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David Bowie - Let's Dance CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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3.07 | 220 ratings

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3 stars On paper, this album looks hideous. Scary Monsters found Bowie at a career and philosophical crossroads, between eccentric weirdness and mainstream popularity, and after a lengthy layoff this album showed that Bowie had fully committed himself to the latter. Putting aside the fact that 90% of the instances when a 70's mainstream artist gunned for 80's mainstream popularity ended up as massive gaffes in retrospect, the degree to which Bowie goes out of his way to make himself appear as normal and as quirk-free as he does here makes me a little sad. Anything that could possibly offend the sensibilities of an average listener, who may not have (for whatever reason) ever heard of Bowie, is suppressed as much as possible (there's sure no Robert Fripp here!!!), and given that Bowie's rough edges were half the charm of his albums in the first place, that's a major blow. Along these lines, the album is horrifically slick: Tony Visconti is no longer around, replaced with Nile Rodgers, and anybody who dislikes quintessentially 80's production as a rule should probably stay far away (my brother has told me this album is unlistenable based on production alone).

And yet, this album is decent and then some, and not just because of the great guitar contributions from Stevie Ray Vaughn (whose presence on the album, while very welcome, makes almost no sense in retrospect). The first three tracks are all pretty solid as far as early 80's, borderline-guilty-pleasure pop songs go, and while it's disconcerting at first to enjoy them as David Bowie songs, it's also pretty easy to get over this initial hesitation. "Modern Love" is full of big fast beats and a big fat chorus, and it's just so intoxicatingly enjoyable that I can mostly ignore the weirdly inane lyrics. "China Girl" is an update of a track Bowie had contributed to an Iggy Pop album a few years earlier, and it manages to strike an effective balance between the intrinsic darkness of the basic tune and the slick finishes that are applied to give it more commercial appeal. The short moody guitar passages are pretty killer, too. And as for the title track, I actually feel this is the one serious callback to the slightly artsy pop of Scary Monsters, even if it was the album's biggest single (albeit in a shorter version): after all, isn't this track essentially a slicker, more commercial sequel to "Fashion?" There may be no off-kilter Fripp lines here, but there are some terrific Vaughn ones in their stead, and the stern coldness of the "LET'S DANCE" backing vocals is fascinatingly disconcerting. It's funny to me to imagine people actually dancing to this.

Unfortunately, out of the other five tracks, I only really like the cover of "Criminal World," though I do find some intrigue in the awkward "Richochet, it's not the end of the world!" chorus of "Ricochet" (which otherwise isn't very good). "Without You" is hookless balladry that sounds way too much like a reject from Avalon, "Cat People" (a collaboration with Girgio Moroder, oy) makes little impression at all, and "Shake It" is quintessential background noise dance pop. Gosh, it's a good thing these last five tracks weren't released as a standalone album. Anyway, while about half of the album does pretty much nothing for me at all, and the good half probably could have been done by a couple dozen artists not named David Bowie, I still can give it a decent grade without much hesitation at all. Don't get this before Scary Monsters, but make sure you get the best tracks somehow.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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