6) Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) - David Bowie
David Bowie might be an alien. Lord knows that's the idea he's trying to put across. Ziggy Stardust. Thomas Jerome Newton (look it up). That dude from "Labyrinth" (hey, he wasn't from this planet, and could turn into that thing from the "Phantasm" movies AND an owl... sounds like an alien to me). Alien or not, the man is a genius. Think about other artists that have been around for similar lengths of time (there aren't many), and whether or not they stay creatively relevant. Macca needed the remainder of Nirvana to be interesting. The Stones (as much as I love them) have been trotting out the old warhorses (their term, not mine) for thirty years. Is Ringo Starr still alive? Regardless- no one does anything interesting anymore from that era. No one but Bowie. He's always weird, but not weird weird. Just... weird. Throwing curveballs. Trying different, interesting paths. Remember this?
Yeah, that's a drum & bass David Bowie song. There's a whole album like this. It's really good. It gave us this:
See? He has no trouble experimenting. But that's the thing- you always know it's him.
They say every time a new David Bowie album comes out that it's the "best since Scary Monsters". You know why? Because "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" is really fucking good. It's a weird bridge between the experimental Berlin period ("Low", "Heroes", "Lodger" and [maybe] "Station to Station") and his uber-poppy "Let's Dance". So yeah, it's poppy and weird, and the first single, "Ashes to Ashes" is a wonderful example.
It's a dancey, pseudo-New Wave follow up, strangely enough, to his first hit, "Space Oddity". And it's anti-heroin. And he's dressed as both a clown and a spaceman. David Bowie might be an alien.
It's a really interesting album, book-ended by "It's No Game" parts 1 and 2. The first part features a woman yelling in Japanese, one of the most mediocre guitar solos put to tape, and Bowie singing a bit and then repeatedly screaming "SHUT UP!" The next track, "Up the Hill Backwards" doesn't reinvent the wheel, providing an allegory to his then-recent divorce. After that comes the title track, the Robert Fripp showcase, "Scary Monsters". The track is about a woman, withdrawn from society and losing her grip on reality- an interesting parallel given Bowie's own frame of mind a few years before when having refrigerators full of jars filled with his own urine and nail clippings. David Bowie might be an alien.
Then comes the previously mentioned "Ashes to Ashes", and then the polar opposite, "Fashion" (whose video features G.E. Smith, soon to be of the Saturday Night Live band!) "We are the goon squad, and we're coming to town... 'Beep beep!'" David Bowie might be an alien.
The second half of the album kicks off with "Teenage Wildlife", a pointed jab at the Bowie imitators of the time, most notably, Gary Numan. Musically, it's similar to "Heroes", but Bowie is full-on ripping off Ronnie Spector with the vocals. Pretty obviously, too. Up next is "Scream Like a Baby", a somewhat jarring, discordant song revolving around "Sam" and his forced rehabilitation in some sort of futuristic mental hospital. Somewhat offputting and challenging on its first listen, the hook on the chorus really takes hold on repeated listens. Then comes "Kingdom Come", a song originally by Television's Tom Verlaine. Jangly and poppy, Bowie's doing his Spector impression again (no, he's not killing blondes- the other Spector), singing about breaking rocks on a chain gang, losing hope at the work ever ending. The second-to-last song, "Because You're Young" starts off dark and ominous, with horror movie soundtrack keys, tells the story of an old man in a park, watching young lovers walk past, thinking of the dumb mistakes they make "because they're young", and wanting to be young again and have the freedom to make the same mistakes. It's ultimately forgettable, but helps wind the album down a bit, into the closing portion of "It's No Game". Musically identical (sans solo), it features Bowie singing again, sounding weary, as if the events of the album have drained him of the very energy that created it.
I first heard this album in '99, freshman year of college. I was familiar with plenty of Bowie's other work (Ziggy, Outside/Earthling, Young Americans), but I had no idea what to expect with this. I had heard the title track many, many times (including a really, really hard rocking version that he played on SNL in '97 with crazy guitar work from then-axeman Reeves Gabrels), and the same with "Fashion", and I figured the rest of the album would be similar. I was wrong. While NIN's "The Fragile" is the soundtrack to my freshman year, "Scary Monsters" provided an interesting counterpoint. Bowie's inherent alienation (no pun inten... wait, shit, pun completely intended) was a great analogy for what it was like for a socially anxious, yet completely obnoxious person to be thrust into a world they didn't know. Nostalgia, anger, occasional overconfidence, frustration, it was all there, wrapped into a nice little package. Hell, the back of the album shows Bowie himself was in a bit of an identity crisis, with pictures of old album covers with scribbling all over them. He didn't know where he was going, either. There was something comforting in that.
Bowie hasn't made an album that beat this one since, but what would you expect from an alien?