The last of the “EMI Three” that crossed the threshold of my Record Cell was the ill-titled “Never Let Me Down.” I had opted out of buying the 1995 UK DLX RM with three bonus tracks but one song scrubbed from the disc on principle, and when my good friend Mr. Ware asked for a want list of titles, he got a typically long one with this among its many features. For my birthday that year, he went to a CD Warehouse [if memory serves] and selected this among the several other used discs that entered the Record Cell at that time. I was glad that he obtained it at the lowest price possible, as it sated my curiosity without too much of an investment. There is no way to say you ever paid too little for this title. In fact, we should be paid for listening to it!
As much as I don’t care for the previous two albums, one can say that at least “Let’s Dance” reflects the craftsmanship and professionalism of Nile Rodgers. One can also say that “Tonight” had “Loving The Alien,” which has to count for something. NLMD, on the other hand came into the world with a full fledged hype that David Bowie had rediscovered his mojo! I remember press conferences and magazine covers with deeply cynical UK press coverage that was completely warranted once I heard the album. The sad thing is that it seemed as if David Bowie was so out of touch with himself, that he had to resort to self-pastiche; and even then, he was wide of the mark here!
It’s true that I reserve the sharpest of critical knives not merely for albums that fail. These are a dime a dozen in this fallen world. No, I reserve my harshest judgement for albums that try and and still fail. Does that make me negative and cynical? I hope not! But the fact remains that for every good idea on this record [and it has a few], there were at least six bad ones ready to be used without much regard for integrity or even his legacy. Adding insult to injury, “Too Dizzy,” the song struck from the running order by Bowie in 1995 from all subsequent copies, at least had some lively backing vocals. Even if the song’s intro sounded like library music for a TV morning show bumper. Harsh, but true. Even so, it’s a measure of how off target this album was as evidenced by the US promo 12″ of this title that EMI America pressed up in a fit of blind optimism.
Fortunately, the dark tunnel of Bowie album completion also paid a spectacular dividend when I also opted to buy the CD of the “Buddha Of Suburbia” OST, that I had ignored for six years. Mea culpa! This was the album I had been waiting patiently for during the 80s and 90s. Easily.
The album had been whipped up in short order by Bowie armed only with Erdal Kizilcay, the Turkish multi-instrumental threat who had been a fixture in Bowie’s music from ’82-’95. I had seen him play bass on the “Sound + Vision” tour in 1990. This time, every move the pair of them made was like hearing Bowie slip back into the skin he seemingly shed for good by 1982. There were only intriguing juxtapositions and experiments happening here and they were all vivid and fascinating. It was the furthest thing from a stab at the charts, even though many songs here were hook laden; just as several weren’t. The title track was a straightforward euphoric pop song with intriguing lyrics. “Sex and the Church” re-examined the influence of Kraftwerk and “South Horizon” was monumental for having Bowie call out to Mike Garson for the first time in nearly 20 years for the rare guest slot on this duo album.
“Dead Against It” was brilliant technopop like I’d not heard from this man since “Low” and the almost indescribable “Untitled No. 1” is hands down my favorite Bowie song post-1980. Even today. “Ian Fish, UK Heir” was the sound of music reduced to its barest component parts yet still recognizable as such. Proof that Bowie had learned from Eno all those years ago. The only misstep on this album was the inclusion of the title track in a second version with Lenny Kravitz adding his tiresome guitar solo to the otherwise identical song. That sort of thing was better kept on a single. Preferably as a B-side. By now I had almost every album that Bowie had released save for his debut album on Deram and that would not take long to get.
Next: …The Newley Wed Game