After taking a couple of months off from this project, I have returned! You knew I wouldn’t abandon you.
After completing the review for Heroes, I listened to this album once or twice and thought “oh no, here we go again” but I’m pleased to say that with fresh ears I’m not feeling so down about the whole thing.
Fantastic Voyage is perhaps a strange choice of song to open the album – whereas Bowie usually chooses something danceable and confident to start with, this one has the feeling of something that had no planned structure and just fell haphazardly into place. While I found this initially offputting, this song has really grown on me, and actually sounds like something that wouldn’t be out of place in a more recent album. It has a delicate sound and a steady pace, and some soaring operatic vocals.
African Night Flight also sounded ridiculous first time round, but like so many songs on this album, it improves with familiarity. Once you can anticipate the weirdnesses, they’re not so weird. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a big chaotic 3 minute mess. The verse is a… well, I suppose the word would be rap, which is a word that I wish I didn’t have to use, and the chorus is a big guitary soup. But it’s all very odd.
Move On starts off with a rather nothingy verse but really gets going once you reach the wonderful chorus, with numerous backing vocal tracks weaving all over each other, each doing something slightly peculiar but all combining to form a very attractive texture. And that last chorus where Bowie’s voice rises an octave and really belts out the words sounds absolutely thrilling, you can hear his voice going ever so slightly hoarse during it. The lyrics are also very touching, the wanderlust comes from the heart.
Yassassin is another quite, quite peculiar song. Though, that said, once you get over the fact that it’s a Turkish reggae song, for goodness’ sake, there isn’t much else in the way of surprises. It’s not unlistenable though.
Red Sails does not do much for me, the vocal performance is fairly weak and the song doesn’t have much dynamic variation. The only bit I do like is the hollering off “the hinterland, the hinterland, we’re gonna sail to the hinterland!” for some unknown reason. That tickles me.
DJ is probably one of my favourites. After re-picking up this album after my hiatus, this is the song that rejuvenated my optimism, and that’s because the chord sequence in the chorus is just perfect. Nothing too spectacular, just effective. Am E7 F7. Back of the net. Nice bouncey disco octave bassline all the way through too. I appreciate the simple things.
I’m not a huge fan of Look Back In Anger – I find the vocals to be a little bit too croony. Sometimes Bowie sounds like a parody of himself, and this is one of those times.
And I’ve never liked Boys Keep Swinging. It’s just a bloody annoying song, and again Bowie sounds like a Bowie impersonator doing an impression of Bowie. Do you have just one funky sequinned spacesuit Bowie, or do you have many ch-ch-changes? The guitar solo is utterly appalling too, sometimes tunelessness is entertaining in its own right, but this ain’t one of those times.
Repetition is a song about domestic abuse, and is apparently intentionally monotonous for effect, but I have to say that it ends up doing nothing for me as a listening experience. The lazy bass riff starts to grate after a while too. That’s enough.
And finally we have Red Money, which has a fabulous sleazy sound reminiscent of Win. There’s so much to like about this song, the vocal performance has the right amount of edge, the guitar parts are subtle and appropriate, the bassline is funky and raw, and it has a magnificent ascending five-way harmony in the “chorus”.
Hits from this album: While a few of the songs were released as singles, Boys Keep Swinging is the only one that attained a decent chart position.
My favourite song from this album: My choice here is DJ, though Red Money and Move On are pretty good too.
Next up: Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).