When I did some poking around [Discogs didn’t exist yet, but Bowie’s discography was fairly widespread on the web even in 1999], I discovered that now that I was actually contemplating buying copies of “Let’s Dance,” “Tonight,” and “Never Let Me Down,” there were definitely optimal copies to be buying, if I had to. In 1995, Virgin had remastered the three of them with added bonus tracks, so in the case of the first two, I opted to buy those. I think I got them on eBay. With “Never Let Me Down,” there were added tracks but also, one song had been struck from the disc and thrown down the memory hole. For that reason, I opted for the original version, so not to be too revisionist. If I would miss some B-sides and a soundtrack song, so be it. In short notice, I was finally listening to the albums I had taken great pains to avoid. As it turned out, I had been wise.
Having heard the singles from “Let’s Dance,” little had I known, that that was as good as it got. The title track still sounded like a Leni Rifenstahl inspired sonic bludgeon, and the album version [also on 12″] reeked of padding. “Modern Love” had lyrics that made me thing what was the song really about, which was as good as it got, here. The “deep cuts” on this shallow album were meretricious in the extreme. There were weak covers of songs by Metro and David Bowie/Giorgio Moroder, and everything else was even worse. “Shake It” and “Without You” inspired the rising of bile and “Ricochet” was the sound of David Bowie disastrously attempting to pastiche himself. An act he would come to perfect to a nauseating conclusion on “Never Let Me Down.” In this context, the single bonus track, “Under Pressure” with Queen, sounded like genius… and I hate Queen.
The going got even tougher when I clapped ears on Bowie’s cynical, fraudulent followup to “Let’s Dance.” I had not been convinced by the trifling pop of “Blue Jean” and thought that “Loving The Alien” was sending me mixed signals. It could have been a great Bowie song at one point in his career; just not in the “double-breasted dumbness of the mid-80s.” These singles were definitely the skyscraping high points on an album that had a Beach Boys cover that managed to make his ill-conceived stab at “Across The Universe” seem not to bad in retrospect. If you liked “China Girl” why not 3-4 more Iggy Pop covers? This exercise was ghastly in the extreme.
The bonus tracks provided an honest-to-goodness gold nugget in “This Is Not America.” It was by far the best tune he penned in that decade. This was counterbalanced by including the Diane Warren Memorial Songwriting Contest® Winner for 1986 with the toxic saccharine trifle of “As The World Falls Down.” As I had studiously avoided the “Labyrinth” OST, I felt betrayed by the song’s inclusion here. The eight minute title track from the “Absolute Beginners” OST fell somewhere in between. It would not make me forget the superior Jam single of 1981, and it went on for far too long to little overall effect, but neither did it make me want to puncture my eardrums with a pencil, and this was the time in popular music when the temptation was mighty.