Monday, 28 May 2018

David Bowie - Let's Dance (1983)


Released April 1983

Recorded at The Power Station, New York City


1. Modern Love
2. China Girl
3. Let's Dance
4. Without You
5. Ricochet
6. Criminal World
7. Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
8. Shake It

After a few years in the comparative “wilderness”, David Bowie was back, all sun tanned, besuited and healthy-looking with his most commercially successful album in a long time. Appealing to the masses with the three huge hits the title track, “China Girl” and “Modern Love”, Bowie himself referred to the period as his “Phil Collins” years.

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”. 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.


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