Watching them come and go
The Templars and the Saracens....
Released on 24 September 1984
Recorded in Quebec, Canada
Running time 35:47
After the commercial disco blues/funk of “Let’s Dance”, this rather hurriedly recorded follow up in the next year has always been a bit unfairly maligned. Yes, by Bowie’s own admittance, his muse had deserted him to an extent and he was struggling to come to a conclusion as to what his “new”, charts-influenced, stadium rock audience expected from him, however, there is still some good material on this album. Adding The Borneo Horns to the musicians, it is a summery, reggae and at times Latin-influenced sound that we get here, actually quite unique in the Bowie canon.
Look, it is pretty fashionable to criticise this album. Not for me. I actually quite like it.
Bowie had his own slightly negative feelings about it, though, which cannot be ignored -
“….It was rushed. The process wasn't rushed; we actually took our time recording the thing; Let's Dance was done in three weeks, Tonight took five weeks or something, which for me is a really long time. I like to work fast in the studio. There wasn't much of my writing on it 'cause I can't write on tour and I hadn't assembled anything to put out. But I thought it a kind of violent effort at a kind of “Pin Ups”…..”
1. Loving The Alien
2. Don't Look Down
3. God Only Knows
5. Neighbourhood Threat
6. Blue Jean
7. Tumble And Twirl
8. I Keep Forgettin'
9. Dancing With The Big Boys
As this quote shows, Bowie had some dissatisfactions with the album and this has certainly always been true of the opener - Bowie has never been happy with “Loving The Alien”. I am not sure why. It sounds excellent to me - brooding, soulful, atmospheric, evocative. Without doubt the best track on the album, for me, despite its composer's misgivings.
The reggae of “Don’t Look Down” is actually convincing (unusual for non-Jamaican artists) and, personally, the much-maligned cover of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” is absolutely beautiful. Lovely orchestration and Bowie’s voice as good as it has ever been, paying great respect to an iconic song. The reggae and horns backing on “Tonight” is more obviously commercial, but it is not a bad song, as Bowie duets with Tina Turner.
Bowie was also not happy with “Neighbourhood Threat”, one of a few covers of old mate Iggy Pop’s material. Again, it is nowhere near as bad as popularly thought. Great bass sound, incisive guitar, pounding drums and a convincing vocal. The hit single, “Blue Jean” is a keeper too. Great riff and chorus. One of Bowie’s better mid-career singles, often underrated. “Tumble And Twirl” is catchy, rhythmic and appealing as Bowie sings about Borneo, and would not have sounded out of place on “Lodger” in some ways. “I Keep Forgettin’” is an almost rock 'n' roll number with sixties influences and another impressive horns backing. These often-forgotten tracks deserve more listens than they usually inspire.
“Dancing With The Big Boys” is an addition to “DJ” and “Boys Keep Swinging” in the list of Bowie’s upbeat “danceable” material. It is good too - the horns punchy and completing perfectly the energetic lead guitar riffs and the pace of the drum rhythm never lets up. Another underrated one.A shame the non-album single, “This Is Not America” was not included. Had it been, opinions of the album may have been more favourable.
The 2018 remaster of the album is excellent - nice and punchy, with a strong, muscular bass sound. It particularly enhances the lesser-known tracks for me, such as "Don't Look Down", "Tumble And Twirl", "I Keep Forgettin'" and "Dancing With The Big Boys". The rhythm, bass and percussion sound great.
As with the next album, “Never Let Me Down”, these are often referred to as being Bowie’s worst albums. Personally, I prefer them to any of the 1990s/early 2000s releases, by far. There are also excellent 12” mixes available of “Tumble And Twirl”, “Dancing With The Big Boys”, “Don’t Look Down” and “Loving The Alien”.