Between “Tonight” and “Never Let Me Down” Bowie starred in another movie, the utter embarrassment that is “Labyrinth”. He contributed 5 songs to the soundtrack too, none of which are worth dwelling on. Remember that thing I said about “Scary Monsters”, Bowie was saying “OK I’ve done enough, it’s your turn” well, it has come to pass, it felt like he was barely trying.
Received wisdom is that “Never Let Me Down” is bloody awful, Bowie said as much himself later on…
“I thought it was great material that got simmered down to product level. I really should have not done it quite so studio-ly. I think some of it was a waste of really good songs. You should hear the demos from those albums. It’s night and day by comparison with the finished tracks…When I listen to those demos it’s, How did it turn out like that?”
The album reeks of the 80’s, big drums, big hair, synthesizers and metal-ish guitars. Some of its component parts are indeed horrible, most of Side 2 falls under that description. But in the spirit of positivity I’m trying to cultivate I could make a case for “Time Will Crawl”, “The Beat Of Your Drum” and “Zeroes” being good songs that would be regarded much better than they are had they been treated differently. The album does have 10 new original Bowie songs, they may none of them be classics but that’s more than “Let’s Dance” and “Tonight” combined.
On Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in 2002 Bowie said:
“Of the 26 albums I've made I think there were two when I really wasn't involved and that was "Tonight" and "Never Let Me Down" … That period was my Phil Collins years.”
These two albums (and I’d chuck “Let’s Dance” in to this too. Nile Rodgers has said he was allowed to make the album of songs that Bowie supplied and then he just got off the sofa and sang) were a time when he gained the attention of an audience whose tastes he didn't understand and they almost certainly didn’t understand him. Could you imagine your first exposure to Bowie being “Let’s Dance” or this and then sitting down with “Low” or “Heroes” ?
Beat Of Your Drum - https://youtu.be/Cdd-heyXc3w