David Bowie grabbed the proverbial brass ring with his top selling “Let’s Dance” album of 1983. He was attempting to shift units and obtain a payday after disentangling from Mainman Management commensurate with reputation as a rock star. It worked. I would guess, in excess of his highest expectations. And when you’re at the top where else is there to go? That’s right…you add a horn section!
David Bowie : Tonight 
David Bowie: Tonight – US – DLX RM CD 
- Loving The Alien
- Don’t Look Down
- God Only Knows
- Neighborhood Threat
- Blue Jean
- Tumble + Twirl
- I Keep Forgetting
- Dancing With The Big Boys
It opened without any horns on the first track. In the battle-weary Bowie-fan context of 1985, “Loving The Alien” was received with hosannas in some quarters; including mine. Almost. In the rear-view mirror of history it only served to show how far Bowie had plummeted. Realistically, it was a serviceable David Bowie concept for a song that made actually sense in his post “Stationtostation” era that was given a terrible arrangement, production, and performance. And it was as good as it got on this album.
On the next track the horns were there. “Don’t Look Down” was a Bowie cover of a song from Iggy Pop’s “New Values” album of 1979, which I still need to get. It had to be better than the middle class cod-reggae stylings erected around the song here. Let it not be said that reggae and David Bowie didn’t get on like a house on fire… that crushed the sleeping inhabitants who were asphyxiated already by the smoke by the time the ceiling collapsed and fell on them! Pulverizing the already dead bodies. The twee jazz horns here only served to irritate me.
But that was Picasso next to the nadir of the album. Possibly Bowie’s entire career. Another cover; this time of The Beach Boy’s “God Only Known” given all of the baritone vibrato gravitas he could possible muster before the horns joined in the mayhem on the dire middle eight where they sounded as if they had been pried out of a Doc Severinson Tonight Show Band performance. This left Bowie to circle ’round afterward for the ghastly vocal coup de grace where he combined his penchant for Anthony Newley phrasing with a histrionic delivery that left even the garish and astringent Newley very much in the shade.
After that even another reggae cover of Iggy Pop’s now-Bowdlerized snuff-rock opus “Tonight” [stripped of its cold-eyed dignity] from “Lust For Life” couldn’t help but sound like an uptick. Of course, this was a perfect occasion to bring in Tina Turner for a duet that did her no favors as she sang in union, an octave higher, with Bowie the whole song. Ms. Turner, ever the pro, was game for anything, but the Pepsi ad she made with Bowie a few years later comes out looking the winner here.
The only other song here that Bowie wrote without Iggy Pop’s help was the lightweight 60s pop throwback of “Blue Jean.” The squealing Clarence Clemmons-style sax solo on this one was hyperbolic in the extreme and the only aspect of the song that wasn’t trying too hard was the almost deadpan BVs by Curtis King and George Simms. The faux-Latin calypso [complete with thunderthumb bass by Carmine Rojas] of “Tumble + Twirl” was another black mark against the tatters of this album. The perfunctory air of it all led to many of these songs stopping abruptly, as if Bowie though “yeah, that’s done!” Unfortunately, “Tumble + Twirl” had not one but two maladroit vocal trills even as it stumbled towards a 4:58 length that seemed too far by half.
The final track was the obnoxious “Dancing With The Big Boys.” Complete with downpitched BVs that served to remind one of happier times where Bowie had thrown the the varispeed I Ching hexagram as on “Fame.” The shrill horns blared brashly on this hyperkinetic album closer that at least had the good sense not to exceed a 3:30 running time. The album couldn’t have ended soon enough.
THE BOTTOM LINE: As much as I hate and despise “Let’s Dance,” it nevertheless is a work of gravity next to its emaciated follow up. And the brain-fog of “Never Let Me Down Again” at least has the occasional good idea that floated to the top of things; obscured as they were by the dozens of bad ideas crowding the surface of Bowie’s Sea of Futility. So in a nutshell, what I am trying to say is that “Tonight” is David Bowie’s worst album. I’ve listened to it too many times for this exercise and will never do it again. Bereft of ideas and inspiration, Bowie flailed wildly here. I didn’t even mention the excruciating call and response of marimbas and Simmons drums in the execrable “I Keep Forgetting!” Were it not for the only great song Bowie recorded in the 80s [“This Is Not America”] having been included on my copy as a bonus track, I would happily divest myself of this album.
GRADE – F
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