David Bowie: “Diamond Dogs” (1974)

This is another Bowie album that I passed over in y youth because the cover totally freaked me out.

Which makes me an idiot, because I can’t stop listening to this album.

So, with Ziggy Stardust now behind him, Bowie starts exploring his unique Bowie-ness by producing a concept album that tells the tale of Hunger City, a post-apocalyptic version of New York peopled by (roller)-skate-punks — and keep in mind punk won’t be invented for another three years or so — and cat-sized rats feeding on the corpses of the dead. The album opes with some nightmare-inducing narration from Bowie, and then proceeds into a landscape of end-of-days Glam Rock, dystopic cabaret, and a little shameless theft from Issac Hayes.

It is dark, and it is glorious.

The album began life as a musical adaptation of Orwell’s “1984”, but after negotiations with Orwell’s estate broke down, it transformed into the album we know. Tracks like the Shaft-derived “1984” and the King-Crimson-y “Big Brother” are the most obvious remnants of this.

The Spiders From Mars are now fully-jettisoned, and, amazingly, Bowie handles most of the guitar duties himself. I had no idea! The sumptuously raunchy riff that seals the deal with “Rebel, Rebel” — perhaps one of Bowie’s most beloved singles, both by himself and his fans — was written and is performed by Bowie himself, which I find pretty fucking impressive. There two songs with session guitarists lending aid, one of which being Earl Slick, a guitarist Bowie will work with quite a bit over the next thirty years. Otherwise, Bowie’s somewhat ramshackle guitar presages punk rock, once again showing him as constantly on the bleeding edge of pop music.

This album also reunites Bowie with Tony Visconti, who will continue to produce Bowie until “Let’s Dance” shows up in the mid ’80s.

Wikipedia also notes that this album is also sort of a farewell to Glam, with the aforementioned “Rebel, Rebel” being the last great Glam Rock song, and thus Bowie leaving the genre he founded before it eats itself.

What’s really interesting is how well this album hangs together despite a fairly broad variety of genres in play. It’s the same kind of diversity we saw on “Aladdin Sane”, but here it seems to work, for me at least, where the former felt disjointed. Maybe it’s just the quality of the songs, or the glue provided by the overall “1984” concept; I’m not sure. Whatever it may be, I feel like this is as much a quantum leap for Bowie as the transition from “The Man Who Sold The World” to “Hunky Dory”.