Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bowie Concept Album Without An Impressive Execution, Will Diamond Dogs Break My Engagement?

The Good: A few interesting lyrics, Some decent guitar riffs
The Bad: SHORT, Repetitive, Dated sound, Chaotic overall sound (especially drumming)
The Basics: Despite his best efforts, the concept album Diamond Dogs falls short of David Bowie's usual genius leaving listeners now disappointed.

[Note: This review was originally written when I was engaged to the woman who has since become my wife! I enjoyed the flavor of the comments related to that time and decided to keep them preserved! Enjoy! - W.L.]

I suppose that I am fated to see just how serious my fiance was about me taking on David Bowie as my Artist Of The Month and rating all of his works favorably. The irony here is that my fiance is incredible and appreciates the time I devote to reviews as well as the fact that I have high standards (of course, my fiance benefits greatly from the latter, even as the former keeps me from coming to bed on time on far too many nights). But the threat that I'd best love all Bowie I review . . .or else is now being put to the test and I suppose it is a good thing that it has taken me so little time to hit a Bowie album I did not entirely love because now I know my fate pretty quickly.

The Bowie album that is testing the limits of my engagement is Diamond Dogs, a concept album by Bowie that fails to excite me in any real way. Indeed, outside the recognizable single "Rebel Rebel," the album is an obtuse combination of thrashing guitars, overbearing keyboards and heavy drums. And I'm one who likes rock and roll to have a big, operatic feel and sound to it! Alas, as I dig myself in deeper with my fiance, my exploration of the works of David Bowie found this one to be below every other album of his I've yet heard and actually below the average for a rock artist of his caliber.

With eleven songs, Diamond Dogs is a poor use of the compact disc medium as it occupies only 38:25 of the c.d.'s eighty minute capacity. In other words, two of Bowie's early works would fit on a single c.d. and while Diamond Dogs is intended as a concept album, because Bowie was not allowed (by George Orwell's estate) to fully execute that concept, combining albums would not have been heretical. The whole concept behind Diamond Dogs appears to be to tell the story of a post-apocalyptic hero rising up in the remnants of an oppressive 1984-like government and the concept is an interesting one.

Unfortunately, the execution here leaves much to be desired. The guitars thrash or are sublimated to moody keyboards that create a proto-electronica sound. The album is billed as "glam rock" and it has the sound that is portraying something big without much in the way of substance to back it up. Bowie, however, cannot take all of the blame for this. Bowie is involved in virtually every aspect of the production, though, writing nine of the tracks and co-writing the tenth. Only "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered," which appears as a sample in the opening of "Future Legend" was written by someone else. Bowie produced the album on his own, provides the lead vocals and even performed on guitars, saxophones, Moog synthesizer and the Mellotron. To suggest that this is not the album Bowie intended would be quite a stretch. This is very much his musical vision and it is very much a product of the times it came from.

As a result, Bowie's voice might help overcome the limitations of the instrumentals, save that the smooth, wonderful voice of Bowie is sublimated in his production to guitars and keyboards. It is mechanized on "Future Legend" and the opening exhortations of the single Diamond Dogs are basically shouting. Even the well-known "Rebel Rebel" includes vocals that are overproduced, leaving the listener unsure of where Bowie's voice ends and the electronic enhancement begins. This serves less to use Bowie's voice as an instrument and more to obscure some of his natural voice (a crime, to be sure).

Fortunately, Bowie does present his lines in an articulate fashion on Diamond Dogs. Largely, the lines he sings can be understood and that is a good thing because he clearly has something to say. Even outside the context of the concept for the album, he attempts to make political statements even in his less overt songs like "Rock 'N' Roll With Me." In that song, he and co-writer Warren Peace wrote "When you rock 'n' roll with me / No one else I'd rather be / Nobody here can do it for me / I'm in tears again / When you rock 'n' roll with me / Gentle hearts are counted down / The queue is out of sight and out of sounds / Me, I'm out of breath, but not quite doubting / I've found a door which lets me out" ("Rock 'N' Roll With Me"). It's a tight song lyrically.

More of Diamond Dogs is overtly political, though, with Bowie fearlessly railing against the establishment. He does this obviously on "Rebel Rebel," the album's superlative track, but on other songs as well. By the lyrics, a rival for "Rebel Rebel" in terms of statement is "Big Brother," where Bowie sings "He'll build a glass asylum / With just a hint of mayhem / He'll build a better whirlpool / We'll be living from sin, / Then we can really begin / Please saviour, saviour, show us / Hear me, I'm graphically yours." Bowie has a sharp eye for the establishment and where it is going wrong and he communicates it articulately with something often missing from rock and roll music: wit.

Also compelling from the album are the lines to "Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family." On that song, Bowie penned the lines "Brother / Ooh-ooh / Shake it up, shake it up / Move it up, move it up " ("Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family"). It's a song that would work, save that it is entirely repetitive. It establishes itself then works until its repetitive climax which now sounds like the disc is skipping more than Bowie making music. In other words, even lyrically, the album does not stand out as being completely successful. In the album's superlative track, "Rebel Rebel," there are some pretty obvious rhymes even.

Unfortunately, the lyrics cannot save Bowie from sounding dated now on Diamond Dogs. "Rock 'N' Roll With Me" sounds like any of a dozen songs by Queen and while musical scholars will note that "Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family" laid the foundations for Styx's "Kilroy Was Here" (not the other way around), several of the songs like the title track are derivative of the Rolling Stones.

All of that said, the Best Of compilations seem to get this album right; it had its one hit and the rest of it can go by the wayside. I shall stop digging myself deeper in with my fiance and close by saying that if one has to pick between several David Bowie c.d.s, Diamond Dogs is easy to take out of the running; it is short, derivative and not Bowie's best work.

The best track is "Rebel Rebel" and the low point is the unmemorable "Candidate."

For other David Bowie reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Let's Dance
Labyrinth Soundtrack
The Best Of Bowie (2 Disc version)


For other music reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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