Review Summary: Tonight we sigh with disappointment.
If Let’s Dance
marked the first point in Bowie’s career since the sixties where he was sat in the curve rather than blazing ahead of it, then Tonight
marks the point where he begun trailing behind. Featuring a measly pair of new Bowie compositions and a track-list saturated with reworkings of his collaborations with Iggy Pop; Tonight
sounds tired, rushed, unnecessary, and more than anything else, disappointing.
There are a few plausible reasons for the album’s underwhelming wash of stale, pop-friendly tunes. One is that Bowie churned out Tonight
in aid of his pal, Iggy Pop. Pop’s funds were running dry, and after taking a holiday with him to Java and Bali, Bowie decided to help an old friend out. Riding hot on the heels of the mega-success that was Let’s Dance
and its accompanying Serious Moonlight
tour, Bowie realised that he merely needed to cut more of the same material, release it on an LP and simply wait for the banknotes to roll in as it climbed the charts.
Such a theory certainly explains the amount of Iggy Pop related tracks on Tonight
- 4 of the cuts (‘Tonight’, ‘Neighbourhood Threat’, ‘Tumble And Twirl’, ‘Dancing With The Big Boys’) have his name credited to them in some form or another - the first two dating back to Bowie’s co-writing position on Lust For Life
, whilst the latter pair represent fresh Bowie/Pop collaborations. If it’s to be believed, then Tonight
was a succinct, sly, but simultaneously heart-warming and generous way of earning his friend some cash via the song-writing royalties.
Although the Iggy situation may creep into it, a more plausible reasoning behind Tonight
’s lacklustre nature lies in the fact that Bowie’s creative well was beginning to run dry. Bowie’s open disregard for his 84-87 period and the confirmed rumours of his almost disinterested approach go along way in explaining why the album shapes up as a less than quality listen. Bowie confessed to letting himself be told what to do as opposed to putting his own ideas forward - he had composed more original material than appeared on the album but just didn’t have the drive or confidence to bring them to life. In other words, he was treading water - appeasing the fans of the shiny and sleek Let’s Dance
, and in the process he failed to challenge himself the way he would’ve a decade earlier.
It really shows through in the album’s nine songs. For the most part the melodies are turgid and underwhelming; the arrangements cluttered and suffocating, and the production anachronistic and over-fussed. Numbers like ‘Neighbourhood Threat’, which has potential with its kicking guitar, get buried beneath an overly glossy production; much like the reggae vibe of ‘Tonight’, which is spoiled by an awkward and fluffy arrangement (also featuring backing vocals from Tina Turner, for no good reason).
Despite this, Tonight
has a couple of decent cuts buried beneath its mass of mediocre material. As it turns out they are both of the album’s two original Bowie songs - ‘Loving the Alien’ and ‘Blue Jean’. The former has a tense synth undercurrent, twitchy percussion and a nervy vocal, making for an enjoyable but unimpressive four and a half minutes. ‘Blue Jean’ is slightly better with its zappy horn section, gentle marimba backing and lively chorus vocal, resulting in the album’s best track.
Whether it was a favour to a friend, a sad demonstration of artistic drought, a cash generator or a combination of all three, Tonight
shapes up as consistently average listen - hence it disappointing status for long-term fans who’ve experienced bigger and better Bowie records. Apart from its two highlights, ‘Loving The Alien’ and ‘Blue Jean’ (which aren’t all that astounding, anyway), Tonight
represents the first Bowie album in a long time that can be well and truly skipped by all but the absolute devout.