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Diamond Dogs

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.

Collapse

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 song begins.

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.

"Angie 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".

Ghostly

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 moogs.

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 future.

Futuristic

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 records.

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 Carnegie concert.

"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."

Designer

Apart from Lulu, what else has been happening for Bowie?

"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 alright".

 

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this page updated October 29, 2018