Tonight (1984)



1. Loving the Alien: A lyrically striking cinematic album highlight, however the long quasi-spiritual slog of Loving the Alien, like much of Tonight, suffers from fussy over-saturated 80s production values. There is good song in there confirmed by the emotive stripped back demo version rolled out on the 2004 Reality tour. 7.5 

2. Don’t Look Down: Bowie started covering/collaborating with Iggy Pop in the late 70s and this trend would continue well into the 80s, none more so than on this album where Bowie and Iggy had re-established their friendship. This is the first of five co-writes on this album – some cover versions, like this one (the splendid original appearing on Iggy’s essential New Values album), and other new collaborations. While not a patch on the original, this works quite well even with the loping reggae treatment. Particularly good as incidental music in the thoroughly enjoyable Jazzin’ for Blue Jean mini-film directed by Julian Temple. 6.0

3. God Only Knows: Possibly a left over from the original Pin Ups project. To say covering this Beach Boys hit was ill-advised is a huge understatement (it’s a song I have never been a huge fan) as there’s a lot wrong with this train wreck. The strings are kitschy and Bowie’s disfiguring vocal performance gets ugly. 1.0

4. Tonight: Covering this magnificent track off Iggy’s seminal Lust for Life album as a duet with Tina Turner may have looked terrific on paper, unfortunately it’s wimpish and over-arranged. Winds up a directionless adult-contemporary lite-reggae borefest. No thanks. 3.0 

5. Neighbourhood Threat: Side two crashes in extra-loud for some reason, and compared to the title track, this is an urgent, energetic and tense adaptation of the Lust for Life original, including some vigorous singing from Bowie if a little scattershot and textually barren in its arrangement. 5.5

6. Blue Jean: This faux-‘50s faux-rocker is drenched in crunchy sax and ridiculous lyrics but addictive and enjoyably catchy. A big hit and is still being put on his best-of’s. Good, fun stuff. 7.0

7. Tumble and Twirl: This fresh collaboration with Iggy includes some appealing imagery in the lyrics juice in coke bottles .. referring to their recent experiences holidaying in Borneo. The lengthy uptempo lounge funk of Tumble and Twirl is strangely enjoyable despite an arrangement clearly cooked up by the anonymous production team while Bowie was outside smoking a cigarette. 5.5

8. I Keep Forgettin’: This inconsequential Vegas throwaway (written by Leiber and Stoller of Jailhouse Rock fame) is utterly forgettable inoffensive filler. Bops along ok, but hard to believe it’s Bowie. 3.0

9. Dancing with the Big Boys: This is one of the more interesting tracks on the album and Bowie virtually takes a back seat to Iggy’s lead vocal and string of non-sequiturs (eg: “Your family is a football team”). Tonight also saw the welcome return of Carlos Alomar who provides co-write credits on this track. Bowie would go on to produce Iggy’s very good 1986 album Blah Blah Blah, and would collaborate on several fine tracks including Shades, Hide Away, and Isolation. 5.0 


VERDICT: This is where Bowie lost interest, even started trying to second-guess the musical tastes of his global following and rushed out Tonight to capitalise on the massive success of Let’s Dance and the subsequent mega-selling Serious Moonlight tour. Unfortunately the sub-par material was left to faceless 80s producers Hugh Padgham and Derek Bramble (better known for their work with Phil Collins and Sting) to messily piece together an album full of generic horns, strings and marimbas while Bowie sat on the couch waiting to do his vocal take with nothing to prove. Far from Let’s Dance II (although most of the same musicians were used), the stylized pop of Tonight is actually varied and interesting as a whole, and never dull, even if the songwriting is virtually non-existent. Clearly a less-inspired album in the Bowie canon (it was essentially disowned by Bowie upon its release), but apart from God Only Knows there isn’t anything truly horrendous on it, and can be a relatively enjoyable experience when listened to in the right context. I do have a soft spot for it (Never Let Me Down too), if only for sentimental reasons. The highly attractive album cover is a homage to eccentric British artists Gilbert & George.

NEXT: “…I really shouldn’t have even bothered going into the studio to record it. In fact, when I play it, I wonder if I did sometimes…”.

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