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The Rise and Fall of David Bowie:
All That Glitters is Not Gold (2/2)

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In a year when all the Rolling Stones had to offer was Exile on Main Street, and when people finally decide that James Taylor was a worthless junkie, it became the norm for rock n roll fans to latch on to Bowie.

What else was there? No one person or group looked anything at all like a rock star or sounded much like one.  The Allmans didn't have much of a visual image, and they sounded like the soundtrack for a movie about Quaalude's.   But there was Bowie, changing his hair colour every other week, and wearing green patterned jumpsuits.  For a time, it seemed that Bowiemania was absolutely inevitable. 

And then, the first American tour.  Disaster. The sound was thinner than could be believed by the anxious audience, and the stage show was only a shadow of what the advance rumours promised.  Bowie was almost cabaret-styled, prancing around like some drag/camp artist, posturing lamely without much help from the his band.  All of the hysteria created by the Bowie Attack On America was found in the first ten rows of seats, all purchased by RCA Records, which may explain why RCA chose to make his second New York concert general admission.

But I really shouldn't be snide because that Radio City concert was far better and more spectacular than his Carnegie fiasco, and longer as well.   He was so much more the charmer and more in control of his expanded band.   Bowie took this concert as his opportunity to preview a few tracks from his new album Aladdin Sane - a terrible effort, most assuredly the worst David Bowie album ever, far less listenable than even his earliest efforts.

The pomposity that merely touched his previous records totally permeated Aladdin Sane and the lyrics were even more "I'm an artist, pained and touched by my personal experiences" oriented.  Songs like "Time" (which includes a mention of the New York Dolls), "Cracked Actor," "The Prettiest Star," and "Lady Grinning Soul" were worthless in their self-indulgent namby-pambiness.  "Watch That Man" was good only in that it could have been the best song from Exile On Main Street, but instead ended up as a Rolling-Stones one-uppance, while Bowie's well-starched, "Lets Spend The Night Together" was simply horrendous.  "Drive In Saturday" and "Panic In Detroit" were tolerable tracks, but not particularly outstanding, and "The Jean Genie" stood as the white-man-steals-the-blues-from-fellow-crackers-track, a sad remake of the Yardbird's "I'm A Man".

As much as all of these other people were self-evident in Aladdin Sane, the real David Bowie had all but disappeared.  Songs like "Starman", "Star" and "Suffragette City" were not followed-up by anything but the metaphysical aesthetic vacuum. "Time-He's pumping the hottest piece/While I sit here and scratch my fleas/My itch is you and me, boy." What the hell does being a bisexual con-artist have to do with rock n roll? Who gives flying fuck about a metaphor for Iggy Stooge?

Which brings in the important point of David Bowie's outside production products - Mott the Hoople, Iggy and Lou Reed.  All of them say the same thing: spotty, very weak containing a few outstanding cuts.  I have no inside information as to which cuts Bowie had the most to do with, but I am sure wish he'd left well enough alone.  And don't we wish that Bowie's version of "All Young Dudes" had appeared on Aladdin Sane so that the great culturo-puko debate of the Motroid Hoople versus the David Bollocks would forever be settled.

But enough with this speculatory jive and onto the meat of the moment - David Bowie's latest long player entitled Pinups, a collection of Bowiezed renditions of his favourites from the Sixties by such artists as The Pretty Things, The Who, The Yardbirds, and the EasyBeats.

If nothing else, Pinups proves Bowie would have made a good a & r man; however on records, things such as intent and sincerity are fairly irrelevant.  What matters is the music, and Pinups could very well be the ugliest running sore to ever grace the body of British rock.  For although there are several decent tracks on the album, it serves more to promote David Bowie as a singer than it does to pump life into old rock classics.  And often it turns solid gold into smelly dogshit.

"I Can't Explain" is slowed down to a soporized pace and castrated to boot.  Saxophones on Who songs have never made it, and the vocal treatment here is just too self-conscious to take.  And maybe Bowie's self-consciousness is what ruins him-the fact that he tries too hard to be his own creation rather than just letting it all hang out naturally full stop. He experiments with too many voices, and ends up sounding like a strutting self-mockery.

"Here Comes The Night" also brings this to the fore, while "Friday On My Mind" brings us David Bowie falling all over himself as he tries to make it with an arrangement that is a bit too vocal-oriented and just not spunky enough. The Yardbirds tracks "The Shape of Things" and "I wish you would" aren't dense enough, and Mick Ronson's guitar is too fluid and not cutting enough to do Jeff Beck. The song which actually comes the closest to being really brilliant is "See Emily Play" but the band is too stiff, the arrangement isn't spacey enough, and the background vocals are so damn annoying that the songs hard to listen to.

The one group Bowie sticks close to and equals in quality is The Pretty Things. "Don't Bring Me Down" is a fine rocker and Bowie's harmonica is perfect; but what's more important is that the guitar is as loud as the vocals and Bowie just sings without thinking "Hmmm what shall I sing?" "Rosalyn" isn't quite as much a thriller, but it's a cut above most of the tracks on the album.

The only reason Mick called that song "Angie" was because he couldn't call it "David"

I was surprised by "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" because it's a straight rocker (like the original), and I expected Bowie to pull a crock of dung out of his magic hat. It's more than listenable; it's real good, even though Aynsley Dunbar's drumming doesn't particularly cut it. David however sings as well as he ever has, outdoing Daltry by a country mile, and showing with this cut what the whole album should have been like.

The rest of the tracks are fairly lovely. "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" is rather enjoyable (sounds like it could have come right out of Ziggy) and the Mojos ("Everything's Alright") and the Mercy Beats ("Sorrow") wrote some nice things, even if they were lesser groups.

Still, there are too many things on this album which annoy me, and Bowie could have made this into an amazing record if he had only kicked out the jams for real. But he's been altogether too busy creating and promoting "Bowie" to deliver an album by Bowie.

Catch him on television, listen to his next live album (a two record set), and watch David as he declares, "The only reason Mick called that song "Angie" was because he couldn't call it "David", but I'm going home to listen to "The Man Who Sold The World". Trash is trash and can the can, how do you call your loverboy.

---This page last modified: 30 Jun 2002---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)