Classic Rock Review

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David Bowie Let’s Dance (1983)


Review from Denmark: On the one hand, ‘Let’s Dance’ is the first album since his 1967 debut, where Bowie releases a record not worthy of the highest praise on this planet. But on the other hand, it is by far not as awful as some have made it. Also, it is very much 1983 in a bottle, as Ziggy was 1972, Heroes 1977 and Scary Monsters 1980. After all, it was the year of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and Culture Club’s ‘Colour By Numbers’ (of which the latter is by far the best of all three albums). It would be on ‘Tonight’ that Bowie, for the first time, was out of time.

‘Let’s Dance’ opens with the brilliantly rocking pop gem ‘Modern Love’, which, as the third single off the album soared to a UK #2 / US #14 peak. It is deliciously disposable, utterly commercial, but not at all too self-conscious. It is followed by the second single (UK #2 / US #10), the now-stample-on-radio, ‘China Girl’, an arguably somewhat superior version of the song Bowie wrote with Iggy Pop for his 1977 comeback album ‘The Idiot’. Here ‘China Girl’ is a soft & smooth danceable track with great rhytm & also retaining Iggy’s haunting lyrics.

The title track, and also the first single off the album, a UK #1 / US #1, appears here in its full lenght, majestic & brooding, with darkening lyrics & joyous instrumental backing, that made it an instant worldwide classic.

The fourth single, which was released only in the US, and only scraped to an undeserved #73, is ‘Without You’, a simple but breathtakingly gorgeous song, which is my personal favourite on the record (due to overexposure of the three brilliant first singles). It is romantic & gentle & brilliantly sung, an underrated gem, if there ever was one. Also one of the most ‘new romantic’ tracks on the record.

‘Ricochet’, another of my favourites, has the most brooding text on the album, & also the strangest music, with rolling drums that underline, that ‘Let’s Dance’, if nothing else, at least still is somewhat darker than ‘Thriller’.

The cover of ‘Criminal World’ is excellent, & brings further neo-romantic mystique onto the record. It is followed by a re-recording of ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’, a song Bowie originally wrote and recorded with Giorgio Moroder for the ‘Cat People’ soundtrack, in 1982. Released as a single at that time, it reached a low & undeserved UK #26.

Anyway, in its original state, it was a delicious piece of New Romanticism, the closest Bowie ever came to the wonderful, glammy dance of Duran Duran, & with lyrics & sound effects that made it haunting like any classic Bowie track from the 70s.

Here, on ‘Let’s Dance’, however, it is tossed off in a blaze of hard rock. Not that it doesn’t work, it’s an almost excellent recording, but it pales so much compared to the original version, and worse = you can’t stop thinking of how much better the original was.

‘Shake It’, which closes the album in a Boy Georgesque way, is a great dance track, poppy, & self-consciously disposable & irrelevant. It ends a record that, if released by anybody else, would have been seen as, at least, a near-masterpiece, but which, like its recording of ‘Cat People’ (a microcosm mirror of all the strenghts & weaknesses of the album), just didn’t match the earlier Bowie. Still, if you already own everything from ‘Space Oddity’ to ‘Scary Monsters’, this album is well worth a thought, ‘cos it harbours a warmth, that Bowie at least retained through the eighties, on to ‘Never Let Me Down’, before it was lost to experimentation for experimentation’s sake (as opposed to experimentation for the sake of your life, as one could have called his 70’s period).

So this album is great. But unlike ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, ‘Station To Station’ or ‘Diamond Dogs’, this one is far from the gods. Far, far from the gods…

Review from US: David Bowie’s 1983 opus, “Let’s Dance” has become quite a controversial title in his catalog in the years passing since it’s release. Some see it as a sellout, others see it as a nadir, but I think both views are a little out of hand.

Following seven five-star albums (IMO) between 1974-1980 (Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station To Station, Low, Heroes, Lodger and Scary Monsters), anything less than perfection from the man was seen as a colossal disaster, and while Let’s Dance is a great album, it is a slight decline from the albums he recorded in the mid to late seventies.

Another thing that really hurts the album is that it was his first album since “Young Americans” in 1975 that really is a product of its era. “Let’s Dance” is as 1983 as Flashdance and Kajagoogoo. This album would not have been able to work in 1982 or 1984, much like “Young Americans” is a total product of 1975. It was totally the right album at the right time.

The album was highly commercial and provided him with more American success than he’d ever seen before and the videos made him a mainstay on the then-new MTV, but the commercialness of it has made the album seen as “David Bowie-lite” to most diehard fans. Truth be told, there is much to offer from this album.

“Modern Love”, “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” are the one-two-three punch that starts this album off. These songs are solely responsible for bringing many new fans to the David Bowie party in 1983, and all of them are great singles. “Let’s Dance” is presented as a 7 1/2 minute long 12″ style mix of the song instead of the 4 minute version that made it a #1 single.

“Without You” was an afterthought choice for a single, and is a nice low-key new wave style ballad, although the Keith Haring portrait on the 45 cover might be more memorable than the album.

“Ricochet” is definately the closest thing to the Berlin trilogy as Bowie will get on an otherwise commercial album. I hated the song at first but it’s really grown on me.

“Criminal World” was another single-in-the-making, it kinda reminded me of a slower Duran Duran style song, a very pleasing song.

“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is where the album falters. The original 1982 version of the song produced by Giorgio Moroder is a masterpiece and one of Bowie’s most underrated singles. Here is a re-recording that turns it into a standard snoozeworthy 80’s rock song.

“Shake It” is another bad track, ending the album with filler of the worst kind.

However, I love the first six of the eight tracks, and that is enough to make the album worth owning. It is nowhere in the league of Bowie’s 1974-1982 work, but at the same time, this is the best album we’ll get from Bowie until 1993 when his career begins its renaissance. Stevie Ray Vaughan fans also should check this album out.

April 14, 2013 Posted by | David Bowie Let's Dance | | Leave a comment