As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent....
Released on 24 May 1974
Recorded at Olympic Studios, London
Running time 38:30
Many felt that “Diamond Dogs” was Bowie’s “return to form” after the underwhelmingly-received “Pin Ups” album of sixties cover versions. It had a lot of the guitar-driven glam rock essence of “Aladdin Sane”. Notably, however, tiny bits of wah-wah funky guitar were creeping in to the sound. A pointer to the mid-seventies “soul” phase Bowie went through, only a small one though. For all the many commenters who have labelled this the album that saw Bowie start to discover soul, one has to say that it is very much a rock album and far more his last glam album than his first soul album.
It is one of those loosely-conceived albums with a supposed concept - that of a futuristic, run-down post-apocalyptic urban setting and the characters who inhabit it. To be fair, the theme runs pretty constantly through the album, but there is no continuing "story" as such. The character of "Hallowe'en Jack" was said by some to be the continuation of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, but I was never really convinced of that. Having said that, though, stylistically, Bowie still had a lot of Ziggy about him in the spiky, mullet-y red coxcomb hair-do and musically, glammy songs like "Rebel Rebel" and the title track certainly kept the spirit of Ziggy alive.
The cover is great and caused a real stir at the time with the Bowie/dog artwork showing the dog's crown jewels which were airbrushed out on later pressings. I was pleased at the time to have the original, balls and all.
1. Future Legend
2. Diamond Dogs
3. Sweet Thing
5. Sweet Thing (Reprise)
6. Rock 'n' Roll With Me
7. We Are The Dead
9. Big Brother
10. The Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family
Kicking off with the spoken intro “Future Legend” we are launched by cow-bell into the Stones-y title track before the album gives us its magnificent centrepiece, the triptych of “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)”, full of risque lyrics and unsettling imagery. Bear in mind this is supposed to be that strange thing, the “concept album” we see a lot of recurring images of futurism, androgyny, mutants, drugs, animals, urgent sex in doorways etc. All very addictive and not a little seedy.
This is no more a concept album than “Ziggy” though, just a collection of great “glammy” rock songs. No more, no less. Interestingly, Bowie has subsequently described the album and its "concept" as being a pre-cursor for punk. Hmmm. read this and see if you can run with it...
Bowie described the "Diamond Dogs" characters, from the title track, as -
"....all little Johnny Rottens and Sid Viciouses really. And, in my mind, there was no means of transport, so they were all rolling around on these roller-skates with huge wheels on them, and they squeaked because they hadn't been oiled properly. So there were these gangs of squeaking, roller-skating, vicious hoods, with Bowie knives and furs on, and they were all skinny because they hadn't eaten enough, and they all had funny-coloured hair. In a way it was a precursor to the punk thing..."
Sorry David, I don't really buy that, but, despite that, in retrospect, I guess I can see why you viewed it like that. Personally, I think Rotten and the like's appearance on the scene was just a coincidence that fitted the particularly train of thought Bowie was having. Not that it really matters, but "Diamond Dogs" inspiring punk, either consciously or subsconsciously? No. Not having it. Looking at the cover, though, those two mutant figures do look a bit punky. Maybe he was right. We'll never really know. Anyway, enough of that and back to the songs...
The classic single, “Rebel Rebel” sees Bowie himself playing a scratchy lead guitar having unceremoniously dispensed with the great Mick Ronson. What a riff, though. “Rock And Roll With Me” is a little plodding but has a great hook. It sits a little incongruously with the rest of the album's material, being a simple rock love song.
“We Are The Dead” is the album’s menacing, haunting “forgotten” track that I enjoy listening to more than the others these days. “1984” sees the afore-mentioned wah-wah guitar as Bowie turns just a little funky and the atmospheric “Big Brother” continues the “future shock” theme.
“The Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family” sees the album end on a chant, a never ending nightmarish loop. Despite the somewhat rough sound in places, “Dogs” has a fond place in many fans’ hearts as possibly Bowie’s last “rock” album. Certainly his last “glam” output. Time for a change eh, David?
** Regarding the various remasters around - the EMI/RYKO has the bonus tracks, “Dodo” and the alternative, extended “Candidate” but it has a lo-fi, muffled sound, in my opinion.
The 1999 remaster is clear, sharp and loud. The remaster from 2015 for the "Five Years" box set is pretty good, but no amount of remasters can hide the album's intrinsic tinniness, however.