Young Americans

by John Landau / Rolling Stone

22nd May 1975

    It’s just another passing phase for the Bowie kid, but you’ve got to admit his contribution to the soul age is an admirable one. Now the incredible Average White Band have a pale-haired Britisher hot on their trails, out to prove that Londoners can be as soulful as the Scots. As good as the vocals on “Young Americans” are, the rest of the album sounds as if it’s running at a slightly distorted speed. Leave one of your older Bowie LPs on the steam heat, then put it on the turntable and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not a pleasant distortion at all. It is most annoying on “Win”, a song that could have been as impressive as “Sweet Thing” from Diamond Dogs.

The majority of this album was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia, home of the East Coast Soul Sound. The strangest thing is that the most successful and the most soulful track on the album, “Fame”, was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan. Written by Bowie and a new collaborator named John Lennon plus Carlos Alomar, it sounds very much like the Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces”. Once you’ve heard it, it sticks with you and while you listen to it, it’s really quite difficult to stay still.

But back to those distorted vocals. The second worst track on the album is “Across The Universe”, that classic tune from the Beatles’ Let It Be album. Usually I love the way Bowie interprets other people’s material, but this is just hideous. Even Lennon standing at his side playing guitar was not enough to intimidate him into a better performance.

On the whole this is a very successful experiment for David Bowie. It is certainly much better than many of his other experiments. If fact, if he does decide to stay with this for more than one album I imagine he will become quite excellent at it. (Of course the progressive world will suffer the loss of a major creative force if he does fall into the top 40 soul music format).

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