Hello readers of Vulture Hound. My name is Adam and I felt it necessary to write this rebuttal. My friend Michael, whom henceforth in this article will be referred to as The Fop, has decided it is incumbent on us to waste your time and ours by publicising a long-running and futile feud. As he mentioned, we have spent the ten years of our friendship locking horns on great, big weighty issues; issues such as: “did ‘Birdman’ insist on itself too much?” “Is ‘The Rock’ as good as everyone remembers?” and “Frank Zappa?” – The answers to all of these are self-evident of course. However, the thorny issue in question: “Which is the least crap ‘Never Let Me Down’ or ‘Tonight’?” has never been satisfactorily concluded. Presumably because The Fop, with his fancy London shoes, wants working on.
Let us begin with a brief overview of the contender’s appearances. ‘Never Let Me Down features our hero dressed as a yokel/peasant lunging at the nervous consumer through the cover, it appears he has come a cropper as a result of some circus based mischief which, thankfully, is never expanded on. Surrounding the clumsy yeoman is some crudely drawn rigmarole which would later be rejected by Crowded House. This astoundingly mediocre display squats beneath his name. Nothing unusual about that of course, the problem is with the typeface or, more accurately, the ten separate typefaces. This schizophrenic approach to graphic design is later repeated throughout the album but with far, far more drum machine.
In stark contrast, ‘Tonight’ (which is a simple and elegant title) appears to feature the great man looking wistfully into the future against a symphony of colour. Meanwhile, his name pokes into your attention like a tastefully discreet nudge from a potential bedmate. The whole image spreads before you offering precious few clues about the riches that lie within. Could it be elegiac? Could it perhaps feature uplifting, even ecclesiastical, themes? Could Tina Turner be involved? It could be! This, as I am sure you will agree, is far preferable to the vague threat of slapstick that ‘Never Let Me Down’ seems to wave in your face like an aroused clown.
Now that the gravy of the cover is disposed of, let us turn our attention to the meat. My album, doesn’t rush. It begins with ‘Loving the Alien’ a song that creeps into life like a bolero. It could be argued to be a wry look at the great man’s popularity; a self-aware anthem that was later plagiarised by Red Dwarf. Praise indeed.
Meanwhile on ‘Never let me down’ (an ironic title given the underwhelming dross it boasts), ‘Day in-day out’ has spluttered into life and immediately confronts the listener with a barrage of mundanity. Day in, day out, until you inevitably die. Possibly alone.
On ‘God Only Knows’ Bowie reasserts his reputation as a skilful interpreter of other people’s songs; a simple string opening before his rich baritone lolls out of the speakers like an eruption of salted caramel. And who doesn’t like salted caramel? It’s lovely. As is this song.
Meanwhile on NLMD: Some crap about your drum and the beating thereof.
We leave the Beach Boy’s finest song outside of Kokomo and immediately launch into the title track. Bowie at his most optimistic, which post seventies “cocaine and witchcraft Bowie” is a welcome relief. He reassures us that “everything will be alright, tonight”. How lovely! Thank you Bowie! And is that the promised Tina Turner cameo? Over a xylophone solo? Charming!
Meanwhile on NLMD: Mickey Rourke raps and no-one likes it. All involved are shamefaced.
Then BOOM! Vince DiCola listens and learns as “Neighbourhood Threat” roars into my living room. It’s a deliriously silly eighties romp about kissing trash and placing bets on threats. Sure it could be lazy rhyming such as the boy who is lying but could be crying, but who cares? Really? When the music is this much fun and Bowie’s lugubrious snarl is used to such effect, I really don’t need sense from my hero.
Meanwhile on NLMD: Blah blah blah, shiny spiders, “oooh”.
I’m skipping ‘Blue Jean’ because, let’s face it, you already know it and I’d much rather talk about ‘Tumble and Twirl’ because it’s fantastic. We have total nonsense lyrics about hot juice in cold bottles and the type of t-shirts which people enjoy when in Borneo. It’s meaningless and it’s brilliant and it makes me want to dance. The music is just…everywhere in this song, I’m not claiming it’s clever but it is very, busy. You get the sense that in the recording studio (and admittedly, Bowie really didn’t bother with that side of things on this record – he just turned up and wailed like a tanned banshee in a baggy suit) they just kept pouring more on: “A little marimba perhaps?” “Oh my, yes”. Actually, that’s a recurring feeling for me with this record, that this is what happens on an album if you just keep saying yes. Rick Rubin would absolutely loathe this album. But I think Rick Rubin probably hates most things that are just fun. He doesn’t really do fun, Rubin, painfully earnest, yes; songs about dancing, not so much.
Meanwhile on NLMD: “Christ, remember when I made ‘Low’?” “Not now David, you need to climb into the perspex swing while a million backing dancers pretend to be scared. In the FUTURE!”
The album ends with two songs which are also good, one of which uses the apostrophe. I don’t really care to dwell on them, suffice to say, they are good. Now, The Fop has already told you that ‘Tonight’ isn’t exactly a cherished album for Bowie and it isn’t for me either. Yes, he phoned it in, yes he was busy spending money and presumably enjoying a life free from perpetual fear and the ever-present glowing orb that is Eno. But it is a solid dance record and it is worth noting that my side of the argument, the side of right, has songs on it that would appear on numerous best of compilations. Nothing on NLMD has ever survived when isolated from the host album. The world is too harsh an environment for songs as breathtakingly stupid as ‘Shining Star (Makin’ my love)’ to last for long. Or perhaps it’s because the great man knows when he’s made a duff one. In a career as long and as splendid as his, he is entitled to one crapfest. I don’t care that he put effort into it. I put effort into my ceramic representations of my nearest and dearest; no-one thanks me for it. They are awful, and in some cases, offensive. The same is true of The Fop’s choice. For a committed futurist, Bowie made an album that sounded old a year after its release.
Despite the over-excited guff you have just read, assuming you made it this far, neither of us would claim that either of these are exceptional records. We simply need something to fill the void of silence in beer gardens up and down the country. What you have just endured, is just one example of the kind of crap we find it easy to care about. Pity us.