[…continued from last post]
The harmonized drum sound of “Sister Midnight” took a rest as the song “Nightclubbing” was built on a simple plodding rhythm box with queasy catcall synths vying for space with David Bowie’s barrelhouse piano. The latter being an obvious continuation of the Roy Bittan’s piano sound that had featured on the previous Bowie album, “Stationtostation.” Bowie had obviously not gotten his fill of the rollicking piano used so strikingly on “TVC15,” which had further ties to Iggy Pop as it was lyrically based on one of his dreams. Blending the warm piano sound with the inhuman drumbox and the curdled synths made for a maximized sense of disquiet as Iggy was front and center here as the individual star of the song with his bone dry vocals on the first verse as he was describing the Berlin nightlife he and Bowie were taking in.
I’d only heard covers of this song before. Grace Jones’s transformative title track to her iconic album, and The Human League’s medley with the eerily similar but much faster paced “Rock N Roll [part 1].” The Human League cover hewed verrrrry close to the original save for the absence of guitars, of course! Guitars were used here to provide an abstract impression of yowling six string noise. Bowie had briefed the guitarist Phil Palmer to play as to simulate the sound of walking past rock clubs with various band’s sounds blending into a musical slurry in the night.
After that first guitar interlude, Iggy returned for the second verse in character as the collective masses with his nasally nerd-like vocals doubled or tripled up and slightly out of synch with one another. He’s no longer in the spotlight as the Geek Chorus has taken over the song. Then another abrasive guitar solo led the song to its terminus as the drum machine kept the plodding beat moving in spite of itself. Bowie had assumed that they would replace the rhythm box with his normal drummer, Dennis Davis, but thankfully, Iggy put his foot down to keep the rhythm box at the deadened core of the song. A wise aesthetic decision!
“Funtime” was anything but. After a disturbing intro of feedback swelling as a choked sob was barely heard, the song roared into abrupt quasi-life like a slip cued record as the harmonized drums were back and the rhythm was also marked by a bell-like harmonic synth pulse like some heart-lung machine might make as it kept a corpse breathing. Iggy was the leering master of ceremonies here as he sized up his prey for the evening. Meanwhile the droog-like backing vocals of Pop and Bowie seemed to be slurred down slightly in pitch for a monstrous effect. Not surprisingly, Pop simply unleashed his id as he “just do what I want to do.”
Another aspect of the backing vocals was that they seemed to undergo a doppler shift in pitch, as if they were quickly passing the listener by. I can only surmise that Bowie might have run the BVs through a Leslie Cabinet. More probably a Roland AP-5 Phase Five Jet Phaser pedal by 1976 when this was recorded. As the song decayed at its climax, all of the channels except for the backing vocals dropped out and one was left with the inhuman impression of Iggy Pop hurtling past the listener at great speed.
The transition from that horrifying sound to the next song was as perfect a segue as I’ve ever heard when the dour and drumless “Baby” began with a descending bass rondo that never stopped spiraling downward. The two slurred bass synth gripped me as it reminded me of the similar intro to The Associates top quality song “White Car In Germany.” Well, it was obvious now where they’d lifted the idea from. Both of those two were inveterate Bowie fans so this is no shock.
Iggy’s vocals on the chorus were treated with an effect that have them an unfocused reverb that was blurred into pure harmonic hum. A different use of the Eventide Harmonizer than on the drums, perchance? It added to the ghostly feel of the song; like that of a cat furtive in the night as Pop dwelled on the “streets of chance, where chance is always slim or none.” Pop had every reason to be negative as he pleaded with his young girlfriend to “please stay clean.” Only the jaunty piano [again!] and the song’s relatively nimble tempo added any vibrancy to the track. I can hear a lot of Magazine in this one. So with DNA that obviously seeped into sounds of The Associates and Magazine, this was certainly an amazing track for these ears! As much as this album has been sticking to me like napalm, this song, in particular has really connected with me.
Next: …Iggy’s Biggest Pop Hit