My friend Mark Ryan has come back to do another comparison review featuring his two favorite artists, Gary Numan and David Bowie. It’s an honor to have Mark share his thoughts with us on Rave and Roll.
My name is Mark Ryan and I am a longtime friend of Miss Parker’s. It was my suggestion that I do the following review. I grew up listening to David Bowie, and later on Gary Numan. Music was always in my house, and to this day, I have continued this legacy with my own children.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was David Bowie’s last Album for RCA. Recorded in New York and London, it was released in September 1980.
Side One starts with “It’s No Game (No. 1),” and includes the sounds of a flushing toilet and a Japanese girl’s vocal. Bowie wrote the lyrics about class society while doing his latest tour. In it, he seems very angry.
“Up the Hill Backwards” is a lovely harmonic song, with lush guitar, soothing percussion (not drums), and the bass, which is set perfectly. This was written about Bowie’s recent divorce and how he struggled with it; hard to imagine, but true.
The track “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” is a 5-minute masterpiece. This song is brilliant; Bowie’s vocals are great with superb guitar work by Robert Fripp. It seems the guitar takes on a life of its own. The song is written about someone who withdraws from people’s attention; perhaps Angie Bowie or even David himself, upon closer inspection.
“Ashes to Ashes” is a follow-up to “Space Oddity.” It’s Bowie doing funk before funk was cool. The song features George Murray performing slap bass on a fretless bass guitar throughout. I love the guitar and synthesizer here, as well. The song’s lyrics describe how Bowie is finished with the 1970s and starting out in the 1980s.
Side One ends with “Fashion.” It seemed that every girl in my school who was a Bowie fan loved this song. Again, it features Robert Fripp’s guitar work (just how good is he?) and shows the New York influence on Bowie with elements of funk and bits of reggae. This track also features a description of his own political stance at the time.
Side Two starts with “Teenage Wildlife.” Before I review this, I should mention that this one of my Top 10 Bowie songs of all time. This track is just amazing and is a 7-minute masterpiece. “Teenage Wildlife” should have been released as a single. It was written about all the New Wave bands that were coming through at the time, and in it, he appears to feel threatened. It even sounds like a personal attack on some of the competition (Numan in particular). Aside from that, the track featues great guitar work by Robert Fripp and Chuck Hammer who accomplishes his guitar through a synthesizer. The lyrics are brilliant on this song: “As ugly as a teenage millionaire, Pretending it’s a whiz-kid world.” Just listen to this and you will be hooked.
“Scream Like a Baby” sees Bowie writing once again about 1984. However, this time he talks about “Sam.” Its very theme underscores the album and is a great follow-up to “Teenage Wildlife.”
“Kingdom Come” is next. Up to this time, Bowie never did a bad cover version, and this is no exception. With lovely backing vocals, this song was written the year before by Tom Verlaine.
“Because You’re Young” follows with The Who’s Pete Townshend on guitar. This is a great, but underrated, song. It features a lovely synth against the backdrop of David’s vocals.
“It’s No Game (No. 2)” finishes the Album. This is the same as Track 1, without the heavy lead guitar, but featuring the slap bass once again. Even though he still appears quite angry, you can tell he copes with his anger much better this time.
Scary Monsters is quite possibly Bowie’s best album. There is not a weak song on the album and the production is consisitent throughout. Some interesting facts: this was orginally going to be an instrumental album and it was only later on that he decided to add lyrics to it. Both George Murray & Denis Davies should be appreciated for their input; Denis plays percussion brilliantly and even in the slower number, you can hear his influence. This is a must-buy album. Shame there was no tour to support it.
Gary Numan – Strange Charm
Strange Charm was recorded in May & June of 1986 and released in November 1986. The album starts off with “My Breathing.” This is a brilliant song with soaring synths and superb violas. This is one of my most favourite Numan songs because it is so powerful with beautiful arrangements. There’s even an Arabian feel to the song.
“Unknown and Hostile” picks up where “My Breathing” finishes; however I am not convinced of the success of drum sound here. It seems lost somehow; but, the song is a story and it has been loved.
“The Sleeproom” is a beautiful song, and in my opinion, the perfect follow-up song to “Down in the Park.” There are great synths with a lovely bass synth thrown in; even the backing vocals are set in stone. Definitely an underrated Numan song.
Side One finishes with “New Thing From London Town.” This was written with Bill Sharpe of Shakatak fame. It’s a brilliant track with good drum synths from Roger Odelle. However, the down side is that the song doesn’t fit in with any other part of the album making it obviously out of place. This recording would have fit better on the album Sharpe & Numan.
Side Two starts with “I Can’t Stop.” This actually got Gary back onto the charts and is a personal song: “I’m back and I’m proven (Yeah).” The song features awful female backing vocals; however, they are soon forgotten thanks to a great lead guitar. Gary is also on form with his vocal range.
“Strange Charm” is up next. This track contains more girl backing vocals that drone over Gary’s voice, which along with drum/keyboards, are actually in harmony.
“The Need” is, quite simply, awful. “Get The Need” is the first thing you hear on this one. I’ll leave you to your own imgination; but, in my opinion, it’s best to avoid this song altogether.
Strange Charm finishes with “This Is Love” written for Gary’s girlfriend at the time. It’s a lovely song with drum effects, and a beautiful, soothing piano played by Ade Orange.
Strange Charm is indeed a strange album. Depsite the great opening, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Too many female shouting/backing vocals and not enough of Gary’s. I can understand where Gary was coming from; he needed a new sound and he liked to experiment with different noises and textures. However, there is no theme. The album starts off strong, and then it ends flat. I have played this album over and over again, recently, and I find it can result in two very different reactions: it’s either great, or it’s crap.
~ Mark Ryan ~
David Bowie – “Ashes to Ashes” via YouTube user emimusic
Gary Numan – “My Breathing” via YouTube user Gazz1617