Martin Kirkup • Sounds • 4 May 1974
republished as 'Diamond David' (Rock, June 1974)
"And in the death as the last few rotting
corpses lay… ten thousand peoploids split into smaller tribes
coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers… like packs
of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love Me Avenue. Any day now the
year of the Diamond Dogs. This ain't Rock 'n' Roll
this is genocide."
That's the vision that opens David Bowie's
eighth album, Diamond Dogs, due to hit the streets late in May.
By the time you've heard those words, you'll already have
had to cope with the cover-art depiction of Bowie metamorphosed
into a dog a nightmare disturbingly detailed by Guy Peellaert
of Rock Dreams fame and the inner cover revealing a city
gone to waste.
Diamond Dogs is about a future world (any day now),
over-mechanized and breaking down. As always, Bowie is topical.
The urban decay of the album lyrics could be describing any city,
but perhaps they most often evoke New York the ultimate city.
Diamond Dogs seems to exactly capture old mother-trucking, blood
sucking Noo Yawk: from the hypodermic tip of the Vampire State Building
to the subway depths of Transylvania Avenue.
So here I am in New York to hear the album, up in
the offices of MainMan the holding company for Bowie's
operations. I'm sitting in Tony Defries' deluxe office,
a spacious room where the Axminster tickles yer ankles, and I'm
listening to the depiction of the collapse of a city. I sense a
contradiction in this somewhere.
A pile of Financial Times litter Mr Defries'
desk, a box of the very best Havana cigars lie nearby, and there
are memos detailing how the office potted-plants are to be cared
for; and when you open a box of special Mainman matches, they've
all got golden heads. Matches with many shiny golden heads, that
burn with a vivid purple flame before blackening.
Sitting back in the leather couch, I can just see
down to Park Avenue, where the wheels of the city turn, and limousines
whirr by. But less than a mile away, decay creeps in from Seventh
Avenue, and up on Tenth Avenue it's slaughter. Mick Ronson's
image is hung fifty feet high over Times Square, and under it, they're
showing the first porno movie version of the Bible. New York.
So when those opening words hiss by, spoken over
an electronic orchestra, it means something. As the phrase "This
ain't rock 'n' roll, this is genocide" ends the title
It's a rocking raunchy number that owes a heavy
debt to the Stones' Main Street album. A guitar chimes in, another churns the rhythm along,
and a sax section blows a storm. All played by D. Bowie.
bought me a baritone sax, so I've got the whole set now and
I can do a brass section". David later informs me, "and I play all
the guitars on this one, except for one bit on 1984
which is Alan Parker".
He's also playing a series of mellotrons and
moog synthesizers, which give the first side of the album a ghostly
mechanical effect. Between tracks you can hear those machines whirring
and clicking away. They create the impression of a machine society,
and yet it's still strange that an album which is about the
break-down of an over-mechanized society should rely to so heavily
upon machines. None of this album would be possible without 16-track
tape machines, sophisticated recording studios, mellotrons, and
Diamond Dogs runs to nearly six minutes long, and
then cuts into a three-song sequence of nine minutes, comprising
Sweet Thing, Candidate, and Sweet Thing Reprise. Bowie's
voice on this section is just loaded with decay. Decay; mind you,
not decadence. This album is the real thing.
Rebel Rebel closes out side one on its lightest
note. It's probably Bowie's best single, but it won't
be released as such in America. At least three of the other four
songs have obvious 'single-potential' though, so I'd take bets
that an edited Diamond Dogs or 1984 hits the charts soon.
Side Two has five songs, and kicks off with Rock
'n' Roll With Me which puts stress on the "roll" rather
than the rock. It's slow, stately, and delicious. We Are The
Dead was to have been the original title of the album, and in some
ways, it's still the meat, but now it's just cut 2, side
2. A five-minute trip through a graphically depicted wasteland,
where images of defecation and anesthesia are crammed together. This time, David isn't just playing with the
idea of apocalypse: he's vividly visualizing the pattern of
waste and decay, and giving us no starmen to rescue us from the
It's slightly surprising to find the song 1984
here. It's part of the 1980 Floor Show project
that Bowie may turn his attention to later this year. But here it
is, fitting in perfectly with the futuristic pessimism of the album,
and sounding like a movie theme toon.
It's followed logically enough
by Big Brother. "We'll build a glass asylum, with just a
touch of mayhem" our controller tells us, of a Herb Alpert-like
Moog and a heavy industrial hum. The song buzzes into the final
number: Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family an electronic
study of less than two minutes, which fades for nearly half its
length with an echoey eerie "Right, right, right".
It's a strong and effective album, and certainly,
the most impressive work Bowie's completed since Ziggy Stardust.
The themes are like those of the more recent albums, but it also
goes back to draw on the raw, ugly power that animated The Man
Who Sold The World to offset the production tartiness of the newer
The result is that where Aladdin Sane seemed like
a series of Instamatic snapshots taken from weird angles, Diamond
Dogs has the provoking quality of a thought-out painting that draws
on all the deeper colors.
Bowie's going to have to reproduce some of these
effects on stage when he tours this year, and that was the subject
when we talked last week. Having spent a week trying to arrange
an interview (he doesn't do them) via various helpful but apologetic
MainMen, one of them runs into the man himself at a 3 o'clock
in the morning party given after Todd Rundgren's triumphal
"God, I hate New York at times," David theatrically
intones, as we get into the 'Englishmen-in-America' rap,
"and I've got to spent the next two months here getting the
tour ready for a June 14 start in Montreal". The tour then winds
its way down through the mid-West to the East Coast, climaxing at
Radio City in New York around the end of July.
Not that David's simply gigging, he'll
be making "an extensive series of theatrical presentations"
according to Mainman. "Well, I've a feeling this may be the
last big production type of tour that I do," Bowie tells me. Will
it go to England? "Oh yeah, sure," he replies. Even after all the
'Bowie Quits' headlines of one year ago? David breaks into a very
wide grin. "Yeah, well you really want to do it again, and I do
like to play."
"Also, I'm putting a very good new band together.
There'll be three people from the Diamond Dogs album, Mike
Garson on piano again, Herbie Flowers on bass, yeah I managed to
persuade Herbie to tour with me, and I y'know he's got
to be the best bassist in the country, and there's Tony Newman
who used to drum in the old Jeff Beck Group.
"I've also been looking for guitars, and I've
found a really incredible black guy called Carlos – just Carlos! –
and there's another black guy I want to get to play guitar
in the band. I want a really funky sound."
"Ever since I got to New York I've been going
down to the Apollo in Harlem. Most New Yorkers seem scared to go
there if they're white, but the music's incredible. I
saw the Temptations and the Spinners together on the same bill there,
and next week it's Marvin Gaye, incredible! I mean I love that
kind of thing!
"Have you heard Ann Peebles? Yeah, well Lennon's
right, ain't he, best record in years. I mean that's what
I'd like to do producing Lulu, take her to Memphis and get a really
good band like Willie Mitchell's and do a whole album with
her, which I will do.
"Lulu's got this terrific voice, and it's
been misdirected all this time, all these years. People laugh now,
but they won't in two years time, you see! I produced a single
with her Can You Hear Me and that's more the
way she's going. She's got a real soul voice, she can
get the feel of Aretha, but it's been so misdirected.
"English singers do all this 'Oh yeah',
'Alright now' on soul songs, and it's wrong, but
when she doesn't do that she just has the feel naturally."
Apart from Lulu, what else has been happening for
"Oh, I just spent most of the time in London, there
and in Paris, and I did some recording at Ludolf in Holland. Jagger
uses that studio a lot, and he's done some really good songs
there very recently, you'll hear It's Only Rock
'n' Roll Music [sic] soon, it's gotta be the
single. Then I came here, now I'm working with Jules Fisher
preparing the act for the tour.
"He's working on the staging and lighting, and
he's great. He just got an award for the lighting he did on
Ulysses In Nighttown for Broadway, and he's worked on Hair and Lenny a really great lighting designer."
"Then there's the new album, which will be out
as soon as the cover art's OK'd by RCA. It's a painting
of me changing into a dog, right and they're a bit worried
that its cock shows. But apart from the cock, everything's