White Rabbit Records - Blog

2023 Albums Thing #036 - David Bowie “Scary Monsters”

Posted on


Journalist Gary Mulholland wrote two fantastic books that kept me company when I was laid up at home with a broken ankle. “This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk And Disco” and “Fear Of Music: The Greatest 261 Albums Since Punk and Disco”. In “Fear Of Music” on the subject of “Scary Monsters” he opines that this album is Bowie saying “right, that’s enough…I’ve shown you the way for the last 10 years, it’s your turn now”. Effectively he’s making one last great statement and handing off the baton to a younger generation who have grown up hanging on his every note.

And here it is, the last in a run of 11 consecutive studio albums (as I’ve said before I’m not counting “PinUps”) over 9 years where he barely put a foot wrong musically. In just 9 years he went from “the sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party” hippy-dom to “ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know Major Tom’s a junkie”.

There’s a school of thought that thinks, with “Scary Monsters”, Bowie invents the 80’s. The New Romantics hadn’t really happened yet. The Blitz kids had their little scene going (originally advertised as Bowie & Roxy nights) and Bowie had visited The Blitz and caused quite the commotion. Let’s not forget that the first time most of us saw New Romantics was when Steve Strange and some of the other Blitz kids were invited to appear in the “Ashes To Ashes” video. 

“It’s No Game” bookends the album starting out with Michi Hirota sounding very angry in Japanese, I have no idea what she’s saying. It even seems Bowie has had enough of it all in the end screaming “Shut Up…SHUT UP!”. That’s followed by 4 songs that were all released as singles “Up The Hill Backwards” and “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” see the return of some old friends with Roy Bittan on the former and Robert Fripp on both.

That brings us to one of Bowie’s great songs, “Ashes To Ashes”. The video for “Ashes To Ashes” reveals much about the song, priests, a girl in a pretty dress, a bulldozer, a Pierrot, all in a funeral procession. It could all be the hallucinations of a guy in a padded cell. Was Major Tom flying out in space all those years ago or did we all really know “Major Tom’s a junkie” who was imagining it all ? “Space Oddity” was David Bowie’s beginning point, so was “Ashes To Ashes” meant as his end ? We all know that wasn’t the way things worked out now but things were happening behind the scenes that point to a metaphorical ”end” for David Bowie.

And you all know about “Fashion” don’t ya ? The last song finished for this album and one that, although Bowie went to great lengths to tell that it wasn’t about Neo-facism, certainly has that feel about it lyrically…“we are the goon squad and we’re coming to town,” and “turn to the left, turn to the right”…

Side 2 contains a trio of songs not often mentioned. I’m gonna gloss over the cover of Tom Verlaine’s “Kingdom Come”, it’s not bad but I’m sure he had better somewhere. Cos “Teenage Wildlife”, “Scream Like A Baby” and “Because You’re Young” (featuring Pete Townshend) show that Bowie was on a roll in the songwriting department.

10 years after this album Bowie said

Scary Monsters for me has always been some kind of purge. It was me eradicating the feelings within myself that I was uncomfortable with…You have to accommodate your pasts within your persona. You have to understand why you went through them. That’s the major thing. You cannot just ignore them or put them out of your mind or pretend they didn’t happen or just say “Oh I was different then.” David Bowie, Musician, July 1990

As a closer on this period there’s a story from the making of the “Ashes To Ashes” video (at that point in time the most expensive promo video that had been made) that makes me chuckle. As they were filming at Pett Level beach near Hastings an old fella started walking his dog (as apparently he did every day) along the beach. One of the production crew rushed over to him and told him he couldn’t walk through there as they were making a video and “don’t you know who that is ?”. The old chap looked Bowie, resplendent in his Pierrot costume, up and down and responded “It’s some c*nt in a clown suit”. Bowie continued to tell himself after that, when he got a bit full of himself or drunk on his own self importance, “You’re just a c*nt in a clown suit”…

Teenage Wildlife - https://youtu.be/1hIwB97p3r0

Add a comment:

Leave a comment:


Add a comment