skip to Main Content

Revisiting Never Let Me Down (1995 reissue)

In the last few weeks I’ve commented on some of Bowie’s worst music, including through a blog post in which I quoted from Nicholas Pegg writing about some of the songs he apparently likes least. Many of those songs came from the album, Never Let Me Down, which has been regarded as a low point for Bowie since its release in 1987. I’ve written before about both the album and its 2018 makeover, in which (then) contemporary instrumentalists replaced the 80s sounds backing Bowie’s original vocals. That exercise proved, at least for me, that the songs themselves and Bowie’s voice were not the problem.

Anyway, after thinking about bad Bowie for a while I decided to put on my copy of the original Never Let Me Down, which is, in fact, a 1995 reissue that includes three bonus tracks, “Julie,” “Girls,” and “When the Wind Blows.” Unlike many albums with bonus tracks, this one works better with the three extra songs. Here’s the thing, though— I like Never Let Me Down. I played and replayed the album. No, it’s not one of my favorites and yes it has many flaws, but still I like it.

The three extra songs range from moderately goods to very good. I think “When the Wind Blows” is one of Bowie’s stronger, if somewhat obscure, songs from this period. I have heard both “Julie” and “Girls” seldom enough that listening to them again was not far off from hearing them for the first time. And…they aren’t bad. “Girls,” in fact was a Bowie B-side, but he wrote it for Tina Turner, and although I wasn’t terribly familiar with her version either, I think her’s is generally better known.

But there’s a lot on the original album that I genuinely like. “Time Will Crawl” is a very good song and was probably lost going forward in the stink of the album’s bad reputation. But I also really like, “Zeroes,” and, ya’ know what, once “Glass Spider” moves beyond the spoken word part and becomes a song— it’s also pretty good. There are a couple of songs that are half good— “Beat of Your Drum” and “Bang Bang” start out sounding like the could have been from another era of Bowie’s career before devolving into the overproduced 80s sound that people don’t like about the album. But both songs have strong cores.

And that doesn’t leave much left. The two songs that got the most promotion at the time, “Day-In Day-Out,” and “Never Let Me Down,” are moderately catchy and not unpleasant. And that leaves “Shining Star (Makin’ My Love),” which is probably the weakest track in part because it features an embarrassing rap by actor Mickey Rourke, and the much derided “New York’s In Love,” which admittedly is no “Life on Mars” but again, its also not like nails on a chalkboard. Bowie himself purged, ‘Too Dizzy” from reissues of the album, so it’s not on my version.

So what’s so bad about Never Let Me Down? I think the real answer is that it fails to live up to what fans were expecting of Bowie. It isn’t a step up from Let’s Dance, it comes after Tonight, which has its own problems, and it has nothing of the threat or innovation of almost everything Bowie did in the 70s. Today, however, it’s just one of 26 Bowie studio albums and one of hundreds of albums Bowie was connected to in some way. They all exist at the same time now, and on its own, well, like I said— I like it. So there.

Back To Top