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David Bowie - Young Americans CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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2.82 | 202 ratings

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2 stars This has to be one of the most fascinating and confusing "throwaway" albums ever released by a major pop star. Years onward, Bowie's desire to make a funk/soul/proto- disco album seems somewhat odd, but not quite shocking; after all, the soul influences had been becoming more prevalent for about a year, courtesy of Diamond Dogs and the ensuing tour, and it's not too surprising that Bowie would jump onto the disco bandwagon when the genre wasn't quite mainstream yet. What fascinates me most about this album, personally, is that I'm still not sure if Bowie actually enjoyed the music he was making during this period. Just a year-and-a-half after releasing this album, he described this album, in the infamous Playboy interview, as, "... the definitive plastic soul record. It's the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak, written and sung by a white limey." What kind of messed-up back-handed compliment is that supposed to be??!!! Part of me almost gets the feeling that the place of this album in Bowie's catalogue is actually most analogous to the place of Cruising with Rueben and the Jets in Zappa's catalogue, but Bowie never really showed a knack for full-fledged genre satire in the rest of his career, so I'm not sure how accurate that is. What a strange dude.

Of course, as much fun as can be had in ruminating over what this album means (a silly thing to do, given how lightweight it is), I can't escape the fact that I only enjoy three tracks on here: the title track, "Fascination" and "Fame." The title track is an upbeat classic full of lyrical allusions to not-so-upbeat social issues, and the backing vocal-driven groove is one of the most addictive ideas to make it onto a Bowie album. Plus, David's singing here is far better than anything on David Live, especially in the great moment when he sings, "Ain't there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?" in falsetto.

The other two great tracks of this album join it on the list of "awesome songs to listen to when driving down a highway on a sunny day." "Fascination" may just be straight-up dance music, but between the funky guitar licks, the backing vocals and the various keyboard sounds (I know it's not listed, but I'm pretty danged sure I hear a clavinet in there, which is good given my theory that there's pretty much no track that can't be improved with the addition of clavinet), it lives up to everything I'd hope for from such a track. Bowie's singing is no great shakes here, but I can work around that. And as for "Fame," well, I wasn't too impressed on first listen, but every listen since has driven home to me why even detractors of the album tend to praise this one. This one has a co-writing credit for John Lennon, but that's probably overkill; his contributions were limited to having provided Bowie inspiration for the lyrics and in contributing some backing vocals. Nah, this one belongs to Bowie (and to Carlos Alomar, Bowie's new guitarist, who contributed the main riff that drives the song) and he deserves all the praise for it. The main thing that interests me in the song is how it's just such a strange combination of funkiness and noisy stiffness, the kind of music only a really drugged-out white man trying to play the black man's music could conceive. I mean that as a compliment, obviously.

Too bad that's only three songs, with five remaining. The only track that stands out strongly is the ill-conceived cover of "Across the Universe," with Lennon himself providing background vocals (given that Lennon hated the song seemingly within a few weeks of first writing it, it's not too surprising he gave his blessing to this version getting recorded). Let's just say that Bowie gave it a poor vocal interpretation and leave it at that. Otherwise, the album is pure muzak; "Somebody Up There Likes Me" and "Can You Hear Me" each could have been decent songs at half of their final lengths, but as is, they fail to leave a good impression (whereas "Win" and "Right" don't leave any impression at all).

Anyway, if you can find this for really cheap, give it a whirl, but otherwise, just look for the worthwhile tracks online. Thank goodness Bowie started snapping out of this phase about as quickly as he got into it.

tarkus1980 | 2/5 |


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