David Bowie: “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” (1980)
Wikipedia says that this is considered Bowie’s “last great album”, and that virtually every album released since that receives positive reviews from critics gets tagged “the best album since Scary Monsters”.
It’s also the last album that Bowie will do with Carlos Alomar, Dennis David, and George Murray, the rhythm section that’s been with him since 1975’s “Station to Station”, not to mention the last album Tony Visconti will produce for Bowie for quite some time.
I’ve listened to this album three times now, and I just can’t connect wit it. Mind you, “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion” are fucking phenomenal; Bowie calls the former an “epitaph” to his Seventies self, and I can’t imagine a better bookend to that phase of his career. Still, I feel like this album is about as far as the continuum started with “Station to Station” is going to go, namely the avant-garde, sand-in-the-vaseline sound Bowie perfected in Berlin. But this time around, there’s too much sand for me, and it just gets abrasive (“It’s No game (Part 1)”, his take on Tom Verlaine’s “Kingdom Come”). Alternately, when there’s less sand, there’s too much, well, Springsteen for me (“Because You’re Young”). If anything, this feels like the album most “of” its time — as opposed to “ahead of”, where Bowie was before — reeking of early ’80s synth pop and rock. Even the wonderful, serrated guitar of Robert Fripp seems sorts of “been there, done that” to me. (Let’s not even mention the Japanese woman who speaks on “It’s No Game (Part 1)”; can’t get much more ’80s than that.)
I know that many people bemoan the “Let’s Dance” phase of Bowie’s career, considering it when he “went commercial” and become just another big pop star. But, honestly, I’m not sure I can imagine Bowie continuing down the path we see on “Scary Monsters”. I imagine him turning into a sort of Laurie Anderson sort of character, relegated to an oddity in the pop curio cabinet, his appeal dwindling to a hardcore, and ever-dwindling, fan-base. It’s in a chameleon’s nature to change his colors, and I definitely feel like the time had come. Call me crazy, but this album — barring the two moments of utter brilliance mentioned above — screams stagnation to me.
So, while I can appreciate the album to a certain extent, mostly I was just looking forward to “Let’s Dance”.