Never Let Me Down (1987)

1987

TRACKS 

1. Day-In Day-Out: A great opening line “She was born in a handbag…”, and a few others along the way, can’t save this tuneless plodder as it’s all downhill from there. One of the few occasions where the opening track on a Bowie album isn’t a jaw-dropper. Also included an unpleasant video. Not a great start. 3.5

2. Time Will Crawl: The lyrics reflect on the aftermath of nuclear war and life in a post nuclear society and environment, specifically Chernobyl. Well-chosen track to remix for 2009’s iSelect. This is a good Bowie track and the best track here. 6.5

3. Beat of Your Drum: This is pretty lousy stuff, overlong (and at just over five minutes), Bowie sounds as bored as I feel. Plays like a half-finished left-over from the Labyrinth soundtrack. 3.5

4. Never Let Me Down: This slight title track is always talked up as being a terrific Lennon-esque number (although it’s more an ode to his long-term faithful assistant Coco Schwab), in actual fact he sounds nothing like Lennon. The song is far from a classic but holds up well, and a standout track on the album. 6.0

5. Zeroes: Opens with a really annoying fake crowd noise and even more annoying and incomprehensible announcer (Diamond Dogs it isn’t), Bowie’s winding vocal searches far and wide for a melody and almost finds one. Ambitious and not horrible. Some nice sitar. 5.0

6. Glass Spider: The pivotal track on the album Bowie begins by uneasily narrating a preposterous tale of (you guessed it) a, or indeed, the Glass Spider which is embarrassingly awful and best not pondered over its near two minute intro. Once the song actually gets underway it becomes quite a spirited if silly melodramatic affair, but weighed down but a cluttered mix of backing vocals, clattering synths, over-affected guitar soloing and obnoxious drums. 4.5

7. Shining Star (Makin’ My Love): An innocuous one-dimensional shuffle with a pointless and incoherent rap by Mickey Rourke. “When I performed I was thinking, you all look like you should be seeing Phil Collins. Then I thought… hang on… I sound like Phil Collins.” On this one that is true. Similar to the title track, I dislike Bowie’s fey voice in this. 3.5

8. New York’s in Love: I think this is the track where Bowie plays lead guitar. The couple of dirty guitar solos after the choruses are the best sounding instrument on the whole album. Otherwise this song is virtually melody-free and goes nowhere quickly. 4.0

9. ’87 and Cry: Surprisingly this one does have a tune, and the rather nice refrain “And only you..” has its charms. Once again let down badly by monotonous, jazz-ercise, drums. 4.0

10. Too Dizzy: This track has the unenviable honour of being a song Bowie thought so bad he had it deleted from subsequent reissues. Unfortunately my copy has it. 1.0 

11. Bang Bang: At last an Iggy Pop cover. This is a relatively pleasing finish to an extremely disappointing side two. It’s always been a pretty good song (track down Iggy’s ‘non-hit single’ version off 1981’s Party), but Bowie’s unimaginative version doesn’t do it a lot of justice. Some dubious American accents on display towards the end. 3.5

ALBUM RATING: 4.0

VERDICT: The 80s proved such a barren ground for so many major artists who had powered through the 60s and 70s, and Bowie was no exception with Never Let Me Down proving to be his creative nadir. After the commercial success but relative disappointment of his previous two dance-oriented albums, Bowie (in an unhappy and contractually obliged relationship with his then record company EMI) crafted a more arena-friendly guitar rock album to complement his forthcoming theatrical Glass Spider world tour. Unfortunately the tour would go down in history as one of rock’s greatest follies. The hair was bemulleted, the drums loud and monotonous, the suits bright and the band (and dancers anyone?) dynamically impotent. The Glass Spider theme and narrative was muddled, hammy and delivered with a horrible MTV gloss, free of any artistic credibility or conviction. The accompanying album, co-produced by David Richards (Iggy Pop’s Blah Blah Blah, Queen’s A Kind of Magic) and accompanied by one-man-backing-b(l)and Erdal Kizilcay, confirmed Bowie’s artistic insolvency, where any track with a hint of charm or appealing technique was buried in an avalanche of breathtaking overproduction and bombast. And that’s a shame because there is some merit and fine singing beneath the semi-melodic generic 80s pop sound. The busy album cover name-checks a number of items within the lyrics if you could be bothered, and also features the worst David Bowie ‘logo’ ever.

NEXT: The Artistic Enema of Tin Machine.

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