Monday, January 17, 2011

Never Let Me Down (1987)


1. Day-In Day-Out: A great opening line “She was born in a handbag…”, and a few others along the way, can’t save this tuneless plodder as it's all downhill from there. One of the few occasions where the opening track on a Bowie album isn’t a jaw-dropper. Also included a wholly unpleasant video. 3.5

2. Time Will Crawl: The lyrics reflect on the aftermath of nuclear war and life in a postnuclear society and environment, specifically Chernobyl. Well chosen track to remix for 2009’s iSelect. This is a good Bowie track and the best track here. 6.5

3. Beat of Your Drum: This is pretty lousy stuff, and at just over 5 minutes Bowie sounds as bored as I do. Plays like a half-finished left-over from the Labyrinth soundtrack. The first in some rather lyrically unpleasant irony-free borderline misogyny tracks. 2.0

4. Never Let Me Down: This slight title track is always talked up as being a terrific John Lennon-esque number (although it’s more an ode to his long-term faithful assistant Coco Schwab), in actual fact he sounds nothing like Lennon ever did. The song is far from a classic but holds up and a standout track on the album. 6.0

5. Zeroes: Opens with a really annoying fake crowd noise and even more annoying and incomprehensible announcer (Diamond Dogs it ain’t), Bowie’s winding vocal searches far and wide for a melody and almost finds one. Ambitious and not horrible. Some nice sitar, if you get that far. 5.0

6. Glass Spider: The pivotal track on the album Bowie begins by uneasily narrating a preposterous tale of (you guessed it) a, or indeed, the 'Glass Spider' which is embarrassingly bad and best not pondered over it’s near 2 minute intro. Once the song actually gets underway it becomes quite a spirited if melodramatic affair, but weighed down but a cluttered mix of backing vocals, clattering synths, over-affected guitar soloing and obnoxious drums. 3.5

7. Shining Star (Makin’ My Love): An innocuous one-dimensional shuffle with a pointless and incoherent rap by Mickey Rourke. "When I performed I was thinking, you all look like you should be seeing Phil Collins. Then I thought... hang on... I sound like Phil Collins." On this one that is true. Similar to the title track, I dislike Bowie’s fey voice in this. A complete flop. 2.0

8. New York’s in Love: This one isn’t much better. I think this is the track where Bowie plays lead guitar. The couple of dirty guitar solos after the choruses may well be the best sounding instrument on the whole album. Otherwise this song is completely pointless and melody-free and goes nowhere astonishingly quickly. 4.0

9. ’87 and Cry: Surprisingly this one does have a tune, and the rather nice refrain “And only you..” has it’s charms. Let down badly by those monotonous drums and a horrible middle eight. 4.0

10. Too Dizzy: This track has the unenviable honour of being a song Bowie thought so bad he had it deleted from some reissue of the album. Unfortunately my copy has it. 1.0

11. Bang Bang: At last an Iggy Pop cover. This is a relatively pleasing finish to an extremely disappointing side two. It’s always been a pretty good song (track down Iggy’s ‘non-hit single’ version off Party produced by Monkees songwriter Tommy Boyce), but Bowie’s unimaginative version doesn’t do it a lot of justice here. Some very dubious and altogether nasty American accents on display towards the end. 4.0


VERDICT: The 80s proved such a barren ground for so many major artists who had powered through the 60s and 70s, and Bowie was no exception with Never Let Me Down proving to be his creative nadir. After the commercial success but relative disappointment of his previous two dance-oriented albums, Bowie (in an unhappy and contractually obliged relationship with his then record company EMI) crafted a more arena-friendly guitar rock album to complement his forthcoming theatrical 'Glass Spider' world tour. Unfortunately the tour would go down in history as one of rock’s greatest follies. The hair was bemulleted, the drums loud and monotonous, the suits bright and the band (and dancers anyone?) dynamically impotent. The 'Glass Spider' theme and narrative was muddled, hammy and delivered with a horrible MTV gloss, free of any artistic credibility or conviction. The accompanying album, co-produced by David Richards (Iggy Pop’s Blah Blah Blah, Queen’s A Kind of Magic) and accompanied by one-man-backing-b(l)and Erdal Kizilcay, confirmed Bowie’s artistic insolvency, where any track with a hint of charm or appealing technique was buried in an avalanche of breathtaking overproduction and bombast. And that’s a shame because there is some merit and fine singing beneath the semi-melodic generic 80s pop sound. The busy album cover name-checks a number of items within the lyrics if you could be bothered, and also features the worst David Bowie ‘logo’ ever.

NEXT: The Artistic Enema of Tin Machine.

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