Saturday, 7 May 2016





Earlier this week, I received a twenty-nine year-old CD in the post, bought from eBay. It plays perfectly, perhaps thanks to the instructions inside the cover on how to care for your CD, still heeded by people back in 1987 - no cleaning on the seat of your trousers here.

It is a copy of David Bowie's "Never Let Me Down" album, one of his biggest-selling works, but critically neglected nowadays, coming during his self-described "art-school Phil Collins" period. Unlike the introspective flights of fancy and European avant-garde pop of the 1970s, the 1980s for Bowie were much more American in sound - big hits, smooth production, rough edges sanded away. This was not Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, or the Thin White Duke: this is the fit, healthy and perfect David Jones, about to get his teeth fixed.

"Never Let Me Down" is the most commercial album David Bowie ever released, in that you could imagine other 1980s artists singing every song. The songs are dated, reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" album, with lyrics concerned about social problems - "Day-In Day-Out" talks about poverty, while "Time Will Crawl" deals with ecology and nuclear paranoia after the Chernobyl disaster. Oh, and the actor Mickey Rourke does a rap on one song too - on a David Bowie album...

The David Bowie we all know does not sing about the oppressed. He sings from the point of view of the oppressed - misunderstood characters that either want to make a connection, or don't care if they ever do. They are also introspective songs that work when you need time to make sense of the world, and yourself. "Never Let Me Down," with a sound that demands to be played on big speakers as loud as possible, is a perversely alienating album that feels good on the surface, but nothing further than that.

So, why the hell did I buy this album? It was for "Too Dizzy," a very upbeat song about 1950s teenage jealousy, apparently a throwaway song written to see how Bowie worked with instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay. I liked it as soon as I heard it on YouTube, but I don't understand how someone could come to dislike one of their songs enough for it to be deleted from all reissues of the album - find "Never Let Me Down" in HMV, and "Too Dizzy" will not be there.

I have never known anyone do that. I can understand Ridley Scott removing Harrison Ford's narration from "Blade Runner," as it was added at the behest of a studio, and I can understand how David Lean, reviewing the restoration of "Lawrence of Arabia," may want to trim some of the length from a couple of shots, as he can see how to improve it. 

For me, there does come a point where, if you have put something out into the world, then change your mind on how you think about it, you can't then decide it didn't happen, especially when it really isn't that bad. No wonder Bowie felt the need to submerge his ego in the hard rock of Tin Machine for a while.

I still love David Bowie and his songs, but rock gods are not infallible.

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