We all have our own personal Most Crucial David Bowie albums. I can make a cogent argument for more than half of his 1970-1980 oeuvre, but at the end of the day two albums in particular sit atop my special Bowie shelf: “Heroes” and “Scary Monsters.” Each there because the lead guitarist on both of them was Robert Fripp. I can recognize the greatness of others. “Low” was a game-changer and set the tone for the next five years of Art Rock. But so did “STATIONTOSTATION.” And “Diamond Dogs” will always be underappreciated for these ears in contrast to its achievements under difficult circumstances. His first classic was the effervescent “Hunky Dory.” And there’s the matter of “Ziggy Stardust” which took him to the stratosphere for good reason.
But for me the pull of “Scary Monsters [And Super Creeps]” will also come down to the fact that it was not only the first Bowie album that I bought upon its release in 1980, but also the first Bowie album that I bought at all. It captured the artist at an acme that we were naive enough to think would always exist in the heady bubble of 1980. It consolidated his late 70s period and it seemed to be laying the path forward for his next moves only to have the rug pulled from under us with the incredibly underwhelming “Let’s Dance” three years later.
So the album had ended up being en elegy to the often dazzling brilliance of 70s Bowie; where he could do no wrong, even though much of “Young Americans” and “Pinups” whispered otherwise. And a critical millstone around his neck for decades forward. How often had this, that, or the other album by Bowie been described as …”his best since Scary Monsters!” Music writers seemingly had a special key on their typewriters [later a Word macro], that would spit it out at a single stroke.
And now Adam Steiner [Into The Never: Nine Inch Nails And The Creation Of The Downward Spiral] is one of those writers who is going for more than a pull quote on the issue. We have nearly three hundred pages covering all aspects of the album and period from the details of its recording from interviews with participating musicians, analysis of its themes, and the all-important context of its zeitgeist as Thatcher/Reagan came into power and pushed the Overton Window far to the Right. All the better to frame the palpable fear and dread that suffused the album like a dybbuk awaiting an exorcism. The book will be published by Rowman + Littlefield in the US in July [$29.95] and the UK [£18.95] in September of 2023 and I’m pleased to see this pivotal Bowie album treated with the respect that it so clearly deserved. Existing as it does, like a firewall between the disparate worlds of 70s and 80s Bowie. If you hear the siren call then DJ hit that button for the presale.
With Bowie I think it’s quite hard to even work out a best, for me – also a child of the 80’s – Scary Monsters was my first album purchase, followed by the great compilation soundtrack to Christiane F. and Ziggy Stardust. From todays perspective it’s more difficult, even figuring out a top ten in proper order is a tough task. I’ve been working my way through the incredible (2nd) Bowie book of Chris O’Leary who also analyzed nearly everything Bowie here https://bowiesongs.wordpress.com/ with notes about every recording and it’s circumstances which is really impressive and useful to recheck some of his works and understand them better. Well anyway today I would agree with most about Station To Station, Blackstar and Ziggy Stardust being the top albums but I would regret being forced to listen to those only.
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slur – If I had to pare it down I’d have: “Hunky Dory,” “Diamond Dogs,” “STATIONTOSTATION,” “Low,” “Heroes,” “Scary Monsters,” “Blackstar.”
Scary Monsters has been in the rotation as my favorite Bowie on more than one occasion – absolutely worthy of a book!
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