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Saturday, 6 February 2010

David Bowie - Scary Monsters - Album

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is an album by David Bowie, released in September 1980 by RCA Records. It was Bowie's final studio album for the label and his first following the 'Berlin Trilogy' of Low, Heroes and Lodger (1977-1979). Though considered significant in artistic terms, the trilogy had proved less successful commercially. With Scary Monsters, however, Bowie achieved what biographer David Buckley called "the perfect balance" and the album peaked at number 1 in its second week of release.

According to co-producer Tony Visconti, Bowie's method on Scary Monsters was somewhat less experimental and more concerned with achieving a commercially-viable sound than had been the case with his recent releases; to that end the composer spent more time on his own developing lyrics and melodies before recording, rather than improvising music in the studio and making up words at the last minute. Aside from one cover, Tom Verlaine's 'Kingdom Come', all tracks would be credited to Bowie alone, unlike the 'Berlin Trilogy' where he had increasingly relied on input from his collaborators.

Among those collaborators, Brian Eno was no longer present on Scary Monsters, but Chuck Hammer added multiple textural layers deploying guitar synth and, following his absence from Lodger, Robert Fripp returned with the distinctive guitar sound he had earlier lent to 'Heroes'. Bruce Springsteen's pianist Roy Bittan was back for his first Bowie album since Station to Station (1976), while The Who's Pete Townshend guested on 'Because You’re Young'.

The cover of Scary Monsters featured Bowie in the Pierrot costume he wore in the 'Ashes to Ashes' video, rendered in a combination of Brian Duffy's photographs and a painting by Edward Bell. The original vinyl album's rear sleeve referred to four earlier albums, namely the immediately preceding 'Berlin Trilogy' and 1973's Aladdin Sane, the last-mentioned also having been designed and photographed by Duffy. The cover images from Low, Heroes, and Lodger — the last showing Bowie's torso superimposed on the figure from Aladdin Sane's inside gatefold picture — were portrayed in small frames to the left of the track listing. Their whitewashed look was reportedly designed "to symbolise the discarding of Bowie's old personae." These images were not reproduced on the Rykodisc reissue in 1992, but were restored for EMI/Virgin's 1999 remastered edition.

Following the release of 'Ashes to Ashes' in August 1980, prior to the album, and 'Fashion' in October, the title track was issued as a single in January 1981 in both vinyl record and compact cassette form. The album's final single, 'Up the Hill Backwards', was released in March of that year. Other songs from this period, released on CD by Rykodisc, included both sides of the single 'Alabama Song' b/w 'Space Oddity', the latter a stark remake that debuted New Year’s Eve 1979 on The Kenny Everett Video Show and served as a "ritualistic purification" of Bowie’s most famous number prior to its demolition with 'Ashes to Ashes'; 'Crystal Japan', B-side of 'Up the Hill Backwards' in the UK and an A-side b/w 'Alabama Song' in Japan, where it was also used for a Sake commercial; and a new version of Aladdin Sane’s 'Panic in Detroit'.

RCA released Scary Monsters in September 1980 with the promo line "Often Copied, Never Equalled", seen as a direct reference to the New Wave acts Bowie had inspired over the years.

It was highly praised by critics, Record Mirror giving it a rating of seven stars out of five, while Melody Maker called it "an eerily impressive stride into the '80s" and Billboard reported that it "should be the most accessible and commercially successful Bowie LP in years". The album's number 1 placing in the UK charts was Bowie's first since Diamond Dogs in 1974, while its U.S. peak of number 12 was his highest stateside showing since Low almost four years earlier.

Despite the worldwide megastardom and commercial success that Bowie would achieve in coming years, most notably with his next studio album Let's Dance in 1983, many commentators consider Scary Monsters to be "his last great album", the "benchmark" for each new release. Later efforts, such as Heathen or Reality, were often cited as "the best album since Scary Monsters." In the latest edition of his musical biography of the singer, Strange Fascination, David Buckley suggested that "Bowie should pre-emptively sticker up his next album 'Best Since Scary Monsters' and have done with it".

In 2000 Q magazine ranked Scary Monsters at number 30 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2002 Pitchfork Media placed it number 93 in its Top 100 Albums of the 1980s.

01 - It's No Game (Part 1)
02 - Up the Hill Backwards
03 - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
04 - Ashes to Ashes
05 - Fashion
06 - Teenage Wildlife
07 - Scream Like a Baby
08 - Kingdom Come
09 - Because You're Young
10 - It's No Game (Part 2)

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