Thursday, 2 April 2009

David Bowie - Young Americans (1975)

No one does re-invention quite like David Bowie. After moving from hirsute Folk-Rock to trashy Glam in the early-seventies, his next move would prove to be his most shocking yet. Confounding his Glam disciples he re-emerged as a smooth operating practitioner of Philadelphia Soul with the album Young Americans. True, the transition had been coming; embarking on the second half of his infamous Diamond Dogs tour in 1974 the Philly influences were apparent – a slicker sound, grander arrangements – as Bowie had absorbed blue-eyed soul music like only he could: by drowning himself in the music and its concurrent scene.

Always, always, surrounding himself with the most brilliant musicians Bowie’s dalliance with Soul yielded a remarkable album that proved he was capable of mastering any field of music he turned his hand to. Opening with the lusciously lucid title track the listener is treated with a design of things to come: a big, confident sound full of yearning emotion. The elegant ‘Win’ is as heartfelt as you are likely to hear whilst ‘Fascination’ (co-written with Luther Vandross who is part of the sumptuous backing vocal group throughout) delivers a funky bounce as infectious as the bubonic plague.

Elsewhere, ‘Right’ delivers a cool latino shake and the opulent ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ is delivered with religious fervour, played in the funkiest church you’re likely to visit this side of Suffragette City.

Was his version of the Beatles' ‘Across the Universe’ a wise move? That’s for you to decide but it certainly is a valiant attempt. The delicately poised ‘Can You Hear Me’ makes amends and could easily be sung by Dusty Springfield or any other soul great.

The album closes with the highly-stylised funk of ‘Fame’. Co-written with guitarist Carlos Alomar and John Lennon, the song takes a wry look at globe-eating stardom and, ironically, delivered Bowie his first US no. 1.

The music here is distinctly upbeat, positive and relaxed, something which was incongruous with Bowie’s whirlwind, drug-addled life at the time. Ditching the theatrical wail of his glam period and instead mining his sumptuous baritone, Bowie’s voice lends the songs here an almost soothing quality yet fortunately it all verges just the right side of easy-listening. A gloriously intoxicating album and one which furthered his ever-rising star.