I think this album is a sign that something had to change, but at the same time you can hear how David Bowie was getting more soulful. The lyrics themselves have changed a lot from where Bowie started. I really liked the poetry, beauty, love and hope that had been present in his lyrics since Space Oddity; but, like a tombstone for glam, the album takes on a grim tone of dystopia and dirtiness. Aladdin Sane was quite pretty, but Diamond Dogs is pretty somber.
It opens with an intro that sets the tone for the whole album. I’ve been listening to 1. Outside quite a bit lately, so it immediately reminds me of that album’s spoken word segues. No surprise, since both are rooted in the same post-world debauchery.
I love the change happening with his vocals though. There’s more of his deep, soulful voice which is so beautiful. He hops from that to falsetto a lot on the album. The Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise) is my favorite point in the album. I’m a sucker for little suites like that, and they meld so well together, so that when Candidate transitions back to Sweet Thing, it’s legitimately awesome. The bass is better than it had been in a long time, and the drumming is simple but a pleasure, but the saxophone is the real MVP.
Diamond Dogs and Rebel Rebel are of course fantastic. It’s all swagger like some of the Aladdin Sane songs, but I like the style more than what he did before, and the vocal effects on the title song are interesting. Also, the little electronic cowbell knock-knock-knock beat heard in Diamond Dogs sounds like the opening to Fashion, but it may just be a coincidence. I remember my friend in high school told me that Rebel Rebel reminded him of me, and at the time I felt self-conscious about that comparison, but now I’m gonna retroactively take it as a compliment.
The second half of the album features songs that Bowie wanted to use in a 1984 theater adaptation, but since that failed they were worked into the album, and I think they fit pretty well. One of the reasons for the darker tone on Diamond Dogs is the exchange from piano to keyboards on some of the songs, like We Are the Dead, which drives home some pretty morbid themes. The song 1984 is super ‘70s, but it’s gorgeous, and the background vocals are great as is the instrumentation. When I hear this, I think of Stay from Station to Station. It sounds pretty dated, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing.
The album seems a lot like a reaction to Ziggy Stardust to me, like he’s killing the character despite having supposedly killed him years before. For one, there’s a narrative that’s a super grim take on the world where Ziggy might have come to, then Rock ’n’ Roll With Me (another definite highlight on the album) seems like it would fit alongside a song like Lady Stardust. The chorus is very sing-a-long, and it’s like a hand stretching out to the people who adore him.
The real heavy-hitter of the back half is Big Brother. You can really hear that he’s getting more interested in experimentation, and the lyrics remind me of a more rotten Ziggy character. The outro of this song is so good. Plus, it’s basically proto-Skeletal Lamping. The Idiot mentioned that to me once, and it’s always stuck with me.
As a side note, I actually laughed in real life when I read that Robert Christgau rated Pin Ups higher than this. This isn’t, like, 10/10 BNM or anything, but come on! This album is really underrated. I don’t know about you all, and I know taste is subjective, but I like this more than Aladdin Sane.