very 80s production due to its emphasis on big drums and blaring synthesizers but the guitar work of Alomar and Frampton do help it as does Bowie‘s vocal delivery on the song as it is also considered one of Pop‘s more underrated songs. Other songs like Zeroes, Too Dizzy, Glass Spider, and ‘87 and Cry are tracks that aren’t just some of Bowie’s weakest songs but songs that really don’t do anything for the album. Zeroes is a song that is over-produced with its fake crowd noises, backing vocals, and big electronic beats as Bowie sings in a more high-pitch range. While Frampton provides some nice sitar-based guitar flourishes and its solo, the song is just terrible because of its production. Glass Spider is a track that has Bowie reciting dark lyrics to a background of synthesizers and soft guitar textures as it’s a song that is Bowie trying to recreate elements of the early 70s until some pulsating beats and Bowie singing to an electronic background comes in as kind of killed whatever interest the song had early on despite Frampton’s guitar work in the solos.

‘87 and Cry is a song that has elements of hard rock with its guitars but the big sound of the drums and synthesizers definitely make the song sound very dated while it overwhelms Bowie’s vocals in the mix as it’s one of Bowie’s attempts to address the political stage in Britain under the rule of its prime minister Margaret Thatcher as it’s misguided in its presentation. Then there’s Too Dizzy which is one of Bowie’s worst songs as it is 80s at its worst in its production, over-produced electronic drums, Bowie’s attempt to bring elements of nostalgia in some of its lyrics as it’s just fucking horrible.

From its 1995 reissue from Virgin Records comes three bonus tracks as one of them is from a film soundtrack while the other two are B-sides to singles as they reveal to be gems that were way too good to be B-sides. The first is a B-side for Day-In Day-Out in Julie as it is this upbeat song that is filled with driving guitars, a steady rhythm, and bits of synthesizer flourishes as Bowie sings lyrics about a young girl as it is a song that manages to rise above its very 80s-based production. The B-side for Time Will Crawl in Girls, that was originally written with Edral Kiziclay for Tina Turner in her 1986 album Break Every Rule, as it is this mid-tempo ballad that manages to be filled with some amazing guitar flourishes from Alomar and Frampton as well as some amazing textures in the piano, drums, and saxophones by Kiziclay. Bowie’s vocals in the song is just spot-on as it is one of Bowie’s most underrated gems. A Japanese version of the album features the song in the album as it features Bowie singing the song in Japanese with the aid of coach Kiri Teshigahara with translated lyrics by Hiro Hozumi.

The third bonus track on the album is a song Bowie wrote with Kiziclay in the title track for the 1986 animated film When the Wind Blows. It is this rock-based track with massive drums and unique time-signature changes as it plays into the plight of a world coming to an end as it is one of Bowie’s great songs. One song that deserves a second mention in the single Time Will Crawl has a remix by Mario J. McNulty that appeared in the 2008 iSelect compilation that is widely considered to be a much-superior version to the original song. Stripping away the slickness of the original production, the song is given a stripped-down feel with some of the original instrumentation retained while the drums sound more natural as it is definitely a song that showcases how it can be heard and be given new life.

Despite its singles, B-sides, and songs that had the potential to be great, Never Let Me Down is a very lackluster album from David Bowie. It’s an album that has Bowie trying to be all things to all people only to lose not just his edge but also his identity as an artist. Even as he is hampered by the slick production of the 1980s that is very dated where a lot of good songs got lost and never manage to create an album that could’ve been much better. In the end, Never Let Me Down is an album by David Bowie that is disappointing as well as what could’ve been if he didn’t compromise.

Studio Releases: David Bowie (1967 album) - David Bowie (1969 album) - The Man Who Sold the World - Hunky Dory - The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Aladdin Sane - Pin Ups - Diamond Dogs - Young Americans - Station to Station - Low - "Heroes" - Lodger - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) - Let’s Dance - Tonight - Tin Machine - Tin Machine II - Black Tie White Noise - Outside - Earthling - ‘Hours…’ - Heathen - Reality - The Next Day - *

Live Releases: David Live - Stage - Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars - Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby - Bowie at the Beeb - (Live at Fashion Rocks (w/ Arcade Fire)) - (Live Santa Monica ‘72) - (Glass Spider Live) - (VH1 Storytellers) - (A Reality Tour)

Soundtracks: Christiane F. - Labyrinth - The Buddha of Suburbia

Miscellaneous: Peter and the Wolf - Baal - Sound + Vision - (Early On (1964-1966)) - (All Saints) - Toy - (Nothing Has Changed)

© thevoid99 2016

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