*Note – I wrote this review a couple of weeks before Bowie died making this the last album of his I heard before his untimely passing.
Greetings, Glancers! After last time’s outing where I (shock!) actually fully enjoyed a Bowie album I’m hoping for another positive experience. I don’t know much about the album, but looking at the cover it seems to be a more streamlined, stripped back approach, with possibly more simple music and less star gazing. Reading the album intro on Wikipedia, it does mention that the album was Bowie’s take on 1970s Soul music so this could either go very very wrong for me, or be just okay. Lets see how we get on.
‘Young Americans’ is one I have of course heard before, though I was never a huge fan. It’s nicely different from the glam sound which is great, and the vocal backing in the chorus is a plus. I like the swirly middle part and some of the piano pieces, it just doesn’t do a lot for me but a good enough song.
‘Win’ opens with more swirling. Reminds me of… Band On The Run? Nice swaying sounds, gentle and sleepy. Still not a huge fan of the vocals, the backing singers frequently drown him out. It’s another good song with great arrangements but doesn’t hit all the marks on first listen to make me fully fall in love.
‘Fascination’ sounds more like straight up funk, hard driving bass, beats, and guitar. I like this one so far, lets hope there’s a good chorus or pay off. Yay, leads into more backing vocals like some disco influenced American cop show with Cadillacs crashing into bins as they speed down narrow alleyways, and possibly some gangster hanging off the side of a helicopter as it flies above a swamp. This is a good one I’ll happily listen to again. Epic ending too.
‘Right’ starts like a funky cover of Starman then becomes a steamy neon-drenched dirge in the verse and a soulful explosion of different proportions for the chorus, with great sax and guitar throughout. A strong finish to the first side, and a side of Bowie I wasn’t aware of.
‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ opens side two in a similar way to how the first side ended; crunching sax and bruising beats. There isn’t much happening from the perspective of a hook, but there’s a lot going on in terms of arrangement and so much depth and warmth in the sound that you don’t really know how to listen to it. It’s fine to let it all wash over you, but it does feel a little like a never ending end credits sequence – a jam that will simply keep going as more performers come in and play a little piece, taking over from anyone who finally leaves or collapses.
‘Across The Universe’ is one of my favourite Beatles songs. I’m not sure I enjoy the vocal approach to this cover and the way it’s given a glam, country style approach. He gives it his all and definitely gives it a new spin, but it’s not good.
‘Can You Hear Me’ seems like we’re on the straight and narrow again, with lovely strings, Motown, almost oriental guitars. It’s another gentle song with superb arrangement and both verse and chorus hit the mark. There’s a melancholy tone throughout, and though I’m not catching any of the lyrics on the first listen I get the sense of desperation and hopelessness, though it does end on a lighter gospel note.
‘Fame’ is one I’ve heard bits and pieces of before, but never really gave it a full listen. It feels like the most experimental piece of funk on the album, with a lot of heavy guitars and overlapping instruments and vocals. A lot of funny and interesting stuff going on here, some of it dated, but mostly it still works. I can’t say it’s the best song on the album, and a strange way to close it, but it’s fine.
So, another good album from Bowie, or should I say more accurately it’s another Bowie album that I have enjoyed – not really any weak songs or filler, though there is the lack of a truly memorable or standout song or two. The sound and style is coherent which works both to the good and the bad – that sound is catchy and funky, but it does threaten to become samey. The album is short though, and none of the songs outstay their welcome (with the possible exception of Across The Universe), and I appreciate the new style Bowie is moving in. Anything’s better than that glam shite.
What do you think of Young Americans? Is this among your favourite Bowie albums or does it contain any of your favourite songs? Let us know in the comments!