Saturday, 3 October 2020

David Bowie - Put On Your Red Shoes (1980-1987)

David Bowie had so many phases in his career, but this, for me, was the final one in the first half of many years of releasing albums. There has always been an invisible line, as far as I am concerned, that begins after the release of Never Let Me Down. After that, although I liked some of the material, I have never seen it as part of the pre-1987 output. Obviously, it isn't anyway, but I know what I mean. Bowie pre-1987 was a different artist to Bowie post 1993.

Anyway, on to this era. It was an odd one. The deathly-white, drug-ravaged figure of the late seventies suddenly became a walking advert for a healthy lifestyle, sporting a deep, golden sun tan, bleached blond hair and wearing tailored pastel shaded suits. Personally, I preferred him looking as if he were at death's door! No longer putting out edgy music, Bowie had become a purveyor of hit singles, playing to huge outdoor stadium audiences. The great leftfield innovator had become pop royalty, his music sitting alongside that of Phil Collins and Michael Jackson in the collections of those who owned less than twenty albums. It would be something Bowie would come to question himself.

This was, however, the peak of his unit-shifting popularity.

Scary Monsters (1980)

It's No Game (Part One)/Up The Hill Backwards/Scary Monsters ( And Super Creeps)/Ashes To Ashes/Fashion/Teenage Wildlife/Scream Like A Baby/Kingdom Come/Because You're Young/It's No Game (Part Two)  

"We were doing either 'Up the Hill Backwards' or 'It's No Game', and I said, 'Any suggestions?' and David replied, "Ritchie Blackmore!"  - because David isn't really a guitarist, he couldn't give me more of a ground plan than that, but I knew what he meant" - Robert Fripp

Bowie's 1980 release, coming after the so-called "Berlin Trilogy" was commercially more successful than its predecessor, Lodger. Brian Eno had gone by now. Bowie was on a bit of a new lease of life as a new decade began. After treading water somewhat in the (slightly) undercooked Lodger (although I like it), it seemed as if Bowie had rediscovered his mojo to an extent, however, with this one. He seemed happier, healthier and very creative. This album was a precursor to the huge commercial "comeback" that Let's Dance saw in 1983. Personally, I much prefer this album. Having said, that, for some reason, it is an album I never really got into, either back then or now, not nearly as much I did others. I am not quite sure that is because it is certainly a very good album. In a reference to all the new wave/post punk/new romantic acts influenced by Bowie's recent work, RCA marketed the album as "often copied, never equalled".

For many, though, it has become the "go to" album when talking of Bowie's last great album. It has become something of a cliché to hear "this is Bowie's best album since Scary Monsters" trotted out, lazily. 

There is certainly a lot more verve and vibrancy about it, I have to say. Neither was it as quirky or oddball. It contained a massive number one single in the addictive, evocative and smoky-voiced Ashes To Ashes, where the spirit of Major Tom was evoked, and another big hit in the New Romantics' favourite, Fashion, with its infectious "ooh-wah" backing vocals and contemporary New York disco funk sound. That searing guitar on it was singularly impressive. Robert Fripp was back on duty, after having being replaced by Adrian Belew on Lodger. Pretty much everything about the sound on the song is top notch. Lyrically, however, the song is not quite the unbridled celebration of fashion culture that one may perceive it to have been. The line "It's loud and it's tasteless and I've heard it before..." betrays a Bowie becoming somewhat world-weary and cynical. The punters didn't detect that, though, and lapped it up like the very consumers Bowie was tiring of. One thing that has always irritated me mildly about it, I have to admit, is when Bowie sings "the-er-er dance floor...". First prize for nit picking for me there.

I have to say that the first six tracks take some beating, including the slightly bizarre ranting Japanese vocals from Michi Hirota duetting with Bowie on the frenetic sound of It's No Game (Part One) .

The "Heroes" album-esque and quirky Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (also featuring some great guitar runs and a pounding drum sound) and the catchy, build-up song Up The Hill Backwards were both instantly appealing tracks. They had that sort of commercially accessible, post punk vibrancy to them - the density of post punk combined with a pop/rock  catchiness.

There is also the "Heroes" (part two) feel of the impressive and grandiose Teenage Wildlife, which features one of Bowie's finest vocals. This sprawling, vacillating track has always felt a little jumbled and at times struggling to find a coherence, for me, I will reluctantly say, despite its anthemic potential. It remains an undervalued Bowie classic, albeit a flawed one.

The second half of the album veers away from the more commercially appealing numbers towards a denser, more rocky sound. It mustn't be underestimated or overlooked, however. Some of the album's most enigmatic and creative material is to be found here. Firstly, we have the dark, nihilistic future shock story of Scream Like A Baby, with its punk/new wave undertones, followed by the similarly post punk-ish, guitar-driven cover of a Tom Verlaine song in the solid rock of Kingdom Come. Its comparative lightness of melody and occasional poppiness casts it as the album's The Prettiest Star, in some ways.

Then comes The Who's Pete Townshend guesting on guitar for the excellent, underrated Because You're Young (to be honest, though, I can't pick out Pete much). The song tries to reach the rousing strains of Teenage Wildlife and almost makes it, but not quite. It is still a bit of a hidden gem though, with its singalong chorus and Jimmy Destri of Blondie-influenced Farfisa organ sound. Some feel it is the album's weakest track. Not me. 

Finally, It's No Game (Part Two) is the better of the two bookend numbers that use the same backing track, having far more lyrics and a fine, soaring Bowie vocal. The lyrics find Bowie saying "to be insulted by these fascists is so degrading...". After briefly flirting with fascism in 1976 (in occasional inference) during his coke-addled period, he is now taking a completely different stance. He is now very much the compassionate, caring, globally-aware socialist.

** The one session track that was not included on the album is:-

Crystal Japan. This (unsurprisingly) Japanese-influenced instrumental is from the 1980 sessions for Scary Monsters. It has a very "Heroes" feel about it, though, in its deep, reverberating and mournful synthesiser passages. It has a lot of the ambience of Moss Garden, for me.

Also around from the same period was a stripped-down, acoustic version of Space Oddity which is ok, but pales against the original; an odd, re-recorded, trying to be contemporary version of Panic In Detroit, which definitely doesn't match the original and a cover of Bertholt Brecht's Alabama Song which has never appealed to me, despite its Teutonic, 1930s atmosphere.

** The 2017 series, supervised by Tony Visconti, is another superb re-release. The remastering is, in my opinion, perfect. Full, clear and with the bass to the fore, it is how I like my remasters. Many will probably not like it, as indeed they didn't with the 2017 remasters of Low"Heroes" and Lodger. Personally, I can't get enough of all of them. They have reawakened my interest in these albums, after all these years.


Let's Dance (1983)

Modern Love/China Girl/Let's Dance/Without You/Ricochet/Criminal World/Cat People (Putting Out Fire)/Shake It  

"He knows what he's doing in the studio and he doesn't mess around " - Stevie Ray Vaughan  

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 - the mannered, singalong dance rock of Let's Dance, the atmospheric China Girl and the powerful pop of 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”. 

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. This is another piece of evidence to support the case that this incarnation of Bowie considers himself a "pop star" vocalist first and foremost. He would come to question this, though, as I detail later on. 

The beautiful, seductive Without You, with its initial smoky vocal and soaring falsetto chorus is a much-underrated Bowie classic. It has, somewhat unfairly, been overshadowed by the three biggies. There is a case for it being the album's best track. The more listens you give it, the more you may like it. 

Then there is the reggae-tinged funk and sumptuous horns of the staccato Ricochet and the wonderful guitar and white soul vocals of the lively Criminal World. Both of these tracks have an energetic appeal that has rarely been acknowledged. The latter was a cover of a track by little-known US group The Metros but its makeover makes it sound like a Bowie original. It features a nice throbby bass line too, something that was often comparatively lacking in these 1983 recordings. The former's brassy sound was a precursor to the sound that would feature on the following year's Tonight album. 

Cat People (Putting Out Fire) has a heavier, harder rock appeal about it, with Stevie Ray Vaughan contributing some searing guitar licks. Bowie's vocal on the build-up verses is haughtily sonorous in a Lodger sort of way. The production is typically eighties-tinny, however, which detracts from the song to an extent but it ends with a nice bit of rock funk to redeem things.   

The funky Shake It seems to recycle the Let’s Dance synth hook and chorus in many ways, and due to that seems to be a bit of a “treading water” throwaway. I still really like it, though, re-hash or not. Great bass line and a killer Bowie vocal on there along with some hints of Fame in places. It is the album's most 'dance' track and an upbeat note upon which to end. 

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 think "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 this was the worst of all his “images”?


** The 2018 remaster is largely excellent - full, balanced and bassy, although some of the harsher traits of eighties production will always remain. That said, 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.

Live In Vancouver: The Serious Moonlight Tour (1983)

Look Back In Anger/"Heroes"/What In The World/Golden Years/Fashion/Let's Dance/Breaking Glass/Life On Mars?/Sorrow/Cat People/China Girl/Scary Monsters/Rebel Rebel/White Light/White Heat/Station To Station/Cracked Actor/Ashes To Ashes/Space Oddity/Young Americans/Fame/Modern Love

Released as part of the Loving The Alien box set, this is a live set from 1983 that has fine sound quality. It is good to finally get an “official” concert release from this period.

It is not, however, from Bowie’s finest period, musically or appearance-wise. This was the “Serious Moonlight” tour, with Bowie sporting that odd bleached-blonde foppy hairdo, powder blue suits and a golden suntan. Not his best look. It didn’t quite fit singing Station To Station.


I find the material is blighted somewhat by a keyboard-dominated eighties instrumentation. The saxophone swirling all over most of the numbers is even more ubiquitous than on “David Live”. Now, I love the saxophone, and it is fine here on Sorrow (nice to hear that live rarity) and actually enhances the Low tracks, What In The World and Breaking Glass, but, combined with swathes of eighties keyboards it gives us one of Bowie’s less impressive renditions of "Heroes".

Golden YearsFashion and Let's Dance are all convincing, and, actually the big production on Life On Mars? comes off too. 

White Light/White Heat is given a huge, horn-driven backing that makes Bowie’s band sound like Bruce Springsteen’s E St. Band in the Tunnel Of Love Miami Horns phase. This brass accompaniment is used on Station To Station which somewhat changes the previous stark, bleakness of the song. It was played much more convincingly in 1976 and 1978. Here it sounds like a big production number with wailing “wooh-wooh” backing vocals and punchy horns. For me, it doesn’t really work.

Cracked Actor is played in David Live style, virtually note perfect to that 1974 incarnation, with the saxophone riff replacing the original guitar. 

A huge success on this album, though, is Ashes To Ashes, which is the best performance on the album. The instrumental backing suits it perfectly, with that iconic keyboard riff reproduced impressively and Bowie’s vocal is sonorously brilliant here. Space Oddity surprised me, actually, it sounds great, with muscular drums and a stonking guitar solo.

It is so damn good to hear my favourite Bowie track, Young Americans, played live. It is difficult to play live, I should imagine, but it is done so well here, with Bowie singing it wonderfully. It is played even better on the 1987 Glass Spider live album though. Here it starts with acoustic guitar in place of the iconic drum intro. On the 1987 one you get the drums. Fame is excellent, also suiting the current band, as is the closer, Modern Love.

Despite certain misgivings about the eighties instrumentation and presentation of the songs I still found it a really enjoyable live album.

Tonight (1984)

Loving The Alien/Don't Look Down/God Only Knows/Tonight/Neighbourhood Threat/Blue Jean/Tumble And Twirl/I Keep Forgettin'/Dancing With The Big Boys   

"There wasn't much of my writing on it because I can't write on tour" - David Bowie

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”…..”
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 more than convincing (unusual for non-Jamaican artists). I, as a long-time fan of authentic reggae, rate it as one of the better examples of a mainstream artists' efforts at reggae.

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 the Iggy Pop songwriting collaboration Tonight (initially appearing on Pop's Lust For Life album) is more obviously commercial, but it is not a bad version, as Bowie duets lustily with Tina Turner. The song's initial darkness has been taken away, though, in an attempt to widen its appeal. Strangely, it failed to sell, despite this. 

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, featuring a stonking great catchy riff and chorus. It was definitely one of Bowie’s better mid-career singles, often underrated. For some reason, Bowie later dismissed it as a "sexist piece of rock 'n' roll". Aren't all rock songs a bit like that? This doesn't seem particularly guilty, to me.

Tumble And Twirl, another Iggy Pop co-write is also catchy, rhythmic and appealing as Bowie sings (perhaps surprisingly) about Borneo, and would not have sounded out of place on Lodger in some ways.

I Keep Forgettin' is a very boppy, almost rock 'n' roll number with sixties influences (indeed it is a Chuck Jackson cover) and another impressive, punchy horns backing. These often-forgotten tracks deserve more listens than they usually inspire.

Dancing With The Big Boys, the album's final Iggy writing pair-up, 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. 

It was a shame that the infectious jazz rock non-album single, This Is Not America was not included. Had it been, opinions of the album may have been considerably more favourable because the collaboration with jazz/rocker Pat Metheney was a big hit.

** 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 DownTumble And TwirlI 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 TwirlDancing With The Big BoysDon’t Look Down and Loving The Alien.

Never Let Me Down (1987)

Day In Day Out/Time Will Crawl/Beat Of Your Drum/Never Let Me Down/Zeroes/Glass Spider/Shining Star/New York's In Love/'87 And Cry/Bang Bang/Too Dizzy * on original album  

"'Never Let Me Down' had good songs that I mistreated" - David Bowie

I have never quite understood the bad press this album gets. Yes, I accept that it is no Ziggy StardustAladdin 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...."

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 - the chunky rock of Day In Day Out, the memorable and very catchy Time Will Crawl and the rocking Bowie-pop of Beat Of Your Drum. These are all good ones.

Incidentally, I read someone say that Time Will Crawl is one of those songs that sounds as if it means something really portentous - "until the 21st century lose" etc but, in true Bowie cut-and-paste songwriting style, means nothing. That is very true and something I have always thought about the song myself.
Now to the album's more criticised numbers. Granted, the slightly twee, frothy and lightweight Never Let Me Down is not quite as good as the opening three, but it is actually perfectly pleasant enough. It is certainly no more or no less pleasant than the highly-rated and popular Kooks on Hunky Dory

The punchy and enjoyable Zeroes is certainly as good as any other 1987 Bowie rocker too, or from anyone else at the time, for that matter. The lyrical reference to "my little red corvette has passed me by" is a reference to Prince, but I have never read too much into it, refusing to go down the clichéd 'handing over the baton of creativity' route that many have travelled.

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. However, it is the spoken-word narration part that doesn't quite work (do such parts ever work?). When it finally breaks out, though, it is muscular, rocky and captivating. 

The breezy but over-tinny Shining Star and the rousing, riffy rock of '87 And Cry are, in my opinion, perfectly enjoyable songs of their upbeat, poppy type, particularly the latter. 

The late seventies-ish 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 (another Iggy Pop song) 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!). I seem to be alone in that. 

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.

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

Julie. 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.

Girls. 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. 

Never Let Me Down: The 2018 Remix

I was greatly looking forward to hearing this 2018 interpretation  of the material from 1987’s much-maligned Never Let Me Down album. Bowie was never happy with the initial recording of the album, and, although I have always liked the album, I do accept that some of the worst excesses of eighties production rubbed off on it - layered synthesisers, programmed drums and the like.

Apparently he gave his permission for his old band-mates, including Tin Machine’s Reeves Gabrels, to tinker around with the material and try to make it sound as maybe it orginally should have done.

Now, the question is - do they achieve that? Yes and no is my considered answer. Yes, they they take a lot of the offending keyboards from the recordings, change a lot of the guitar sound and add a more resonant bass. The problem with that bass is that in many places it is a dance music-influenced thumping, vibrating bass, thus the album just sounds, to some extent, like one of “dance mixes”. They also add sweeping synthesised strings, such as on The Beat Of Your Drum and Zeroes. Some of the songs, like Time Will Crawl begin with a stripped-down acoustic guitar before getting into the kicking rhythm I had grown to love. The title track has a huge muscular bass thump, and sounds very much like the “alternative dance” mixes of it from back in 1987, actually. The song is enhanced appealingly though, as is Day In Day Out, although the latter loses some of its original power, I feel. The same is true of Zeroes, which was remastered superbly on its 2018 remaster from the original album, with the marvellous Eastern guitar and percussion at the end being really enhanced. The version on here doesn’t really give us that.

Glass Spider is the track here given to most obvious makeover, adding several minutes to it and all sorts of different sounds. This is a good one. 87 And Cry is interesting too, although, like Zeroes I feel it has lost some of its “oomph”. Shining StarNew York’s In Love and Bang Bang are all given innovative and lively mixes but, you know, I actually still prefer the original album, warts and all, in its dynamic 2018 remastering, something that I feel gives me even more of a new feeling to the album than these alternative versions do. They do sound, to me, just a bit like dance versions of the songs, however interesting and appealing they are.

Live In Montreal: The Glass Spider Tour (1987)

Up The Hill Backwards/Glass Spider/Day In Day Out/Bang Bang/Absolute Beginners/Loving The Alien/China Girl/Rebel Rebel/Fashion/Scary Monsters/All The Madmen/Never Let Me Down/Big Brother/'87 And Cry/"Heroes"/Sons Of The Silent Age/Time Will Crawl/Young Americans/Beat Of Your Drum/The Jean Genie/Let's Dance/Fame/Time/Blue Jean/Modern Love

1987’s Glass Spider Tour, was like the Never Let Me Down album that it promoted, a much-derided creature. I caught the tour at the old Cardiff Arms Park and have to say I really enjoyed it. Nevertheless, a performer like David Bowie was always going to give us something that was good, despite the lesser quality of some of the material and the pretentiousness of the whole concept.

This is an enjoyable concert recording, from Montreal, with truly excellent sound. The intro guitar noise/“shut up” plea/rap samples and snippet of Up The Hill Backwards was not convincing though, sounding like something from a Madonna gig. Glass Spider is performed well enough, however, as is the always impressive Day In Day Out

The relatively ordinary Bang Bang is played with verve, vitality and vigour, coming across better live than it does on the album. The opening to Absolute Beginners is also sightly blighted by some Madonna-style sampling, but it soon kicks in to the recognisable “ba-ba-ba-oooh” vocal riff.

Loving The Alien is superb, with some sumptuous, sensual saxophone in it and a powerful, sonorous Bowie vocal. There is some impressive drum/guitar interplay at the end, with a great guitar solo from Peter Frampton

China Girl is done pretty straight and, thankfully, Rebel Rebel reverts to being guitar-driven and riffy, as it should be. I do wish they had taken that “li-li-li” bit out of their interpretations of it, though.

Fashion has a completely pointless taped vocal introduction (or maybe it was live) with some backing vocalist wittering on about the Norse god Odin, for some unfathomable reason. One thing is for sure, the gods of pretension were walking the earth at this time. When it eventually breaks into the song it is as you would expect, but the synthesisers are laid on thick. There is some searing guitar present here, it has to be said. Scary Monsters rocks, big time. The band set up here suits the material from this period.

It is great to hear All The Madmen but why yet another strange vocal sampled intro? It obviously was de rigeur. I don’t remember feeling at the time that it was particularly strange. The interpretation is unfortunately synthesiser-dominated, but it is good to hear the song anyway. Most of the crowd probably hadn’t got a clue what the song was, or where it came from, judging by the distinctly muted post-song applause. 

Never Let Me Down is another cut from the album of the same name that is better here than in its original form. Here it is nice and clunky, with Frampton’s industrial guitar to the fore.

Seventies favourite Big Brother is given an outing. (I remember him playing this, one of the things that stuck in my memory). The Every Circling Skeletal Family is enhanced by using the saxophone. 

87 And Cry rocks, and Frampton’s guitar is outstanding but again the synthesisers overwhelm it. At one point, Bowie sounds uncannily like Bob Dylan - “you saw him hanging on the enemy” bit. The guitar at the end sounds like Brian May in Queen

"Heroes" is done really well here too, much better than in 1983. The saxophone adds great atmosphere to the evocative Sons Of The Silent Age and it is surprisingly well done, considering it came from the bleak “Heroes” period as opposed to this jaunty eighties era. It is the only appearance of this song on “official” live albums.

Time Will Crawl is impressive - rocking and muscular. It is simply a great track. Great trumpet solo on it too. Then there is my favourite - Young Americans - performed as well as I have heard it done live. Beat Of Your Drum is solid, guitar-driven and exactly as it should be, so, Heaven thank us, is a searing The Jean Genie. Great to hear it played bluesily and straight, as opposed to the slowed-down David Live version. 

Let's Dance is as is a powerful Fame. It is also wonderful to hear Time played so well. Blue Jean and Modern Love finish the gig off in rousing, rocking fashion.

This is an enjoyable live album and, like 1983, it is good to hear a slightly different set list, but the worst excesses of the eighties put it below others, unfortunately.

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