I know when to go out, and when to stay in....
Released on 14 April 1983
Recorded at The Power Station, New York City
Running time 39:41
After a few years in the comparative “wilderness”, David Bowie was back, all sun tanned, bleached-blond, besuited and healthy-looking with his most commercially successful album in a long time. Appealing to the masses with the three huge hits - Let's Dance, China Girl and Modern Love, Bowie himself referred to the period as his “Phil Collins” years.
1. Modern Love
2. China Girl
3. Let's Dance
4. Without You
6. Criminal World
7. Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
8. Shake It
Produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and featuring blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, the music is a mixture of rubber-band bass-driven disco funk, searing lead bluesy guitar and punchy horn backing. A fusion like that had not really been heard before. Despite its commercial old “side one” a good way of appreciating this album is to listen to the “other tracks”.
Incidentally, before going on to the songs, it is worth hearing what Vaughan said of working with Bowie on the album -
"....David Bowie is real easy to work with. He knows what he's doing in the studio and he doesn't mess around. He comes right in and goes to work. Most of the time, David did the vocals and then I played my parts. A lot of the time, he just wanted me to cut loose. He'd give his opinion on the stuff he liked and the stuff that needed work. Almost everything was cut in one or two takes. I think there was only one thing that needed three takes...."
Taking Vaughan's words into account leads one to appreciate the album more. If it was laid down in so ad hoc a fashion, it is pretty impressive. Out of interest, Bowie plays no instruments on this album, for the first time in ages.
The beautiful Without You with its falsetto chorus is a much-underrated Bowie classic. Then there is the reggae-tinged funk and sumptuous horns of Ricochet and the wonderful guitar and white soul vocals of Criminal World. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) has a heavier, rock appeal about it. However, Shake It seems to recycle the Let’s Dance hook and chorus in many ways, thus seems to be a bit of a “treading water” throwaway.
Bowie later said that the success of the album caused him to hit a creative low point in his career which lasted the next few years -
"....I remember looking out over these waves of people (who were coming to hear this record played live) and thinking, 'I wonder how many Velvet Underground albums these people have in their record collections?' I suddenly felt very apart from my audience. And it was depressing, because I didn't know what they wanted....”
This is a very telling quote indeed. I rarely listen to this album, particularly the first three tracks, maybe I, as part of his audience, felt apart from Bowie for the first time since 1972? I certainly didn’t want Bowie to be a slave to what the masses wanted. I was never really happy with the suit and tie, blonde haired, sun tanned look. Bowie looked like he had stepped out of the office of a Californian real estate company. Surely the worst of all his “images”?
The 2018 remaster is excellent - full, balanced and bassy. It has allowed me to revisit the album with new ears, particularly the non-single tracks, listening to them in a new light, hearing nuances I didn't know existed.
After his follow-up albums - Tonight in 1984 and 1987’s Never Let Me Down - were critically dismissed (in some ways, unfairly, in my opinion), Bowie formed the grunge-precursor band Tin Machine in an effort to regain his artistic vision.