Review Summary: David Bowie invents the 1980's on his last great album with an excellent balance of its three predecessors.
David Bowie released Scary Monsters
after the Berlin trilogy (Low
) and over the course of ten songs he explains the inevitable sell-out of the rock star with a balanced take on the three aforementioned albums.
opens and closes with two versions of the same song. It's No Game, pt. 1
is a stomping thunk-funk roar with Michi Hirota singing the lyrics in Japanese. Bowie's voice is a vocal cord-shredding, maniacal bark as he begins "Silhouettes and shadows watch the revolution, no more free steps to heaven, and it's no game!"
. Obviously he's trying to find hope in the desperation but by the end he screams SHUT UP! SHUT U..."
and the song ends abruptly. An excellent and fitting opener.
Up The Hill Backwards
is the real
"Angie" as the acoustic shuffle builds and Bowie muses on celebrity status, "it's got nothing to do with you, if one can grasp it"
and the future of the 1980's "More idols then realities, I'm OK, you're so-so. Yeah, yeah, yeah - up the hill backwards, it'll be alright"
. Producer Tony Visconti contributes the acoustic guitar and despite being a single, is one of the weakest songs on the album.
It's all gone East End. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
is like Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" as Bowie, in a mock cockernee accent recounts the tale of a woman's descent into madness - When I looked in her eyes they were blue but nobody home, now she's stupid in the street and she can't socialise."
. The searing guitar-rock, synth percussion and excellent contribution from Robert Fripp on lead guitar make this a stand out.
The next track, Ashes To Ashes
, is one of Bowie's most famous songs and biggest hits, despite the bloody awful video featuring New Romantic goon Steve Strange. The jaunty synth line and wailing guitar crunch re-introduces us to Major Tom, the spaceman from Bowie's first-ever hit, "Space Oddity". Bowie sings in a breathless, high-pitched voice "do you remember a guy that's been in such an early song?"
and morosely explains "we know Major Tom's a junkie, strung out on heaven's high, hitting an all-time low"
. The funk bass underpins the melacholic tale as Bowie finally admits I’ve never done good things, I’ve never done bad things, I never did anything out of the blue"
. The finest song on the album.
is another great song and the star here is Fripp, delivering some jerky, machine-like riffs to counter George Murray's funk bass. Bowie attacks the New Romantic bandwagon - "we are the goon squad and we're coming to town!"
he warns before he claims "it's loud and it's tasteless, I've not heard it before. Shout it while you're dancing, on the - er - dance floor"
. It almost predicts the beige 80's pop of Heaven 17...
The second half begins with the epic Teenage Wildlife
, the distorted guitar riffs and subtle keyboards set a platform for Bowie's croon, another attack on the pretenders and copyists especially in the lines "A broken nosed mogul are you, one of the new wave boys. Same old thing in brand new drag comes sweeping into view, as ugly as a teenage millionaire; pretending it's a whizz kid world!"
Yes, I am
looking at you, Gary Numan! David Bowie sings "No no, I'm not a piece of teenage wildlife! I'm not a piece of teenage wildlife!
. A key track in realising why Bowie went into decline in the 1980's as he stopped trying to be the best, or Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke for that matter. The percussion thumps, Fripp's guitar howls, Bowie screeches and it ends. An excellent song.
A huge guitar riff thunders in and Scream Like A Baby
starts, the guitar/synth sound is very 1980's and is about a political prisoner called Sam. Bowie struggles to cope with Sam's tragic tale and splutters "now I'm learning to be a part of socia...socia..s...."
. Later Bowie uses varispeed vocals to illustrate past and future tenses of the songs context. The strong croon of the chorus and backing synth sound and vocals round it off nicely before a thudding percussion finish. An excellent rock song.
is a cover of a Tom Verlaine song. I haven't heard the original but it's a catchy, sneering guitar-rock song sung in a hilarious fey voice by Bowie and moody male backing vocals on the chorus. Bowie explains his predicament at being faced with a new decade of decadence to sustain his status as Rock Star no.1 - "I won't be breaking no rocks!"
he slyly informs us.
The penultimate track Because You're Young
features Pete Townsend and is one of Bowie's most underrated songs. The jangle-funk riff and one-note synth drone sets up a bittersweet love song, "it's love back to front and no sides - like I say, these pieces are broken - like I say, these pieces are broken. Hope I'm wrong but I know...because you're young, you'll meet a stranger some night"
and tells her So I'll dance my life away - a million dreams, a million scars"
, predicting the bland pop-funk of follow-up Let's Dance
. The starry synth on the chorus is nice too.
The final track is an aforementioned different take on the opener. It's No Game, pt.2
is a plodding funk as Bowie, weary and resigned, croons the lyrics himself, no screaming, no shouting, just the "oh-oooh..." of the chorus and the sound of tape flapping as the album closes.
is the last great Bowie album, a goodbye to the 70's and a calm acceptance of his future conventional pop career of Let's Dance
and an astonishing attack on the future 80's trendy types but keeps the pettiness and sarcasm to a limit. An excellent album and a necessary purchase for all Bowie fans.
Ashes To Ashes
It's No Game, pt.1
Because You're Young