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Diamond Dogs (Again) Bowie


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In honor of the fact that I've been re-listening to this killer album by Bowie constantly for the last week....and because it has been noted that the review section has been slow lately...and to celebrate Katie Sane's Birthday......here's a review of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Diamond Dog's by Bowie. I can't tell you how wonderful this album was to this 15 year old kid in NJ (circa 1974)...it was astounding. although my guitar hero, Mick Ronson, left the band....it was still an amazing effort that captured me, annoyed my parents and lives on in the hearts of Bowie fans.

Here is a review that was done a couple years ago for Creem Magazine....Enjoy it.....

David Bowie

Diamond Dogs [30th Anniversary Edition]

2004 EMI

When it first hit the streets 30 years ago in 1974, David Bowie's ninth LP, Diamond Dogs confounded most critics and fans alike with its bleak Orwellian theme, dark confusing lyrics and most notably the absence of guitarist Mick Ronson. This following a string of groundbreaking long players including Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and the '60s covers project Pin-Up's. Bowie was changing yet again and this time he was out for blood with an album that would single handedly put the dagger in what the world knew as "glam rock."

After being swept up by writer George Orwell's novel 1984, Bowie set out to write his very own musical about Orwell's prediction of an oppressive, authoritarian society controlled by the Ministry of Truth. Not exactly a subject matter teen rockers of 1974 could easily identify with—or maybe they could. See, Bowie has this way of making even the gloomiest slush sound oh-so-hip and cool, even when you have no clue to what he's singing about. Bowie now loosely assumed the role of Halloween Jack; a more conservatively dressed lad insane, (still minus the eyebrows), who was now writing his lyrics line by line on scraps of paper just like his other current hero of the hour William Burroughs. Burroughs introduced Bowie through his novel Nova Express how to use his "cut-up" style which was to simply write down your thoughts line by line and then mix them all up and re-arrange them hap-hazardly into some kind of order. This concept explains the disjointedness of the lyrics heard throughout Diamond Dogs.

So let's cut to the chase. Diamond Dogs could very well be Bowie's strongest album of all time. Huh? While it may not have the obvious hits, hooks and looks, it shows an artist at his breaking point. Bowie had just lived though 10 years of faking it as a rock 'n' roller. He wasn't really Ziggy Stardust or a fella with a lightning bolt through his head. He was an extremely bright, well-spoken, quiet artist who was using the rock world to get noticed. What he really was, was a storyteller, and now he had a damn good one, even though most of it was someone else's. He had fired his band of Spiders, and was now more or less on his own in the studio playing all the guitars (except on "1984"), saxophone, Moog synthesizer and for the first time in his career took on the role of producer.

The first track the public was to hear from Diamond Dave was "1984," which was featured on The Midnight Special's 1980 Floor Show in late '73, and featured the last appearance of three-year sidekick guitarist Mick Ronson. Borrowing from a handful of early '70s R&B/funk grooves (most notably Isaac Hayes' Shaft), "1984" was the first hint of the "plastic soul" that was to come with the following release of Young Americans. The album opens with the extremely eerie "Future Legend" which reads like a number of Burroughs's cut-and-paste jobs where Bowie reads in true beat poet style; "Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now legwarmers Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald… Any day now The Year of the Diamond Dogs." All this under a bed of what sounds like instrumental outtakes from Lou Reeds's Berlin played backwards…what a way to open a record!

Next thing you know the sound of a crowd appears (swiped from Rod Stewart and The Faces' live album Coast to Coast, a good nod to our Mountie Canadian editor, Jeffrey Morgan for that tid bit) and then seque into David Bowie's best Rolling Stones song ever, warning that this in fact "ain't Rock'n'Roll…this is genocide." That tipped us right off the bat that this wasn't ‘Suffragette City' baby! Next up is the album's tour-de-force and most well thought out arrangement Bowie had recorded to date, "Sweet Thing." While images come and go within the song's nine minutes like customers on a drug dealers corner, Bowie croons through a sound cape of "rumors and lies" on a set "that even smells like a street" sung with the confidence of a seasoned Broadway vet. As the song winds slowly down into a Roxy Music-inspired swirl, Bowie wearily asks: "Is it nice in your snowstorm, freezing your brain, do you think your face looks the same" you can't help but think he's speaking directly into his own line-filled mirror. Ahh the '70s! Does it all make any sense 30 years later? Maybe a little, but who cares… it still gives me shivers every time I hear it. Side closer (or track six on your CD) is Bowie's glitter anthem "Rebel Rebel" which takes a four-minute break from the doom and gloom to get the kids back on the floor for their last glam dance before it all faded to black.

Side two kicks off with the albums lowest point "Rock 'n' Roll With Me" a love song that would have fit well as an outtake from Young Americans that actually is a nice breather before returning to the horror film that follows in "We Are The Dead." Here's a song that could possibly contain some of best Bowie word play ever while using Orwell's 1984 character Winston Smith to full effect, quoting Smith and his lover as they recite the words "we are the dead" as their days seemed numbered. The music's descending chords repeat endlessly while Bowie's Eno-like treated guitar sounds are a preview of things to come three years down the road with both Low and Heroes. "1984" follows with the backbeat that would dominate Bowie music for the next few years and is the only time on the album that Bowie gave up his role as soul (sic) guitarist. The elpee's finale comes in the form of "Big Brother" where Bowie brings it all home returning as "The Superman," "The Homo Superior" from days past, now put to real use. The story ends with ‘The Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family' an oddly paced repetitive chant that frighteningly closed Mr. Bowie's career as glam hero and leaves you wondering if you really want more?

While it's the subject matter in the grooves (or digits) that gives Diamond Dogs its dark tinges, it's the music that really holds up 30 years later. Bowie was in a strange and wonderful place musically on almost every track on this short 38-minute mini opera. The music written to match the cinematic scope of his lyrics was somewhere between his pre-glam sound of Man Who Sold The World and the yet-to-be-tested funk backbeat of Station to Station . There's just the right amount of good old rock 'n' roll to balance out the whole tawdry and exciting affair. Credit must be given to old pal and former Bowie producer Tony Visconti who showed up after a four-LP absence to mix most of the record with Bowie and undoubtedly gave it a sound that has yet to be reproduced some 30 years later.

As with all of the Virgin Record Anniversary releases we have the all important bonus tracks found on a separate disc No. 2, which unfortunately doesn't really give us anything new. With the exception of a slightly rougher mix of "Candidate" referred to as "The Intimacy Mix," and an unreleased version of 1973's "Dodo," which is quite nice but heard before. We also get a few oddities like a K-Tel Records edit of "Diamond Dogs" (!?!) , the US single mix of ‘Rebel Rebel', which was always cool & a must have for any Bowie fan. A new mix of Bruce Springsteen's "Growin Up" featuring honest Ron Wood on guitar which was previously available as bonus track on Ryko's version of Pin-Ups is also included sounding much crisper than it's previous release. The other bonus tracks contained on this 30th Anniversary double disc can be found on the now deleted Rykodisc reissues including "1984/Dodo" and the long version of "Candidate" from 1973 complete with addition lyrics and a completely different melody. While this unearthed gem was also released via Rykodisc in the '90s, it's worth the price of admission and should be immediately inserted into your CD collection. The bonus disc closes with Bowie's 2003 version of "Rebel Rebel," which was featured in the god –awful Charlie's Angels sequel Soundtrack.

All in all Diamond Dogs shows an artist cut and pasting his way out of one era into the next without even looking up to see that he created a lasting work of pop art that in the years to come would confuse, inspire and fascinate all those who turned it on.

—Chris Carter

May 2004

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