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David Bowie - Diamond Dogs CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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3.60 | 274 ratings

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3 stars Having grown tired of the Ziggy persona and (to an extent) glam rock in general, Bowie's next intended project was a rock version of Orwell's _1984_. Unfortunately for him, Orwell's estate denied him the rights, and while the album is certainly tinged with the same political post-apocalyptic flavor of that book, the work from that incarnation of this project is represented solely by a couple of tracks on side two. This album also saw Bowie part ways with the bulk of his Ziggy backing band, including guitarist Mick Ronson; the result here is that, other than bass, drums and some keyboards (as well as somebody else playing guitar on "1984"), all of the instruments on this album are played by David himself. This includes the guitar work, which definitely sounds less accomplished than what the last few albums had provided, but also ends up with a gritty proto-punk charm to it that I certainly don't mind (and it's not as if I was listening to the last few albums for guitar work, anyway).

While the album was a commercial success (and at least somewhat of a critical one as well), and one that certainly ended up having an influence on punk rock a few years later (what with the stripped-down approach to the guitars and the pessimistic political outlook), I have trouble seeing this as a very good album. There are certainly some strong songs, and a lot of care has obviously been put into crafting the lyrics and the atmosphere, but not once do I feel like I'm listening to anything resembling even a minor classic (even when I'm listening to songs that are great or come close to it). The first and last tracks, for instance, don't mean much of anything to me, whereas I can tell they're supposed to mean at least something. "Future Legend" is full of imagery of a terrible future, and contains the infamous line, "This ain't Rock and Roll, this is Genocide!" at its conclusion, but I don't find it especially interesting or enticing. The finale, "Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family," is just ridiculous; the riff is nice, but the cycling of the same phrases over and over again starts to get on my nerves in a hurry, and while the final "Bruh Bruh Bruh Bruh ..." that the recording tape accidentally produced is a cute touch, it doesn't quite satisfy me as an ending.

So that leaves nine tracks. Three of these are taken up near the beginning of the album, in a suite comprised of "Sweet Thing," "Candidate" and "Sweet Thing (Reprise)." It's not exactly bad; I find it somewhat interesting to hear the smushing of grumbly guitars with over- the-top "soulful" (except for the part in "Candidate" where Bowie starts rocking out a bit) singing about various political-ish things, at least until the last minute of "Reprise" where it just becomes a slow noise-fest. The problem for me is that I come out of this suite, every time, feeling like I've just wasted my time on 9 minutes of music that hasn't left me with a single strong lasting impression. I'm not even talking about interesting melodies; I'm talking about having something interesting enough happen that I'm thinking about it five seconds after the suite is over. There are some individual interesting moments, but there sure aren't a lot of them.

So that leaves six tracks. One of the tracks with explicit reference to _1984_, "We Are the Dead," is a slow electric keyboard ballad with a decent atmosphere, but there's too much rambling and too little melody for my taste. And so that leaves five tracks that, finally, I definitely like more than not. The title track shows Bowie's continuing fascination with Stones-ish rockers, and while I don't care one way or another about most of the lyrics here, there is definitely something appealing about how he sings the "Call them the diamond dogs" chorus and throws in "aah-oooooooooooooo" cries from time to time. "Rebel Rebel" also betrays heavy Stones influence, but it takes a step beyond in a key way; not even in a song like "Satisfaction" had they ever grabbed onto one single riff and ridden it the entire song, verses and chorus alike, without throwing in a secondary riff at some point. The first time listening to the song, my reaction was that I couldn't help but admire the riff. The second time listening, my reaction was that the song was kinda stupid for not having any significant modulation at any point. The third time through and beyond, though, I couldn't help but admire the balls to do something like that; no wonder punks liked this album. Of course, the lyrics are infamous as well, but I don't really care about those one way or another. Oooh, mentioning cross-dressing and gender-ambiguity, how brazen and rebellious.

On side two, we kick off with the slow and passionate "Rock 'n' Roll With Me," an organ-y number that probably would have been better on an album with fewer mid-tempo and slow numbers (though hearing it after "Rebel Rebel" is a bit of a start), but that I'm still glad is here. I don't really know how much emotional sincerity actually went into making this song, but ehn, you gotta take what you can get with Bowie. A couple of tracks later is "1984," the album's main highlight, where David decides the best genre for a song about the definitive bleak future political tale is ... funk/proto-disco. The combination of the wah-wah's, and the twilight zone synth lines in the beginning and end, and the over-the-top blaxploitation strings, and the epic deep backing harmonies, and the great hook of "In 1984 (who could ask for more)" is mind-boggling, and it makes me wish more of the album hit these heights. And finally, "Big Brother" starts off a little slow (cool 70's keyboard-based introduction notwithstanding), and I don't love the verse melody, but the "Please Savior, Savior, show us ..." bridge is really nice, and the melody to the, "Someone to claim us, someone to follow ..." section is fantastic and epic in all the ways I like. Shame that the song is immediately followed by the "Every Circling Skeletal Family" song.

Overall, I like a good portion of the album, but it's just a drag to try and make it all the way through it in one sitting. If I were more of a Bowie fan, I'd probably have a better appreciation for things like the "Sweet Thing/Candidate" suite, and I'd better appreciate the bleak future he's putting to song, but as is, I'd rather listen to albums I enjoy. Make sure you hear the best stuff here, however that may be, but don't worry about the remainder.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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