"And in the death as the last few rotting corpses lay ten thousand peopleoids split into small tribes coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers like packs of dogs the glass fronts of Love Me Avenue. Any day now the year of the Diamond Dogs. This aint Rock n Roll this is genocide."
Thats the vision that opens David Bowies eight album, "Diamond Dogs", due to hit the streets late in May. By the time youve heard those words, youll already have had to cope with the cover-art depiction of Bowie metamorphosed into a dog a nightmare disturbingly detailed by Guy Peeleart 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 Bowies operations. Im sitting in Tony DeFries deluxe office, a spacious room where the Axminster tickles yer ankles, and Im 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, theyre 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 whir by. But less than a mile away, decay creeps in from Seventh Avenue, and up on Tenth Avenue its slaughter. Mick Ronsons image is hung fifty feet high over Times Square, and under it, theyre 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 aint rock n roll, this is genocide" ends the title song begins. Its 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 Ive 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".
Hes 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 its 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". Bowies 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. Its probably Bowies best single, but it wont be released as such in America. At least three of the other four songs have obvious "single-potential" though, so Id 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. Its slow, stately, and delicious. "We Are The Dead" was to have been the original title of the album, and in some ways, its still the meat, but now its 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 isnt just playing with the idea of apocalypse: hes vividly visualizing the pattern of waste and decay, and giving us no starmen to rescue us from the future.
Its slightly surprising to find the song "1984" here. Its part of the "Nineteen Eighty 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.
Its followed logically enough by "Big Brother". "Well 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".
Its a strong and effective album, and certainly, the most impressive work Bowies 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.
Bowies going tot 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 doesnt do them) via various helpful but apologetic Mainmen, one of them runs into the man himself at a 3 oclock in the morning party given after Todd Rundgrens triumphal Carnegie concert.
"God, I hate New York at times". David theatrically intones, as we get into the Englishmen-in-America rap, "and Ive 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.
Nor that Davids simply gigging, hell be making "an extensive series of theatrical presentations" according to Mainman. "Well, Ive 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, Im putting a very good new band together. Therell 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 yknow hes got to be the best bassist in the country, and theres Tony Newman who used to drum in the old Jeff Beck Group.
"Ive also been looking for guitars, and Ive found a really incredible black guy called Carlos, just Carlos!, and theres 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 Ive been going down to the Apollo in Harlem. Most New Yorkers seem scared to go there if theyre white, but the musics incredible. I saw the Temptations and the Spinners together on the same bill there, and next week its Marvin Gaye, incredible! I mean I love that kind of thing!
"Have you heard Ann Peebles"? Yeah, well Lennons right, aint he, best record in years. I mean thats what Id like to do producing Lulu, take to Memphis and get a really good band like Willie Mitchells and do a whole album with her, which I will do.
"Lulus got this terrific voice, and its been misdirected all this time, all these years. People laugh now, but they wont in two years time, you see! I produced a single with her "Can You Hear Me" and thats more the way shes going. Shes got a real soul voice, she can get the feel of Aretha, but its been so misdirected.
"English singers do all this Oh yeah, Alright now on soul songs, and its wrong, but when she doesnt do that she just has the feel naturally.
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 hes done some really good songs there very recently, youll hear Its Only Rock n Roll Music soon its gotta be the single. Then I came here, now Im working with Jules Fisher preparing the act for the tour.
"Hes working on the staging and lighting, and hes great. He just got an award for the lighting he did on "Ulysses In Nighttown" for Broadway, and hes worked on "Hair" and Lenny" a really great lighting designer."
"Then theres the new album, which will be out as soon as the cover arts OKd by RCA. Its a painting of me changing into a dog, right and theyre a bit worried that its cock shows. But apart from the cock, everythings all right".