Put Up Your Thin White Dukes

May 26, 2009 (Updated Dec 31, 2010)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:"Fame" and "Young Americans" are great songs for the ages.

Cons:The other six snooze-fests.

The Bottom Line: I really like the two monster-classics, but the rest seem to be devoid of David Bowie's personality. Why??????

Disclaimer: Those looking for a brief description of the album will find what their looking for in the "Review Body" section. The section titled "Track Reviews" is meant only for those who want to read detailed descriptions of the songs, and they do not constitute the essence of this review. Lastly and most importantly, this review is not written in the point of view of a David Bowie fan.)

Overall Score: 3.5/5
Best song: “Fame”
Worst song: “Win”

Review Body:

Transformation complete. David Bowie the androgynous space alien had completely morphed into the blue-eyed soulster known to the world as The Thin White Duke. It's cool how Bowie was able to come up with so many awesome aliases, but when I take a listen to this album, I've gotta wonder: Why the did he ever want to go soul? I mean, he doesn't do anything particularly interesting with it. These are more or less straightforward songs. Two of them, “Fame” and the title track , are great of course, but the rest either can't seem to catch fire or they totally bomb. It's no wonder Bowie would start to undergo his next transformation immediately after this album's release! (Hey, you've got to give this guy a lot of credit for knowing when to bail out of sinking ships.)

But at least Young Americans did grant the world “Fame,” David Bowie's first #1 chart-topping single in the United States, and it continues to hold up well. It's hardly an original song; Carlos Alomar went on record saying that the lifted the riff from somewhere else. But, seriously, what a cool song! That riff is funky as all hell, and Bowie barking “Fame!” all throughout the running length quite engaging. The biggest surprise of them all is that one of this song's co-writers is John Lennon, who can also be heard on back-up vocals. Even 30+ year after-the-fact, the prospect of Bowie and Lennon collaborating still strikes me as weird. Aren't they completely different musicians? Anyway, “Fame” is a great song, and in my opinion singlehandedly makes Young Americans a worthwhile venture, overall.

But you also can't forget about the title track, which is equally as good. It's energetic, crunchy and absolutely fun from beginning to end. After sitting through the abysmal David Live, it's nice to find out that Bowie figured out how to sing a soul song! He gasps and grunts throughout the song stylishly while remembering to keep going with the main melody. And the main melody is pretty freaking catchy, too.

Unfortunately, there are other songs on Young Americans. They are generally so weak that you'd might as well not even listen to them. I mean, whenever I put on this album, I pretty much only listen to the two monster classics and forget about everything else! The second track “Win” is a dreary and hookless song that moves along at a snail's pace. It's devoid of anything resembling spunk or personality, which makes it entirely un-Bowie-like if you ask me. “Right” gets a nice little funk rhythm going, but it also strikes me as faceless and uninteresting. It's a dime-a-dozen bedroom-soul song from an artist who was way too talented for it. There's some nice drama going on with “Can You Hear Me,” but again, it's just so dull that I can't even remember it after it's through playing. ....And I've played this album a fair deal over the years! So, I say “meh” to these songs.

By far the weirdest moment of the album is the Pin Ups-style cover of The Beatles' “Across the Universe.” Before you throw accusations at Bowie for screwing up a Beatles classic, you're going to have to listen verrrrrrry closely to one of the back-up singers. Yes sir, that is John Lennon! Who the hell knows what compelled either of them to do this? This cover is so bad that it practically ridicules the original, and it also doesn't seem to belong on this otherwise extremely serious and polished album. .......I'm scratching my head!

Before this album review runs out, I feel that I must point out that listening to David Sanborn's saxophone noodling throughout the album is freaking fantastic. He's the only thing I pay attention to sometimes! I hated his saxophone playing in David Live, but here, he's noodling along most brilliantly! So, let us give kudos to that guy! (And I listened to a few of his solo albums a few years ago............... NOT HALF BAD, I TELLS YA!)

Young Americans probably deserves a 3 for all the boringness that it inflicted onto me over the years, but the title track and “Fame” are such explosive monster-classics that they redeem those boring moments. Then again, you can pretty easily get those two songs on a Greatest Hits compilation or on iTunes, which is what I'd recommend you do unless you're a discography collector. Even as a pretty rabid Bowie fan myself, I can only seem to make it to the middle of “Win” before I just skip down to “Fame.” ...So, this album isn't exactly getting my heartiest endorsement!

Track Reviews:

Young Americans A+
If this was the only reason that David Bowie went soul, then that's alright with me as far as I'm concerned. Forget that David Live even existed. Seriously. That'll just lead you astray from this glorious path! Bowie figured out the best way to sing “soulful,” which is an excessively positive development. David Sanborn is still here on the saxophone, and he's noodling around quite deliciously. The funky rhythm section is wonderful, keeping the pace crunchy and snappy. I even like those soulful back-up singers giving it some nice backbone. The melody is catchy. What else can I say? This is classic!

Win C-
........And then there are the other songs. Why do there have to be other songs? When I first got this album at the height of my Bowie fandom, I hated the other songs so much that I used to just play “Young Americans” over and over and over. And then I'd skip down to track eight and do the same thing to “Fame.” And, when you think about it, can you blame me? This song blows!!! I'm sitting here trying to convince myself that this was a good song all along, but I swear I'm bored to freaking death with this. The echoey horns fluttering around occasionally was a neat idea, I suppose, but considering this overall song is so slowly paced and clunky, it only makes it seem boring and clunky. The melody is nothing. I don't know what to say to you, Bowwwwwie.

Fascination B
This is better since it has a more upbeat rhythm, but it has an awfully difficult time catching fire. You can tap your toes to it, if you want to, but you'll have to force yourself. Bowie's ultra-wobbly vocal performance is sort of cool to listen to, even though I get the feeling that he's trying too hard. All things considered, I think David Sanborn is the star of this show! Listen to that dude toot around in the background!

Right C+
Is this a clunky David Bowie album or what? I suppose it's more delectable than The Man Who Sold the World, but it's not nearly as creative. This song, for example, is just an ordinary, extremely repetitive, and not-too-hooky funk ditty. It's a dime a dozen. Not that Bowie's been excessively original, but I've always been able to pick out his twisted personality in his songs. And here, I just can't find it. This is faceless! But then again, there's still David Sanborn... He's the only one who's making this song interesting.

Somebody Up There Likes Me B-
Not half bad this time. Bowie's vocals are a little more confident, and I'm able to get myself interested in the crunchy groove more or less. David Sanborn gets quite a bit of time to noodle around in the forefront at the beginning, and I seriously wouldn't have minded just listening to him some more! Other than that, I've got so say that this isn't an overly interesting song. The melody is so-so, and the instrumentation is fairly standard for the genre. Plus, it goes on past six minutes, so it tries my patience, too.

Across the Universe B
Oh, boy! David Bowie did it now! He butchered a BEATLES song! ..... Oh crap. Listen closely and you'll very faintly hear a familiar voice on back-up vocals. .....Why it's John Lennon!!! He plays guitar on this, too. Who the hell knows why Lennon came in and helped Bowie do a butchered version of that song. I suppose Lennon went on record saying that he hated this song, so he just decided to have a lot of fun doing a silly Pin Ups version of it with David Bowie. Hey! I would have done the same thing if I was John Lennon! David Bowie is awesome! ...This doesn't sound like it was very well planned. I think the story goes that Lennon just showed up in the studio one day. That freaking weirdo.

Can You Hear Me B-
I can tell you one thing: This song would make an extremely boring Verizon Wireless theme song. Again, this is just a smooth, bedroom soul song that's exactly like most songs of the genre. It's missing a compelling melody, and it's missing David Bowie's distinctive personality. The pacing is slow and boring. Bowie's vocals are OK, but nothing special. AND AGAIN DAVID SANBORN IS COOL! I'M JUST GOING TO LISTEN TO THE SAXOPHONE NOODLE AROUND ON THIS ALBUM AND NOTHING ELSE!

Fame A+
Oh, what a freaking cool song. This is the sort of song that 's so much fun that it almost makes me forget that the previous six tracks bored the snot out of me. First of all, this song has a cool riff! That's almost all there is to it, since Bowie doesn't do much but bark the vocal melody. But Bowie is the coolest person in the universe, so I love listening to everything he barks. And then there's John Lennon doing some really cool back-up vocals, echoing the word “Fame” with an extremely pleasant coo. ...Man, what a freaking awesome song! No wonder it was David Bowie's first (of two) #1 hit singles!

Concluding Remarks:

Young Americans is a mostly dull exercise in blue-eyed soul music. But the power of the title track and “Fame” are almost unparalleled.

Read More David Bowie Reviews By Starcollector!

Early On (1964-1966) | The Deram Anthology (1966-1968) | Space Oddity (1969) | The Man Who Sold the World (1971) | Hunky Dory (1971) | The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972) | Aladdin Sane (1973) | Pin-Ups (1973) | Diamond Dogs (1974) | David Live (1974) | Young Americans (1975) | Station to Station (1976) | Low (1977) | "Heroes" (1977) | Stage (1978) | Lodger (1979) | Scary Monsters (1980) | Let's Dance (1983) | Tonight (1984) | Absolute Beginners (1986) | Labyrinth (1986) | Never Let Me Down (1987) | Tin Machine (1989) | Tin Machine II (1991) | Oy Vey Baby (1992) | Black Tie White Noise (1993) | The Buddha of Suburbia (1993) | Outside (1995) | Earthling (1997) | 'hours...' (1999) | Heathen (2002)

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