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David Bowie | Diamond Dogs - 30th Anniversary Edition (EMI)
Bowie's proposed musical of George Orwell's '1984' was vetoed by Orwell's widow, who, disappointed by the film adaptation, had become intensely protective of the source text. Undeterred, Bowie integrated the songs he'd written with the musical in mind with new material that collectively described his nightmarish vision of a future society peopled with roller-skating ragamuffins living on the rooftops of a post-apocalypse, barren city.
Despite its theatrical pretensions, 'Diamond Dogs' remains a favourite of Bowiephiles, and with good reason. For one thing it includes legendary single, Rebel Rebel, as much a bridge between the glam-Ziggy persona and the more 'adult' Bowie as 'Diamond Dogs' was to his white soul period ('Young Americans' was only a year away). Besides the camp swagger of the title track (also released as a single), Rebel Rebel is an anomaly among the ballads and stately epics that form the foundation of the set.
The album's most ambitious section follows the title track, the theatrical masterstroke that is Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise). Here Bowie adopts an array of vocal styles, from the baritone declaration, "It's safe in the city to love in a doorway," to the swooping "Will you see that I'm scared and I'm lonely?" just two lines later, continuing to juggle guises throughout. When he hits the Candidate section, the lyrics pour from Bowie as if he were a conduit for the muddled thoughts of his own futuristic creations: "My set is amazing, it even smells like a street / There's a bar at the end where I can meet you and your friend / Someone scrawled on the wall "I smell the blood of les tricoteuses" / Who wrote up scandals in other bars." As the music builds ominously, the narrator becomes more and more animated, oozing decadent sexuality, telling of putting "all I have in another bed / On another floor, in the back of a car / In the cellar like a church with the door ajar," before suggesting "I guess we could cruise down one more time / With you by my side, it should be fine / We'll buy some drugs and watch a band / Then jump in the river holding hands." As Sweet Thing is reprised, he switches to Brel mode, before the music disintegrates into a chaotic sprawl of discordant backward guitar phasing from speaker to speaker, respite coming in that unforgettable opening lick of Rebel Rebel. It's sheer bravura from Bowie, a triumph of audio theatre.
In comparison, Rock 'n' Roll With Me is a conventional ballad, albeit a superbly sung, impassioned one. We Are The Dead is a curiosity. Musically it acts as a precursor to 'Young Americans', but lyrically it's very much in keeping with the debauched imagery of this project: "For you're dancing where the dogs decay, defecating ecstasy / You're just an ally of the leecher / Locator for the virgin King, but I love you in your fuck-me pumps / And your nimble dress that trails." Next up, 1984 is a funky slice of pop-soul, with a percussive wah-wah guitar, string flourishes, big back-up vocals and hooks aplenty. It's a big production in three and half minutes, befitting its original stage musical intent. Continuing the Orwellian theme, Big Brother offers a glimmer of hope, tainted with blind faith ("Someone to claim us, someone to follow / Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo / Someone to fool us, someone like you / We want you Big Brother"), segueing into the funky mantra that is The Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family, a curiously satisfying finale.
Hugely ambitious in scope, 'Diamond Dogs' was a bold statement, signalling Bowie's departure from the 'glam-rock' scene with which he'd erroneously become associated, and a significant step on his always unpredictable career-path.
The bonus disc on this 30th Anniversary edition is a mixed bag, as low on real rarities as was last year's 'Aladdin Sane' set. The first five tracks were all available on the Rykodisc issue (the cover of Bruce Springsteen's Growin' Up featured on Ryko's 'Pin Ups' set) and 'Sound and Vision' box (the US single version of Rebel Rebel), but for those unfamiliar, include the dropped outtake Dodo (featured in its original version and as part of a medley with 1984, this version also available on the original version of the 'Sound and Vision' set), and the demo of Candidate  that resembles its album counterpart in title only, being an altogether different song. The remaining three songs can safely be described as 'padding'. First up is an edited version of Diamond Dogs previously only found on the K-Tel 'Best Of' compilation, a version of Candidate  remixed for the movie 'Intimacy', and the 2003 version of Rebel Rebel as featured on the 'Reality' bonus disc. In other words, nothing the serious collector/fan won't already have in their collection. In its defense, the package does include extensive liner notes and period photographs, and the reproduction gatefold album cover (including once-airbrushed canine genitalia, fact fans) is a nice touch.

Matt Dornan
July 2004