Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Funky, Jazzy, Never Let Me Down Is A Fun And Enduring David Bowie Album!

The Good: Good voice, Decent mix of soulful and rock sounds, Good lyrics
The Bad: Repetitive sound on several tracks, Fairly short
The Basics: A generally wonderful (if short) album, David Bowie makes some pretty funky and dancable songs on Never Let Me Down.

Sometimes, despite all of my apparent griping, I listen to something I truly enjoy just for the simple goodness of how it sounds. After a dozen listens to David Bowie's album Never Let Me Down, that is precisely where I am on that album. It sounds good. Of course, as a critic, one suspects readers want a little more than that and I am only too happy to oblige, given that it has been a while since I have listened to an album I have enjoyed the way I enjoy Never Let Me Down.

Released originally in 1987, Never Let Me Down had David Bowie experimenting more with his music, though there is still some early '80s New Wave and dance sensibility to the overall album. Still, the album has a pretty decent pop-rock sound that is not limited solely to the styles that were popular at the time. As a result, the album is as easy to pick up and enjoy today as it was twenty years ago. This might be one of Bowie's more accessible and poppy albums and the only real drawback to it is that it does have a somewhat repetitive sound to it, something I have discovered by having it in high rotation the last day and a half.

With only eleven songs, clocking out at 52:35, Never Let Me Down is a strange mix of David Bowie's talents and his management's direction. The album contains only eight songs written by David Bowie, with an additional song being co-written by the artist. The final two songs, "Too Dizzy" and "Bang Bang" were written by others. Bowie provides the lead vocals on every track, but his instrumental abilities are more nebulous on the album. He is credited only with "additional guitars and keyboards," while he has a regular band who are bearing more of the weight of making the instrumental halves of the songs. Bowie is a co-producer on the album, so it seems odd that this might not be one of his more controlled musical visions.

Never Let Me Down has a very '80's sound to it whatwith the predominance of keyboards and saxophones to it, but one of the most striking aspects of the album now is that it is so percussion-driven. Throughout the album, Bowie and his band bang on drums making a sound that is consistently dancable, regardless of how the rest of the instruments or vocals sound. As a result, while some songs ("Never Let Me Down") are more soulful and others are more funky ("Day-In Day-Out," "Time Will Crawl"), they all have a pretty consistent dance beat track binding the entire album. There are no real slow, contemplative tracks on this album, it is generally upbeat in sound even when it is not with the lyrics.

Generally, Never Let Me Down has a wholesome, light rock and roll feel to it, though there is some musical diversity with the instruments (if not the pacing). Still, the album is not perfect musically and the "live" crowd noises on "Zeroes" are just plain annoying. But more often than not the downfall of the album is the fact that because the pounding drums and bass are so prevalent (or overwhelming) in so many of the songs, songs on the album have a tendency to sound like one another to an unnerving extent. "Bang Bang" melds right into "Day-In Day-Out" when one has the disc on constant replay.

What is likely to impress most David Bowie fans, though, is the way his voice truly stretches his range on this album. On "Never Let Me Down" (the single), for example, Bowie sings in a falsetto which is rich and melodic. His range is illustrated through the contrast with songs like "Time Will Crawl" and "Glass Spider," where he sings lower and darker than on the other tracks. In other words, this is an amazing presentation of Bowie's vocal range. As well, songs like "Glass Spider" also exhibit great lung capacity for the thin white duke!

"Glass Spider" is a notable song as well for the way Bowie opens it with a little story. The song, deeply emotive, has a wonderful opening with the lines "Up until one century ago there lived, / In the Zi Duang province of eastern country / A glass-like spider / Having devoured its prey it would drape the skeletons / Over its web / In weeks creating a macabre / Shrine of remains / Its web was also unique in that it had many layers / Like floors in a building" ("Glass Spider") which sets up an air of mystery. This is something too few musical artists do. The song continues as a musical storysong that is loaded with metaphor and an intriguing moral.

But the album is in no way obsessed with musical storysongs. Instead, many of the songs express emotions and explore them with an intensity Bowie fans will instantly recognize. Despite not writing it, Bowie melodically sings "Too Dizzy's" works with a hypnotic sound that makes one almost want to fall down when they hear "Is it love or is it what / Who's this guy I'm gonna blow away / What kind of love is he giving you / I'm-a-dizzy's / What I'm trying to say / Too Dizzy- / You can't have a lover / Too Dizzy- / It's me and no other / I'm a bad loser-I'm-a-shakin' in anger / Too Dizzy-you can't have no lover." Bowie makes the song sound like it is coming from his soul, so it works wonderfully.

Not all of the lines are gems, though. "Day-In Day-Out" is a bit repetitive and "Beat Of Your Drum" is not one of his finer outings. In fact, it might be that the murky instrumentals on the song overwhelming the lines "Photograph king, watches you go / Fashions may change, heaven knows, / But you still leave a stain on me / Supplement queen, / Your colours may fade / Seasons may change, weather blows, but you still leave a / Mark on me" ("Beat Of Your Drum") help keep fans from rioting over the predictable, obvious rhymes of the song.

Still, the album is a lot of fun and it sounds good, despite having a somewhat monotonal quality to it. Most listeners will forgive Bowie that and enjoy what they hear and listen to the album in more moderation than I, I suspect.

The best track is "Never Let Me Down," the low point is "Bang Bang."

For other David Bowie reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Man Who Sold The World
Hunkey Dory
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Diamond Dogs
Christiane F. Soundtrack
Let's Dance
Labyrinth Soundtrack
Eart hl i ng
Best Of Bowie (1 Disc version)
The Best Of Bowie (2 Disc version)


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

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

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