Monday, October 31, 2016

The Gouster

Of all the David Bowie records released on RCA during his classic run from 1969-1980, "Young Americans" is the one I like least. To my ears, it is most representative of the criticisms Bowie naysayers toss out so generously when trashing his work.

Plastic. Poseur. Melodrama. Cringemaking crooning. Insincere.

While I have always been convinced by Bowie's musical endeavors and alter egos, from folkie to spaceman and back, I have never bought him as a soul man. Quite frankly, if Luther Vandross took the lead vocals on the entire "Young Americans" record, I would still find the music and production to be Vegas showy, plastic and soulless. And still, I don't hate "Young Americans."  I just don't like it very much and it is the record I play least out of the first 13 studio albums.

Then, there is "The Gouster," a record that was recorded after "Diamond Dogs," but never fully realized, so instead, with some editing and some tweaking, we got "Young Americans" in its place. So what is it about "The Gouster," essentially the same exact record I just described, give or take the tweaks, that I find so charming?

First, "The Gouster" removes two of the weakest tracks that ended up on "Young Americans," the Vandross co-penned "Fascination," which plays like some third rate soul band appearing in the Starlight Lounge at some Reno casino, and the absolutely horrific cover of John Lennon's "Across The Universe." "The Gouster" also leads with "John I'm Only Dancing (Again)," the revved-up, disco-fied version of the early glam single, which admittedly, isn't my favorite track on the record, but at least sets the stage more appropriately than the hit, "Young Americans," which I don't mind, but always found to be very clumsy.

Where "The Gouster" also succeeds is in its exclusive tracks. Both "Who Can I Be Now" and "It's Gonna Be Me" are far superior than anything that appeared on "Young Americans," and yes, they are actually soulful. Also, the alternate mix of the gospel-like ballad "Can You Hear Me? feels more organic, a tad underproduced for a change. I am a firm believer in sequencing, and "The Gouster" plays beautifully.

If "The Gouster" had been released as is, who knows if we would have heard what became Bowie's biggest hit at the time, "Fame," as it does not appear here. I am also quite confident that "The Gouster" will not change the minds of the Bowie dissenters. But it made me, a Bowie fanatic, appreciate yet one more piece of the puzzle.


Matt said...

I fully concur! I have been spinning THE GOUSTER on Spotify and I too enjoy it more than YOUNG AMERICANS - as a set.

Anonymous said...

I had a neighbor that regularly played Young Americans on his high-priced stereo. it was my check-out album for Bowie, but I had to admit it was well-recorded.

That neighbor also loved Van Morrison's "Wavelength," which became my check-out album for Van the Man. Got any alternate versions of that record?

Bulletins From Mars Hill said...

Well you know Young Americans is in my top three Bowie albums, but so are thirty more. I hated it when it came out and it took me years to get into, but there was something that kept drawing me back. The Bowie doc Five Years show him recording the album and here we see the genius of the man. The backing singers are mesmerised by the patterns he’s asking them to sing.

I suppose also for me it is the sound of New York in the mid seventies, I say that with the full authority of someone who was never in New York in the Mid Seventies. The idea that Gouster was some sort of lost masterpiece is a bit suspect. I have checked books from the time and it was never mentioned. There was chatter about the extra tracks recorded when Lennon showed up and how a new producer brought a freshness that Bowie liked, but the word Gouster was never mentioned. Across The Universe was and is a pretty dire recording, but it’s John Lennon. I mean who wouldn’t want John Lennon on their album? Sometimes we forget that Bowie could be a fan as well.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Young Americans was my "checkout" album. Not until "Low" did I return. Only to check out again with "Tonight". And back again with "The Next Day".

dogbreath said...

Been a long weekend of planes, trains & automobiles (have I said before what a good title for a movie that is?) (Yes - Ed) visiting stepdaughter at uni & overdosing on her & her friends' musical preferences like Blossoms, The 1975, Olly Murs, Ed Sheeran, etc. So what do I cleanse my ears with on my return? Yes, "The Gouster" - I had to google "gouster" to see what it meant! I liked about half the album on initial release but the addition of the exclusive tunes does the trick for me, adding another layer of magic that Bowie could seemingly keep in his back pocket. Good stuff!