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.