Wednesday, December 9, 2009

David Bowie 17: Scary Monsters

All the lessons of the Berlin years were distilled down into Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), which effectively closed the book on a very busy decade. Bookended by two versions of “It’s No Game”—the first of which is preceded by what sounds like a vacuum cleaner and is much more jarring than the more pleasant closer—he takes the art-punk scene and makes it his own, for perhaps the last time.
For the most part, his songwriting has caught up with the band, so the songs are catchy, particularly on side one. “Up The Hill Backwards” switches between a faster acoustic-driven section—with Robert Fripp reclaiming his tone from Adrian Belew—and an almost chanted verse. The title track sports a silly Cockney vocal, and is a lot of fun to yell along to. Major Tom’s destiny is revealed in “Ashes To Ashes”, which also served to influence the video generation of filmmakers. “Fashion” rips the current NYC scene apart, forever linked with its video.
Side two somehow isn’t as memorable, through no fault of its own. “Teenage Wildlife” is reminiscent of “‘Heroes’” with its two-chord theme, but doesn’t hold interest as well. The same can be said for “Scream Like A Baby” and “Because You’re Young”. For good measure, a cover of Tom Verlaine’s “Kingdom Come” continues a trend, complete with words on the lyric sheet that aren’t on the album.
And from there, he went three long years before his next full album—an eternity back then, and nothing at all these days. Scary Monsters somehow seems more “complete” than Lodger, and thus a more fitting place to take stock of where he’d brought us. In a very busy decade Bowie consistently challenged listeners, and a decade later, as the final release in the Ryko reissue series, it was another good finale. Rerecorded versions of “Space Oddity” and “Panic In Detroit” round out the bonus tracks, plus the rare single instrumental “Crystal Japan” and the startling rearrangement of “Alabama Song” where the key changes with every verse. We just had to wait a little longer to be surprised again.

David Bowie Scary Monsters (1980)—
1992 Rykodisc: same as 1980, plus 4 extra tracks

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