Monday, 28 May 2018

David Bowie - Never Let Me Down (1987)

She was born in a handbag....


Released on 20 April 1987

Recorded at Montreux, Switzerland

Running time 48:06

I have never quite understood the bad press this album gets. Yes, I accept that it is no Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane or Low, but I have to admit that I prefer listening to it to either of its two predecessors, Let’s Dance or Tonight. It brings back happy memories for me of 1987 and I guess that always helps, but I genuinely feel it is a more than acceptable album, given the paucity of classic material being produced at the time.

Bowie's own reaction to it has been changeable, to say the least. Upon its release, he had this to say -

"...I've made about 20 albums during my career, and so far this is my third biggest seller. So I can't be that disappointed, yet, it is a letdown that it hasn't been as buoyant as it should be. ... But I don’t really feel that negative about it. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the better albums I've made. As I've said. Never Let Me Down has been a pretty big seller for me. So I'm quite happy...."

By 1990, he had changed his mind a little -

"....Never Let Me Down had good songs that I mistreated. I didn't really apply myself. I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to be doing. I wish there had been someone around who could have told me...."

and by 1995 he was full-on against it -

"....The great public esteem at that time meant absolutely nothing to me. It didn't make me feel good. I felt dissatisfied with everything I was doing, and eventually it started showing in my work. Let's Dance was an excellent album in a certain genre, but the next two albums after that Tonight and Never Let Me Down showed that my lack of interest in my own work was really becoming transparent. My nadir was Never Let Me Down. It was such an awful album. I've gotten to a place now where I'm not very judgmental about myself. I put out what I do, whether it's in visual arts or in music, because I know that everything I do is really heartfelt. Even if it's a failure artistically, it doesn't bother me in the same way that Never Let Me Down bothers me. I really shouldn't have even bothered going into the studio to record it. In fact, when I play it, I wonder if I did sometimes...."


1. Day In Day Out

2. Time Will Crawl
3. Beat Of Your Drum
4. Never Let Me Down
5. Zeroes
6. Glass Spider
7. Shining Star
8. New York's In Love
9. 87 And Cry
10. Bang Bang
11. Too Dizzy * on original album    

So, we have an album that its composer sometimes disowns, and the listening public also do to a great extent. Is there anything good about it? Personally, I have always liked it and feel that there is plenty of good material on there.

As mid to late 80s music was dominated by synthesisers and synth drums and so on, it is welcome on this album to hear Peter "Frampton Comes Alive” Frampton’s guitar ring out, especially on the three excellent opening tracks - Day In Day Out, the memorable, catchy Time Will Crawl and the rocking Beat Of Your DrumGranted, Never Let Me Down is not quite as good, but it is pleasant enough. Actually it is no more or no less pleasant than Kooks on Hunky Dory. Zeroes is certainly as good as any other 1987 rocker too.

Glass Spider is in the territory of indulgence, I guess, but had it been put on Diamond Dogs it would have been labelled a work of genius. It is full of compelling, moving images. The breezy Shining Star and the rousing 87 And Cry are, in my opinion, perfectly enjoyable songs of their upbeat, poppy type. 

New York's In Love has real hints of The Velvet Underground's Rock And Roll about it, particularly the "everybody's waiting for the go-go boys" line.

Bang Bang sees the standard drop a bit but it is no worse than Too Dizzy, the song Bowie had removed from the original album (to be honest I always quite liked it!). 

This is a good late 80s album of upbeat pop songs. It serves its purpose. Just enjoy it for what it is, and don’t compare it to Bowie’s best work. It has to be said that Time Will Crawl is a great track, and would grace any Bowie album.

The clip below is taken from the US Top Of The Pops show. 



There were a couple of songs that were recorded for this album and were not chosen. They were both pretty good and merit acknowledgement:-


From the sessions for "Never Let Me Down", this is a poppy, beaty and enjoyable song that would have been suitable for the album. Its rhythm is quite infectious and the whole thing is strangely carefree for a Bowie song.


Bowie wrote this for Tina Turner and it appeared on her "Break Every Rule" album. His own recording of it dated from the "Never Let Me Down" sessions and is not a bad track at all. It starts atmospherically, almost in a sort of "Lady Grinning Soul" mode - piano and vocal, before it breaks out into a big saxophone-driven eighties-style chorus. Some have expressed reservations about that part of the song. Not me. I have to say I really quite like it. It is a quality Bowie rarity and is more than the equal of much of the material on "Never Let Me Down" (which is also an album that I like a lot more than many do).


The 2018 remaster of the album takes away some of the eighties production harshness, giving it a big, thumping, bassy makeover. Check out "Time Will Crawl" or the title track for evidence. Or that Eastern guitar/percussion bit at the end of "Zeroes". It has been given new life. These tracks sound great. In fact, the whole album does. It is a truly excellent remaster. 

Incidentally, both “Never Let Me Down” and “Shining Star” have excellent extended 12” remixes that are available, full of some great saxophone breaks and pounding drums, that in many ways, improve upon the originals. 

There is also the "2018 Remix" that is included in the "Loving The Alien" box set, which is revelatory, revisiting and re-tinkering with the tracks respectfully giving you different interpretations of them that I have a feeling Bowie himself may have approved of. Sadly, we will never know. Listening to it is a fine experience. It really does sound like a different album. Obviously, the foundations of the songs are the same, but there are sufficient differences as to render it a most interesting listen. Just check out "Shining Star" or "Glass Spider" with their contemporary-style backings for starters. 


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