Young Americans

David Bowie

RCA Records, 1975

http://www.davidbowie.com

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/14/2008

In a complete about-face that confused and alienated a large sector of his fans, David Bowie surprised everyone with his Young Americans album in 1975 by discarding the glam rock that made him a star and promptly started imitating Barry White (not literally). Sounds like a moment of unbridled inspiration, doesn't it? Think about it -- lanky, effeminate British glam rocker embracing the sweaty, earthy gyrations of American soul! Okay, maybe not.

Young Americans is a quite the misfire for Bowie. His attempt at a style of music that was never even hinted at in his past work sounds predictably awkward, not to mention very slow and boring. What the hell happened? I mean, he had a fairly solid string of albums in the first half of the decade, but unfortunately, I can only find two very good songs on this album, and one more that isn’t bad. The remainder is hypnotically dull blue-eyed soul balladry that might sound passably listenable if you're a lunkheaded housewife who fawns over Hall And Oates. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This is not a rock album in the slightest. The guitars are rarely audible and most of the time are relegated to doing that ‘70s muted chicka-chicka funk thing in the background, while the rhythm section is brought more to the front along with plenty of saxophone and a rather gratuitous use of gospel backup singers -- which is actually a welcome addition since Bowie's nasal, high vocals really don’t match this style of music and often feel like an unwelcome intrusion.

The album’s ultimate downfall, however, is not Bowie’s misguided adaptation of a genre alien to him, but rather, poor songwriting. Aside from the lovely title track, which sounds like the theme song to a black ‘70s sitcom and the funky hit "Fame" (co-written with John Lennon -- every review has to mention this), there isn't even a remotely memorable hook anywhere to be found on the rest of the album, which is full of identical-sounding, painfully slow lounge ballads that showcase Bowie's awful attempts to sound seductive. I mean c'mon... he's got less sass in his entire body than one droplet of Barry White's (plentiful) sweat. What’s next -- line dancing at the Apollo?

Generally speaking, I highly respect artists who take a stab at different genres of music that nobody expects them to fiddle with and David Bowie is no exception, but the final results found on Young Americans are weak indeed. Very little of it works either as a sincere emulation of soul or as a strange hybrid of it. Thankfully, it would be his one and only flirtation with the genre.

Rating: D-

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© 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 RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.