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Review of PinUps (1973)

Bowie's Tribute to the London Boys

by M.H - ???? (October 1973)

DAVID BOWIE: "Pin-Ups" (RCA RS1003).

DAVID BOWIE does it again! And again. Bowie has really stuck his neck out, taken a leap in the dark etc. with this latest album. But with, I'm told, firm sales before delivery of some figure with five noughts after it, he has chosen the right time to experiment. I do not recall anyone trying to recreate the feel of the music of one particular period with its own songs, but that's what David Bowie has done.

These songs will be familiar to everyone who listened to the pirate stations as they beamed their continuous music programmes across most of Britain during their hey-day: and they will bring back an even stronger taste of how things were to those who did hang out with the London Boys and went to the Ricky Ticks (no I don't know how to spell it either). It's a stroke of near genius, as the album's appeal will be strong enough for these fascinations to retain Bowie's older followers, who might have thought he was losing credibility by his involvement in the teen-star bit. They will be intrigued to know how Bowie hears the same songs as they did and make so bold as to say, well I do still prefer the original.

And as for Bowie's beautiful boys and girls... well, they'll be unhindered by history and will just have the unalloyed joy of David Bowie and the best Spiders yet running their way through twelve songs, the cream of the radio and club hits from the most successful and productive period of music in London. Whichever way you look at it, everyone's getting a good deal, even the notables Bowie's borrowed from - can you imagine even demi-gods like Pete Townshend, Ray Davies, perhaps even Syd Barrett, resisting the temptation to sneak out and score a copy to see what he's made of their song? All the winner cards are there. Yet, however brilliant the idea, it would amount to nothing if David Bowie did not sound like David Bowie, and the songs did not sound like the songs they really are (these songs are part of history remember: tampering with them is a dangerous business, like all time-travel: tripping back in the past, you may just make a few changes that materially affect the present).

For as surely as Elmore James's (and of the many before him) "Dust My Broom" is now Status Quo's, so the Merseybeats' "Sorrow" is David Bowie's, exactly as this time next week the Pretty Things' "Rosalyn" and the Kinks' "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" will also be David Bowie's. Now I think that's a bit of a cheek really, but he didn't get where he is now by standing bashfully in the corner, did he? Regard it as a tribute, and you don't have to plague yourself with such conundrums. Let it be said that Bowie performs superbly on this selection of songs, always getting inside the skin of the song until it fits him as closely and revealingly as Pierre Laroche's masks on the cover picture (oh yes, he does come off better than Twiggy doesn't he? Lovely cheekbones): Phil May's sneer and snarl on "Rosalyn" and "Don't Bring Me Down", the stuttering aggressive pillhead's rant of Roger Daltrey (nice hairstyle) in "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere", the laconic bewilderment of Ray Davies in "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" (chosen incidentally as the party-motto of this album).

People of course criticise this and that track, say, say well I think the sax is wrong on the opening of "Can't Explain" and he takes it too slow anyway - that the guitar solo on "Shapes Of Things" sounds contrived and lacking in tension - that "Here Comes The Night" sounds like a gross parody of the raw sensuality of Van Morrison's voice with Them - that to put two voices in Barrett's "See Emily Play" is absurd, misses the point, admits defeat from the very start and should have stayed where it belonged in "The Bewlay Brothers".

Oh, and that Aynsley Dunbar is too organised a drummer to create the Moon-struck shambles of "Anyway" that Bowie can't blow a harp like Keith Relf and Mike Garson is much to smooth an operator behind the ivories... All this does not mean a thing, though people will argue about it for weeks.

The whole point is that every song proclaims David Bowie loud and clear. Of course, in retrospect, David Bowie does not perform these songs as well as the original creations, rough hewn as they were from the hardly-cooled lava of a musical eruption in London: for this is seven or eight years later (my goodness, so it is). These are emotions recollected in tranquillity and exquisitely shaped with the knowledge gained in the interim. You wonder whether, when they first cut the songs, the original artists might nit perhaps have heard in their heads an arrangement of the perfection which only now has been attained by David Bowie.

Needless to say, this will be a fantastically successful record here; and in America too I daresay.

---This page last modified: 29 Jun 2002---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)