Review Summary: You let us down, Mr Jones…
Meet David Bowie’s worst album; his creative nadir. Entitled Never Let Me Down
, the 11 anachronistic tunes on offer wouldn’t sound out of place as background music on a cheesy 80’s b-movie. Practically forced into the studio by a nagging label who hadn’t been able to sell any new Bowie material since 1984’s disappointing, but commercially successful Tonight
; Bowie reluctantly stepped into the studio and, though it’s painful to admit, recorded a rather awful album that shapes up as a tedious and almost embarrassing listen.
was a disappointment, amidst the dross a couple of flawed gems still managed to emerge, but Never Let Me Down
doesn’t even boast that small redeeming factor. The track-list is devoid of anything approaching a hit, but not for want of trying. Its booming percussion, cluttered synth arrangements and languid guitars are unsubtle, obvious and wholly unsuccessful attempts at stadium rock - each element over-fussed and overproduced to the point where it begins to suffocate.
Even the artwork is ugly. It shows Bowie jumping through hoops as though he’s some sort of human-shaped dolphin. Why? Who knows - it’s misguided and embarrassing, just like the songs it represents. It’s awkwardness reinforces the mindset of Bowie circa 1987 - creatively empty and, by his own admission, “lost”.
Trying to find Never Let Me Down
’s sliver lining is difficult but not impossible. Some hope for Bowie’s future can be gathered via a glance at the song-writing credits - precisely, that they‘re credited to him. Never Let Me Down
features more original Bowie compositions than either of its two predecessors - perhaps a small glimmer of hope suggesting that he was a least beginning to try again in terms of writing fresh material.
But ultimately the album suffers from the same curse that Tonight
did. Bowie was once again rather inactive when it came to coming up with melodies and arrangements - opting to let others fulfil said roles instead of experimenting and stamping his own identity on the product. His apparent lack of involvement rears its ugly head in the album’s bland, overcomplicated arrangements - tinny percussion, dreary horn sections, tepid synthesisers and stale guitars are present on every track, suffering from the same issues each time they appear.
Side one has a few minor traces of something approaching quality. ‘Day-In Day-Out’s choppy melody and ‘Time Will Crawl’s emotive sax works better than most of the material on the record. The title-track, which was added as a last minute afterthought (recorded in a single day), is more bearable - its slightly less cumbersome arrangement (in comparison to its partner tracks) and solid vocals make for an acceptable cut.
But by the time Never Let Me Down
has barely crossed over into its second half, things rapidly drift into faceless mediocrity. ‘Glass Spider’s deadpan narration is the most ambitious thing on offer, but ultimately seems rather silly and laborious, while the rest of the tracks fail to make an impression at all - sinking into a continuous wave of overproduced, unmemorable pop.
Never Let Me Down
is not the worst album in existence (see: Justin Bieber’s My World
), but it is the worst album in Bowie’s catalogue. It mirrors nothing approaching the quality of his vastly unique and influential seventies work - it doesn’t even come close to the lesser delights of Let’s Dance
, or its disappointing follow-up, Tonight
. It’s absent from character and identity; creativeness and passion - merely a collection of poorly executed stadium pop - the small glimmers of hope it offers are swiftly buried under heaps of dross material. Never Let Me Down
let us down. Big time.