DAVID BOWIE-SCARY MONSTERS (AND SUPER CREEPS).

DAVID BOWIE-SCARY MONSTERS (AND SUPER CREEPS).

Throughout a career that’s lasted over forty years, David Bowie has strived to produce innovative music. He’s constantly sought to reinvent himself, and his music. His music has evolved throughout his career. That’s been the case since he made a commercial breakthrough with Space Oddity in 1969. Eclectic describes the music David Bowie released after that.

In the early days, David Bowie released everything from psychedelia and glam rock. Then in 1972, he dawned the persona of Ziggy Stardust on 1972s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. After that, The Thin White Duke sought to constantly reinvent himself.

Between 1974 and 1976, David’s music moved towards soul and funk on 1974s Diamond Dogs and 1975s Young Americans, which featured David’s first number one single in America, Fame. Then when 1976s Station To Station was released, David became The Thin White Duke. He downed the character of Thomas Jerome Newton, the extraterrestrial being he portrayed in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth. During this period, David became a controversial figure. He later blamed this on his drug addiction. However, not long after this, David’s music changed again when he headed to Berlin.

Inspired by the thriving German music scene, David headed to Berlin. He began to focus on minimalist, ambient music. for the first of three albums, co-produced with Tony Visconti. This began Low in January 1977 and Heroes in October 1977. This trio finished with Lodger in 1979. Critically acclaimed the Berlin trilogy were, they failed to match the commercial success of previous albums. However, David Bowie’s career got back on track with 1980s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which was recently rereleased by WEA Japan. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) lead to a change in Bowie’s fortunes. 

For Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) David Bowie wrote nine tracks and cowrote Kingdom Come with Tom Verlaine. Recording of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) would take place at The Power Station, New York and Good Earth Studios, London. Accompanying David were an all-star band.

When Bowie set about recording Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), he made several changes in the way he worked according to coproducer Tony Visconti. On this album, he had spent much more time writing the lyrics and working on melodies before he entered the studio. This was instead of having to improvise, and come up with lyrics quickly. Another change was that Bowie decided that the album wouldn’t be as experimental sounding, and instead, the sound should be much more commercial sounding. 

If you’ve heard the Berlin trilogy, you’ll realise that much as they’re innovative albums, they’re not the most commercial sounding albums. When Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was released, the change in sound was astounding, it was an album that would appeal to a wider audience. One other change from previous albums, was Bowie’s reliance on help from musicians who were helping record the album. 

Unlike previous albums, Brian Eno didn’t work with David Bowie on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Previously, he’d collaborated with Bowie on the Berlin trilogy, playing a big part in the sound and success of these albums. Two familiar faces made a return. Roy Bittan who played piano in Bruce Springsteen’s band, and had played on Station To Station. The other was Robert Fripp, who’d played guitar on Heroes, the second of the Berlin trilogy. Meanwhile, two guest artists helped record the album, Pete Townsend played guitar on Because You’re Young and Chuck Hammer, who previously, had played guitar-synth with Lou Reed, played on two tracks. One of these track was Ashes To Ashes, where his guitar-synth playing was at the heart of the track. They weren’t the only musicians to play on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

Other members of the band included a bassist George Murray, guitarist Carlos Alomar and percussionist Dennis Davis. Tony Visconti played acoustic guitar and Andy Clark synths. Adding backing vocals were Lynn Maitland, Chris Porter and Michi Hirota. Producing  Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) were David and Tony Visconti. Once  Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was finished, it was released in September 1980.

Released in September 1980, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was critically acclaimed and commercially successful. It reached number one in the UK album charts, and was certified platinum. Over the Atlantic, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) reached number twelve in the US Billboard  200 charts. A quartet of singles were released from Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Ashes To Ashes reached number one in the UK and was certified silver. Fashion reached number five in the UK, resulting in the single being certified silver. However, Fashion stalled at number seventy in the US Billboard 100. Having said that, it was the only single from Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) to chart in America. The title-track reached number twenty in the UK. Up The Hull Backwards, Finally, Up The Hill Backwards reached number thirty two in the UK. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) had been commercially successful and critically acclaimed, David Bowie was back. 

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was critically acclaimed, with critics saying it was his best album in years. When it was released, it gave Bowie his first number one album in the UK since Diamond Dogs in 1974. The album was a big success in the US, and in the process, helped to rebuild his reputation there. Since Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) release, it’s often cited as one of Bowie most best and most accessible albums. After Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), every new David Bowie album was compared with it. However, what is it that makes Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) so special? 

Opening Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is It’s No Game (No. 1). Various background noises and Michi Hiroto spoken word vocal in Japanese accompanied by loud screeching guitars. David Bowie’s vocal is similarly loud, as he roars at the top of his voice. It’s the mesmeric wall of noise created by the rhythm section that grabs your attention. Guitar solos emerge soaring, screaming and screeching, then disappear, only to reappear later. Meanwhile David sings while a hugely powerful arrangement unfolds. Overall, the sound is slightly harsher than you’d expect from a David Bowie album. Towards the end the track takes a slightly chaotic turn. This doesn’t detract from what is a powerful and impressive track, including a passionate vocal from David Bowie.

Up the Hill Backwards picks up where the opening track left off. An acoustic guitar, guitars and drums combine producing a similarly bold sound. After that, the track changes totally. It’s more understated, with David’s vocal accompanied by the rhythm section. His vocal is much more subdued, almost weaker and thinner. Just as you’re getting used to this quieter part of the track, it’s all change again. Guitars soar high, chiming and screeching, as drums pound powerfully. From there until the track’s end, it’s another demonstration of power from the band, as the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Impressive as the arrangement may be, Bowie’s vocal is slightly weak, but some intelligent lyrics make up for the vocal’s weakness.

David adopts a mockney accent on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) long before anyone had ever invented the term. Robert Fripp’s crystalline, soaring, guitar solo takes centre-stage. It’s outstanding throughout the track. Likewise, David’s vocal is much better. It’s strong and full of character.  Behind him, the arrangement is dominated by the guitars and drums, that punctuate the arrangement. Backing vocals fill in when David’s vocal drops out. The tempo is fast, the sound joyous, and the lyrics descriptive. Bowie and Visconti’s arrangement and production is perfect. This is easily one of the album’s highlights.

Ashes To Ashes sees the reincarnation of Major Tom from his earlier hit single Space Oddity. The song was created around the guitar-synth part played by Chuck Hammer, and feature’s one of David’s best vocals on the album. It’s that guitar-synth, bass and drums that plays the familiar opening to the song. Although his voice is quite different to what it sounding like on Space Oddity, Bowie sings the lyrics perfectly. He’s like an actor going into character as he sings, delivering the lyrics with emotion and charisma. Like his vocal, the arrangement is one of the best on the album. Much of that is thanks to Chuck Hammer’s guitar-synth. Then there’s George Murray’s bass. It’s funky and spacious, while Roy Bittan’s piano playing adds to the atmospheric arrangement of this timeless track.

A short sweeping, echoey sound open Fashion, before it bursts proudly into life. The rhythm section and synths combine with David’s deep powerful vocal. By now, the arrangement has fuller, funky sound. Like other tracks, guitars play a huge part in the arrangement. They’re loud, soaring and chiming, screaming, while drums pound with regularity. A synth plays during the track, adding a moderne sound to the arrangement, while a bass sits at the bottom of the mix. It adds a touch of funk to the proceedings. Just like Ashes To Ashes the track has a timeless quality. Much of that is down to David Bowie and Tony Visconti’s arrangement. This results in another of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) highlights.

Teenage Wildlife features some of Bowie’s most cutting and personal lyrics as he cocks a snook at certain New Wave artists popular in 1980, but now long forgotten. If you listen to the track closely, you’ll hear similarities with Heroes, his 1977 hit single. Guitars play, as another melodic solo emerges. Straight away, there are similarities with Heroes. When David sings, his voice has a haughty sound, laden with character. It rises and falls, highlighting specific lyrics. Drums sit in the background, as the guitars and David take centre-stage, almost stealing the show. Backing vocal accompany and compliment David’s vocal. As the arrangement has really grown, and is dominated by guitars, with drums increasingly playing a more prominent role. This results in melodic track, which showcases David talents as a singer and songwriter.

Scream Like A Baby is a song about a political prisoner, and being imprisoned for your beliefs. With a song about such an important issue, comes a dramatic, almost overwhelming introduction. Straight away, drums are pounded, guitars almost growl at the start of the track. After that, Bowie gives one of most passionate vocals, as behind him, the arrangement isn’t as melodic, and hooks are scarce. It’s a very different track, that sometimes sounds nearly discordant, as drum crash and Bowie’s vocal gyrates. David’s impassioned vocal is full of emotion, anger and frustration.

Kingdom Come has a much more melodic, pleasing sound. Guitars and drums open the track, with the guitars repetitive, layer upon layer of guitars are unleashed. David’s vocal is strong and passionate. He sings call and response with the backing vocalists. This ensures Tom Verlaine’s lyrics come to life, They’re a fairly bleak portrayal of life, and sound more like a portrayal of the afterlife and hell. One thing that’s apparent is the track doesn’t have as polished a sound as you’d expect. Despite this, it’s a hugely impassioned performance from David Bowie and his band, of a track originally made famous by Television.

Pete Townsend plays guitar on Because You’reYoung and contributes towards one of the best arrangements and tracks on the album. Guitars open the track, the sound quickly growing much fuller, the tempo quickening. Davide delivers a heartfelt, soul-baring performance. Around him, the arrangement unfolds. It’s melodic, with hooks aplenty. Chiming and driving guitars, synths and rhythm section produce a bold, dramatic and melodic sound. Here, the lyrics are wistful, even bleak as David  looks back at life, remembering the hurt, dreams and scars while offering advice to another generation. It’s a powerful and moving performance from The Thin White Duke.

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) closes with It’s No Game (No. 2). Guitars and rhythm section set the scene for David. His voice is strong and clear, as he takes care with his phrasing. Guitars punctuate the track, as if indulging in call and response. Later, a piano plays, adding to the track’s drama, and adding another dimension to the arrangement. Guitars chime, the bass plods along and drums are to the fore, pounding and reverberating slightly. Here, the lyrics are political, commenting on world events, revolutions and unrest. Just like other lyrics on the album, his worldview isn’t exactly positive. His glass is half empty. There’s a false ending on the track, and for nearly half a minute, you hear various sound effects. These seem to reflect the events portrayed during the song and a clever way to end this thoughtful track.

I find it hard to believe that it’s thirty-four years since the release of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which was recently rereleased by WEA Japan. The reason for this is it’s a timeless album. Not only that, but Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) marked a change in David Bowies fortunes. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was much more successful than the Berlin trilogy. It contained his first UK number one single and helped rebuild his career in America.

Released in 1980, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was very different to what David Bowie recorded immediately before this. The critically acclaimed, though not as commercially successful, Berlin trilogy preceded Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Although the Berlin trilogy contained some of the most innovative music David Bowie ever released, many fans struggled to understand the music on these albums. The problem was they weren’t populist. Low in Heroes and Lodger aren’t exactly hook-laden. Many David Bowie fans they turned their back on his music. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) saw them return.

Many longstanding David Bowie fans welcomed the change in sound on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). It’s manages to be both innovative and populist. Hooks are certainly not in short supply. Especially on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), Fashion and Ashes To Ashes, which marks the return of Major Tom. As always, David Bowie innovates. He fuses new wave, pop, funk, soul and electronica. The result was an album that’s timeless and manages to retain a contemporary sound. That can be said for much of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) which thirty-four years later, still sounds fresh and has aged well. 

That’s why for many people, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is the last great David Bowie album. After Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), every David Bowie album was compared to it. For many critics, nothing came close. However, David Bowie was about to enjoy a commercially successful period.

Following Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), David Bowie was about to enter one of his most successful periods. His next album Let’s Dance saw his popularity soar, and he acquired another generation of fans. Right through to 1989s Tin Machine, David Bowie’s career enjoyed an Indian Summer. Looking back, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was David Bowie’s last great album. Other albums, including 1983s Let’s Dance came close, but no cigar. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is  a truly timeless and innovative album from David Bowie, Often Copied, Never Equalled.” Standout Tracks: Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), Ashes To Ashes, Fashion and Because You’re Young.

DAVID BOWIE-SCARY MONSTERS (AND SUPER CREEPS).

1 Comment

  1. Nice blog.

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