Let's Dance

David Bowie

EMI Records, 1983


REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


Let's Dance is a watershed release in David Bowie's long career for a number of reasons. It's the first time that he didn't bother to include any kind of arty pretensions in the music and the result is a standard issue mainstream dance pop album. It was also his most commercially successful album by far, with a trio of hit singles that propelled him to ‘80s superstardom. On the image front, he abandoned his freaky looks of the past in favor of a clean cut, preppy look, complete with button shirts and blazers and all that sort of bullshit. Rock stars should not look like accountants.

The music sounds basically like what you'd get if Bowie were fronting Duran Duran – keyboards and synths next to flangey guitars and bubbly bass riffs. It’s not really a huge surprise since his last album, Scary Monsters, already hinted at a more accessible direction, and the choice of using ‘80s funk-lite master producer Nile Rodgers cements this.

There isn't a hint of spontaneity or any kind of rock 'n roll attitude to be found here. This is an older, increasingly boring David Bowie moving into a less rebellious form of music. Honestly, I can't blame him for going the pop route. He'd been at it for 20 years by then, and I'm certain he wanted to ensure himself a generous amount of retirement money because in the music business you never can predict when your career will be over. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Let’s Dance was a highly successful attempt to capture a younger, possibly female, audience with its calculated brand of trendy dance pop.

Bowie’s vocal performance is superb throughout, but the music itself sounds far more dated than on older albums because of the production techniques that were typical of mainstream records of the time, such as the hugely reverbed drum sound and prominent keyboards. Now, when that is in the form of superbly written songs, of which there are six on here, then it’s not an issue beyond perhaps a slight chuckle, but when it's not (the remaining filler tracks), then it tends to amplify the failings rather more dramatically than it normally might.

The album starts off very promisingly indeed, with the three huge hits back to back: "Modern Love," an intriguing, up-tempo ass shaker with a ‘60s Motown influence; "China Girl," written originally by Bowie and Iggy Pop for the latter’s 1977 solo debut, complete with a stereotypically Oriental sounding melody; and "Let's Dance," a slower space funk tune with a very distinctive bass line. Also of note are the sentimental “Without You” and the moodier, nocturnal goth pop of the cover “Criminal World.”

However, like so many pop albums based around a handful of inspired singles, there is filler to be found. “Ricochet” is utterly bland and forgettable, and “Shake It” sounds like a mid ‘80s Janet Jackson throwaway, although "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" fares a lot better with its dark, eerie vibe. .

While Let’s Dance certainly contains a batch of well written, refined, memorable songs that were massive successes for him, it also represents the beginning of Bowie losing his artistic identity. Reduced to copying the very bands he himself influenced, this album finds Bowie in the unfamiliar position of no longer being a musical innovator for the first time, and many fans of his earlier work choose to ignore this phase of his career.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+



© 2008 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI Records, and is used for informational purposes only.