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Classic Pop SEPTEMBER 2018 - by Ian Gittins

DAVID BOWIE: LOVING THE ALIEN (1983-1988)

The fourth boxset in Parlophone's Bowie retrospective gives a compelling makeover to some of his least-inspired pop and rock

Few people would regard the mid-'80s as the zenith of David Bowie's career. Indeed, it induces a shudder to think he began the '80s with the stupendous Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and closed it in the creative cul-de-sac of Tin Machine.

Nevertheless, Parlophone now see fit to celebrate the bits between those two extremes with this weighty 11CD (or 15LP) major boxset of Bowie's '80s meanderings. Based on 1983's Let's Dance, 1984's Tonight and 1987's Never Let Me Down (and including a new production of the latter), it also offers a plethora of new material, including never-before-heard live and remix albums.

It's remarkable Let's Dance remains Bowie's best-selling album, ahead even of Ziggy or Aladdin Sane. There again, it also isn't. With Bowie's arty instincts subdued, its Nile Rodgers-produced FM-radio-friendly funk-rock aimed for the charts, and scored a bullseye. This was Bowie as an A-grade pop tart. And yet, though the album led off with three turbocharged singles in Modern Love, China Girl and the title track, it promptly fell off a cliff. Moroder collaboration Cat People (Putting Out The Fire) was diverting, but few fans returned to Without You or Shake It.

Heartened by the success of Let's Dance, Bowie looked to "keep his hand in" with the next year's Tonight and it sounded what it was: a rushed, thin follow-up. Loving The Alien and Blue Jean were a sleek buzz, but its nine tracks featured five covers, of which the nadir was a hammy drawl through The Beach Boy's God Only Knows.

Yet even Tonight was music of the spheres next to 1987's Never Let Me Down. Its anonymous guitar-driven rock was a precursor to Tin Machine and tracks such as Time Will Crawl and Glass Spider were simply dull - an accusation that had never previously been levelled at Bowie.

Given the limitations of the material, Parlophone do a sterling job of making Loving The Alien appear a must-have. Along with a 2CD, previously unreleased 1983 Serious Moonlight live album from a Vancouver gig, there's a 1987 Glass Spider live album and a Dance LP of twelve-inch singles and remixes. For completists, there are four CDs of exclusive music.

Yet nobody in their right mind would call this boxset all-thriller, no-filler. Let's Dance aside, ultimately it makes the best job it can of documenting a stellar pop genius trudging through the creative doldrums.


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