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David Bowie - Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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4.08 | 398 ratings

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4 stars I don't quite love this album, but it has many things in common with albums that I do love, if that makes sense. This is often referred to as a "consolidation" or "encapsulation" album for Bowie, summarizing many of the aspects of his career to that point, but this seems like a stretch given that the only clear callbacks to previous albums are (a) the resurrection of the Major Tom character (as well what sounds like a mellotron, even though I know it's not) in "Ashes to Ashes" and (b) the way "Teenage Wildlife" is a fairly obvious rewrite of ""Heroes"." What stands out most about the album for me (and maybe this is kinda what people mean with the "encapsulation" angle, though I still don't buy it even with this justification) is that it shows Bowie once again striking an effective balance between music that's eccentric and challenging, on one hand, and music that's shiny and glossy and accessible to a wide audience, on the other. The last few albums (including Lodger) had definitely skewed the balance towards the former (not that that exactly bothered me), and the next few albums tried WAY TOO HARD to skew the balance towards the latter, but this album is a pretty nice meeting point of the two.

Whereas Low was roughly the "Bowie/Eno" album, and "Heroes" was roughly the "Bowie/Eno/Fripp" album, and Lodger was roughly the "Bowie/Eno/Belew" album, Scary Monsters is roughly the "Bowie/Fripp" album, and the combination is often extremely entertaining. Fripp is the undeniable star of a few of the tracks: the title track, for instance, would be a mildly interesting up-tempo rocker with distorted vocals in the chorus, but Fripp's alternation between soaring discordant lines and growling riffage is enough to make the track into a borderline classic. Even better is "Fashion," which would be a decent enough disco-ish commentary on pop culture (with a fantastic hook in the "We are the goon squad and we're coming to town, beep beep"), but Fripp's guitar, so unexpectedly harsh and incongruously ugly (in a good way), makes this into a definite Bowie classic. "It's No Game (Part 1)" makes for a great song on its own (the closing "It's No Game (Part 2)" is done in a relaxed, stripped-down manner and sounds very nice), both in the melody and in the over-the-top agonized screaming of the vocals (in between a Japanese woman reciting the lyrics in that language), but the effect wouldn't be quite the same without that nagging set of lines that prompts Bowie to scream "SHUT UP!!!!" repeatedly at the end before the song stops.

Fripp makes three other appearances on the album, the first in "Up the Hill Backwards," a decent song that alternates between a pleasant shuffle and a combination of the Bo Diddley riff played on acoustic and a bunch of Fripp's patented riffage on electric. The second Fripp appearance happens in "Teenage Wildlife" (the ""Heroes" rewrite), where Bowie gets unexpectedly personal sounding in what (I guess) is a kissoff to his days as a glam days and what came from his influence. The song is significantly overlong (especially, again, for SUCH a blatant remake of a classic from only a couple of years previous), and I don't get quite the emotional catharsis from it that's clearly intended, but there's definitely a lot of passion in it, and the guitar work from Fripp and whoever else is contributing lines is bright and vibrant and all sorts of terrific features. So yeah, I like it a lot. The third apperance happens in a cover of the solo Tom Verlaine song, "Kingdom Come," and Fripp's soaring line in the introduction and in some of the breaks is definitely the most interesting part (the rest of the song isn't especially notable).

The most famous track from the album, though, is the one that doesn't feature Robert Fripp but instead, as mentioned, brings back the beloved Major Tom. What fascinates me most isn't the infamous chorus ("Ashes to ashes/funk to funky/we all know Major Tom's a junkie/strung out in heaven's high/hitting an all-time low"), but the way the song is able to shift so effortlessly between a pretty ridiculous plinky synth/guitar/whatever line and those oh-so-majestic synth textures that sound straight out of "Space Oddity." And the last minute, with that great echo in Bowie's voice and more great synth textures that sound as timeless as anything coming out of 1980 could? Classic.

Anyway, there are two more tracks here, and they're not great, but they're okay. "Scream Like a Baby" was an updated version of an unreleased track Bowie had written years earlier (more fuel for the "encapsulation" description, I suppose), and while I don't find the verses very interesting, there's something intriguing in the rough layering of multiple Bowies on top of each other in the chorus. And finally, "Because You're Young," if nothing else, contains a solid rhythm guitar part from none other than Pete Townshend. It has a nice chorus too, I guess.

Basically, I feel like this is an album that a hardcore Bowie fan would especially adore, so if you think that might be you, this should probably be one of your very first purchases. For the rest of us, this is still a pretty remarkable album, and definitely the last great Bowie album for a good while.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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