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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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4 stars All through the 1970s David Bowie could do no wrong. Album after album formed a stepping-stone in a fascinating musical evolution, and YOUNG AMERICANS is no exception. (The only 1970s album I personally consider a slight dip is ALADDIN SANE, which lacks some of the energy and the natural flow of, say, ZIGGY STARDUST or "HEROES" - but even ALADDIN SANE still contains a handful of indispensable tracks.)

It is strange to see that YOUNG AMERICANS has little to recommend it in the eyes of Progarchives reviewers. What exactly is it that irrates these people? Do they dislike the album because it ain't rock 'n' roll, because David dared to venture into "blue-eyed soul" territory (and let's face it, this IS one of the most inventive examples of the genre), because there are no hysteric guitar solos by the likes of Robert Fripp or Earl Slick?

Whatever the reason may be, detractors of the album are WRONG.

First of all, YOUNG AMERICANS is fun. Its three gorgeous ballads especially ("Win", "Right" and "Can You Hear Me") have been a major source of pleasure to me for more than three decades. Their melodies are lovely, the lyrics are firmly tongue-in-cheek, and David 's interaction with the backing vocalists is a triumph of style. It's this music, more than any other, which had a huge influence on Culture Club, ABC and a host of "New Romantics" which brightened up the British hit charts in the early 1980s. Oops! Maybe I should be careful what I say! "Progressive rock" and "hit charts" do not fit together! (Still, I'd rather listen to ABC's LEXICON OF LOVE than to that dreary "Owner of Lonely Heart"...)

Secondly, Y.A. is of musical importance. It's the first album on which David sings in the lower register throughout. Until Y.A., he'd mainly affected "parlando" styles and high-pitched delivery, strongly influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan and Anthony Newley. "Sweet Thing" (on DIAMOND DOGS) was the first track where he tried a totally different manner, and on Y.A. he takes this "crooning" to unexpected heights. Surely anyone who's got an inch of music in them will be astonished by David's lead vocal on the album's title track. Not only does the track have a politico- philosophical meaning which goes far beyond the navel-gazing that had hitherto characterised most of David's work ("Took him minutes, took her nowhere, Heaven knows she'd have taken anything" etc.) but it's also an acrobatic tour-de-force. David would further develop this crooning, and use it to great effect (much to be parodied by satirists) on certain albums (such as STATION TO STATION and "HEROES") which are considered the greatest masterpieces in his oeuvre. Another notable fact is that Y.A. contained his first collaboration with the great Carlos Alomar, whose electric guitar can be distinguished on "Win" and "Right", neatly foreshadowing David's greatest ever ballad (even though it was not written by him personally), "Wild is the Wind".

The two collaborations with John Lennon I consider to be of limited importance. "Fame" has never appealed to me (although its live performance was one of the highlights of the Serious Moonlight tour, a wonder to behold!) and "Across the Universe" is drearier than the dire Beatles original. Also, listening to Y.A. in the 21st century, I must admit I get more than a little irritated by the fact that David Sanborn's sax is used as solo instrument on virtually EVERY track. But what the hey. This is still a lovely album. If you can get hold of it, I especially recommend the 1991 Ryko remaster, which features (among other goodies) a highly inspired re-working of David's early 'glam' single "John, I'm only dancing".

YOUNG AMERICANS is not "a masterpiece of progressive music", but in my view it deserves a place in all record collections which aim to honour the greatest artists of the 1970s. Four stars, no doubt about it!

fuxi | 4/5 |


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