Friday, June 11, 2010

album of the day: Let's Dance

It's no surprise Let's Dance is one of David Bowie's most commercially successful albums, since it was designed to be. The hit singles are all iconic 80s dance-pop songs, drawing heavily from the dawning New Wave movement that an earlier incarnation of Bowie had inspired.

It certainly has its 80s-tastic moments, and it has its flaws. "Ricochet" and the cover of "Criminal World" aren't terribly interesting, for instance.

But to me, the key to this album, and the reason "Modern Love" and "Let's Dance" (and even "China Doll") have lasted, is the brilliant move of hiring Stevie Ray Vaughan to play lead guitar. Vaughan was still struggling with Double Trouble around Austin, and supposedly driving delivery trucks to make ends meet. His brief, choppy, pulsing solos give those tracks a weird lacerating feel that has remained interesting and lively. Nobody would use those effects any more, especially not the absurd echo effect, and the heavy use of chorus pedal is straight outta New Wave, but still, I submit, without him, this disc would be pretty tame stuff.

Not bad stuff, just tame stuff. Some reviews I've read today suggested that Bowie's lyrics keep this from being a Duran Duran album. Sure. Back then, Bowie probably could have sung Yellow Pages listings for dry cleaners and made it sound freaky. Plus I think most of the songs have good bones.

The scary part? 1983. This thing is 27 freaking years old, and that's very hard to fathom.

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