Review Summary: Bowie's venture into soul music with the Thin White Duke persona.4 of 4 thought this review was well written
David Bowie is known as a musical chameleon - an artist who constantly evolves for better or worse and makes variations to his sound with each release. This was evident in the early 1970's where he hopped genres on occasion, dabbling in hard rock, pop and eventually glam rock. The most radical shift in style, however, occured with the release of the 'Young Americans' album in 1975. A cocaine addicted Bowie would abandon the glam rock style of the three preceding albums in favour of an album influenced by Philadelphia soul. Only subtle hints existed on the previous record that he would head in this direction.
Assisted by Luther Vandross (who provides vocal arrangements and earns a co-writing credit) and a small army of back-up vocalists, Bowie delivers a smooth soul album which suprised and alienated some of his fanbase at the time of release. Fittingly recorded in Philadelphia, the production by Tony Visconti is superb. Visconti had worked with Bowie in the past and would continue to work with him for years following. The musicians are in fine form throughout and lay the foundation for the album, providing a laidback soul backing, or on occassion a frenetic funk sound, allowing Bowie to adapt to the genre and never really sound too far out of his comfort zone. Carlos Alomar would go on to collaborate with Bowie extensively in the future and Mike Garson had played on 1973's Aladdin Sane album.
The three defining tracks that best represent the album's sound occur early on - 'Win', 'Fascination' and 'Right'. These three songs are the backbone of the record and are the most consistent section. The saxophone (which pops up fairly often on Bowie albums) plays a prominent role in the most of the songs, supported by clean electric guitars and string sections. Aside from the title track, it seems to lack the lyrical depth of some of his other work but the album serves it's purpose based purely on the groove, vibes and laidback nature of most of the songs.
John Lennon features on 'Fame', which was Bowie's biggest hit in the US at the time of release, as well as 'Across the Universe' - a fairly forgettable cover of the Beatles' classic which sounds out of place. Although not his best work by any means, 'Young Americans' was an important stepping stone for the ever-evolving artist, who would go on to release some excellent albums in the years to come. In particular, this album provided the platform for him to build on the sound he had forged here and release Station to Station - a brilliant rock album.