Sunday, December 5, 2010

Diamond Dogs (1974)


1. Future Legend: Opening with an American-Werewolf-in-London-sized howl and hosting an orgy of post-apocalyptic imagery of urban decay that is the Hunger City, Future Legend (and a lovely synthesized take of ‘Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered’ underneath) introduces the latest of Bowie’s big theatrical projects: George Orwell’s 1984 (although, thankfully, it was abandoned due to necessity for the more oblique vision of Diamond Dogs). 7.0

2. Diamond Dogs: “This ain’t rock and roll, this is genocide!!!”. It’s his last great chugging “It’s Only Rock and Roll But I Like It” stomp and some great garage riffing from Bowie (his guitar work all over this album is a revelation) and backing vocals. When it starts it’s like a fake live show although and it certainly has a big live band feel throughout it’s 6 rocking minutes. 8.0

3. Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise): Masterpiece #16. This majestic three-track suite is the most brilliant moment in Bowie’s career to date, both musically (Bowie’s amazing guitar sound, like he’s using a razor blade for a pick), vocally (one of his most astonishing vocal performances), arrangements (Garson throughout gives his best performance on any Bowie record) and lyrically (disturbing throughout, continuing the theme of the apocalypse and clearly employing Burrough’s cut-up technique), this is the Bowie aficionado’s Bowie classic and one of the greatest moments in all of rock. 10.0

4. Rebel Rebel: Now time for some stripped down no-frills rock & roll which serves as the perfect backdrop for focusing on Bowie's brilliantly corny lyrics which essentially revolve around a bunch of clich├ęs about sexuality and rebellion all put to a cool 4/4 stomp and a compulsive riff that a “guitarist” could never have come up with. Musically, nothing much happens however that’s exactly what makes "Rebel Rebel" so durable. 8.0

5. Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me: Bowie’s first co-written song (of which there would be plenty more to come), this charming ballad is not a bad song, but is the worst this album has to offer. It has it’s positives (guitar sound, vocals) but it’s emotive piano and operatic sheen are all way too Meat Loaf-y for my liking. 6.5

6. We Are the Dead: Masterpiece #17. This is much more like it. Kicking off side two’s Orwellian theme, this track is concentrated genius and one of the most underrated in the Bowie catalogue. The provocative lyrics evoke themes explored on ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ among other things, and the nightmarish soundscapes created using a multi-tracked vocal, chilly moog patterns and guitar treatments create an other-worldly atmosphere right at the nucleus of Diamond Dogs. 10.0

7. 1984: Alan Parker’s ‘Shaft’-like guitar and Visconti’s gold-plated strings dominate this disco track, well before disco had actually been invented. Actually this track hints at what was to come with the ‘Young Americans’ project (or even, shudder, ‘Station to Station’) with it’s funky wah-wah rhythms, however the foreboding lyrics hindered it’s US hit single chances. 7.0

8. Big Brother: This track continues the eerie and bleak themes of the album with some tremendous moog work from Bowie, particularly the ‘Thames’ theme music in the bridge. Big Brother is compelling and undeniably brilliant, it’s shuffling verse complemented by a powerful chorus. 8.0

9. Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family: More an outro to Big Brother, the album’s closer takes a metronomic shuffle and combines it with a brainwashed zombie dance echoing for all eternity. 6.5


VERDICT: Without ‘The Spiders’, Bowie himself was responsible for most of the music found on this album: the guitars, the saxophones, the Moog, the Mellotron (with Herbie Flowers on bass, and string arrangements and mixing by Tony Visconti, who would become a fixture on Bowie’s records for the rest of the decade), and with Ziggy gone too Bowie introduces us to his new “character”, the somewhat ill-defined Halloween Jack (a real cool cat, and he lives on top of Manhattan Chase, but he’s never home) without actually sticking to a storyline. This complex album isn’t a great starting point for Bowie fans, more recommended after you’ve already begun to build Bowie collection. For mega fans it’s one of Bowie’s great full length gap-records that manages to cohesively bridge Bowie’s conceptual surrealism (some of Bowie’s best ever lyrics, both libidinous and direct) with his expanding neo-soul phase. The half-canine album cover by Guy Peeelart (who also painted ‘It’s Only Rock and Roll’ around the same time) is one of Bowie’s finest, enjoyed best in full gatefold, pre-airbrushed format.

NEXT: Plastic Soul!

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