Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
David Bowie - Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) CD (album) cover


David Bowie


Prog Related

4.08 | 394 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

4 stars What's Inside a Dalek?

You know there was a time when the Thin White Duke was considered a tangible threat to conventional mores from within the chattering front rooms of UK suburbia. To all intents and purposes, he practically had at his disposal, an entire weekly musical spreadsheet from which to propagate the burgeoning myth of the Bowie persona/s (it was called the New Musical Express and such pious fourth estate acolytes as Charles Shaar Murray and Roy Carr would extirpate entire forests in keeping up with the chameleon Joneses myriad incarnations). How often do you have to be told that an artist continually reinvents himself before you start to believe it? Millions of you did apparently.

My own dear father, while tapping an appreciative platform hush puppy to Diamond Dogs on Hogmanay circa 1974 was heard to remark:

- although the weirdo ginger poof gies me the dry boke, the laddie sure knows his craft -

Throughout a meticulously engineered career Bowie manipulated quite expertly such ambivalence where he managed to pass off a tried and trusted musical conservatism wedded to a keen eye and ear for the latent Zeitgeist and provocative elements of the counter culture. He demarcated risqué outrage to within the safer realms of appearance and lifestyle while producing music that when shorn of it's shiny surface novelty betrayed a deep held belief in the classic and time-worn tools of song-craft. Conventional wisdom has dictated that Bowie's achievements and innovation dwarf those of someone like Ray Davies but the latter's body of work compares very favourably in both scope and quality once we look beneath the heavily modded bonnet of David's souped up drag racer. That is not to say David lacked innovation or daring in his output, just that the emperor of the demi-monde swapped our new clothes for anorak and slippers during his down time.

For most proggers the hook on this album will probably be Robert Fripp, a long time associate of Bowie's and from whom producer Tony Visconti coaxes a series of startling contributions to this album that rank as high as any session work embarked on by the head Crim. Best to ignore the faux New Romantic artwork methinks, as by 1980 Bowie had long dispensed with the decadent Pierrot /fop card that his imitators and wannabes continue to flog to this day with ever decreasing returns. There are in places on Scary Monsters some thinly veiled swipes at his avowed but clumsy disciples Gary Numan, Bauhaus and practically anyone sufficiently gauche to fall from the 'rock star as alien' bandwagon.

It's No Game - existed as early as 1970 in demo form tentatively titled Tired of My Life and the jaded and world weary narrator is abetted in his disaffection by the shrill Japanese spoken delivery of Michi Hirota. He even has the temerity to tell our beloved but unheeding Fripp to Shut up! on the outro.(The nerve)

Up the Hill backwards - Has been interpreted as an ode to his divorce from Angela Bowie.(Who won custody of the eye makeup but not his Glass Spider stage outfits alas) Regardless, like most lyrical aspects of David's work he is at best inscrutable and at worst plain vanilla evasive with a dash of contemptuous garnish:

We're legally crippled It's the death of love It's got nothing to do with you If one can grasp it It's got nothing to do with you If one can grasp it

In mitigation, it's a beautifully constructed song where all the constituent parts carry exactly the right weight and displays a craftsman in complete command of his materials. Such a shame that an individual as perceptive and urbane as Mr B cannot get his expensively coiffured barnet round the fact that global stardom just might invite some unwelcome scrutiny into his private affairs. Discretion is clearly unilateral when you have served a ten year gagging order on your ex spouse. Those who plunge willingly into the goldfish bowl of celebrity cannot expect the imprisoning glass to be tinted in their favour surely?

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps - Here Bowie slyly acknowledges the influence of extant post-punk shenanigans with a deceptively simple and fast paced spiky rocker sung in that faintly irritating 'wide boy' cockney accent he has appropriated from time to time. David narrates a tale about a female's descent into madness which takes on an even more sinister atmosphere via Fripp's claustrophobically anguished guitar motif:

She asked for my love and I gave her a dangerous mind Now she's stupid in the street and she can't socialise

Ashes to Ashes - the mordant title serves as an unapologetic goodbye to the hedonistic and dissolute 70's and says hello to the erm...hedonistic and dissolute 80's

I've never done good things, I've never done bad things I never did anything out of the blue

The verse drum beat for this song has always intrigued me as if heard on it's own would strike most casual listeners as completely unnatural and suicidally un-groovy. To wit, the anticipated second snare 'thwack' in the bar appears to rush in 'too early' on the 6th eighth note. However when overlaid with a sumptuously funky synth bass, Alomar's languid but teasing guitar lead and some inspired guitar synth textures from Chuck Hammer, the whole conspires to paint an incredibly complex sound picture framing a simple yet hauntingly memorable song. At moments like these you catch a glimpse of the much heralded genius of Bowie at close quarters.

Fashion - It is testimony to the abilities of Robert Fripp that his guitar alone transforms this numbing and clomping euro synth atrocity into a thing of thrilling abrasive beauty. Once again Bowie jumps into bed with a genre he ridicules (disco) for a one night stand that leaves the spurned lover believing she to be the creature of his dreams. I once tried to work out what Robert was playing on this track but gave up after about 5 frustrated minutes - it's wantonly perverse, contrary to every musical convention ever proffered as a rule, juttingly angular, blackly chromatic and in places just plain wrong but the 'bespectacled chipmunk' somehow makes such scale, timing and chord choices work (Dunno...)

Teenage Wildlife - This has always struck me as a rather strained effort in penning an effortless classic by sheer force of will i.e. Heroes the sequel. It ain't bad but cribs somewhat self consciously from the former and despite some magnificent wailing guitar from Fripp on a huge exhilarating chorus is perhaps just a yummy dessert with grandiose delusions of being a main course.

Scream Like a Baby - Another song that may have gestated from an earlier seedling called I Am A Laser from circa 1973. A harrowing tale of political imprisonment sung quite imaginatively in the past tense from the perspective of a distant future.(Are those who ignore the future condemned to re-live it via reincarnation? BTW I'm only kidding so don't start a thread on PA y'all)

Kingdom Come - One of my favourite Tom Verlaine songs is here butchered with an appalling vocal and negligible sensitivity to the irony imbued in the original. A 'chain gang' song for conscripts decked out in Armani jail wear. The only real 'dry clean only' stain on the album.

Because You're Young - David ingratiates himself quite shamelessly with those for whom parentdom will 'never understand' the impotent rage of 'yoof' by flattering to deceive a demographic paying good money to hear that they are the only youth who have ever existed (into early middle age and beyond it seems). We might let Mr Verlaine deliver David his comeuppance here:

O foolish heart, crazy thing, you hear any old tune and you sing, you sing

Pete Townshend plays guitar on this (but I can't hear any trademark windmilling kerrangs from My Generation's ageing author)

It's No Game (Part 2) - a much calmer recapitulation of the opening track as if sung by a narrator whose life hasn't improved much in the interim, but is clearly better disposed to his unhappy and inevitable fate. Such repetition is not unwarranted as the strength of the musical ideas can certainly withstand further interpretation.

I've never trusted David Bowie. His huge and multifarious output always wins my admiration and respect but I honestly cannot name a single track by him that actually moves me emotionally in any shape or form. Without Ray Davies' charm and humility, John Lennon's acerbic and withering wit, Arthur Brown's strident humanism or Syd Barrett's deadpan whimsy, Bowie comes across as abundantly more talented than the preceding four but cripplingly lacking in any loveable vulnerability or endearing spontaneity. Given that he is consistently reticent to discuss with anyone what his songs are actually about we will continue to speculate futilely just what that soft kernel at the heart of his personality might actually resemble.(the squishy innards of a Dalek?)

It can't be an accident that my favourite albums are those widely loathed by Bowie cognoscenti over the years i.e this one, Outside and Heroes. Perhaps it's just the stubborn progger in me that fastens onto his forays outside the mainstream pop realm but to be fair, I have long held the belief that Bowie's songs are populated by characters that no-one (including their creator) has ever met outside of books and merely serve as 'mind candy' for an infinitely more preferable world than that endured by Bowie's legions of followers. He steadfastly refuses to reveal himself and I suspect that if he ever did so, we would fail to recognise him.

His is the 'method' school of music.

ExittheLemming | 4/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this DAVID BOWIE review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.