"Beware the Savage Jaw...." In Praise Of....Diamond Dogs by David Bowie

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"Oh Caress yourself my juicy, for my hands have all but withered...."


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I swore I wasn't going to buy it, as I already possessed the extras-laden Rhino re-release of it, but lo and behold, the 30th Anniversary 2CD Edition of the mighty Diamond Dogs sat on the shelf, staring up at me, and ...I HAD TO BITE!

Oh how I love Diamond Dogs. Another album I've owned on virtually every format possible (I believe my sister used to own the 8-track version of it, no less). Sometime in the very early 80's, after repeated airings of the ChangesOneBowie LP (courtesy of, once again, my then cool older sister), I swiftly decided that "Diamond Dogs" and "Rebel Rebel' were the coolest tracks on that compilation, so the album that spawned them must be equally rockriffic. And oh how right I was.

I remember buying the cassette, still complete with darkly enigmatic and slightly lurid cover art (who are those pudgy blue ladies next to our David?) at a now long-vanished record store on 3rd Avenue & 86th Street, and immediately slapping it into my bulkily unweildy Walkman for what would be a marathon three-day listening session over a suitably rainy fall weekend out on Long Island. The album's atmosphere of dread, decay and weary submission was the perfect soundtrack for the damp chill. At points histrionic and melancholy then menacing and rocking then suddenly grooving and funky, Diamond Dogs was a brilliant smorgasboard of brooding rock. And I fuckin' loved it.

Apart from the "Gamma World"-esque title track and the glam guitar stomp of "Rebel Rebel" (someone unsuccessfully attempted to argue with me recently that the riff of "Eighties" by Killing Joke is "Rebel Rebel"s note-sequence in reverse. It's not.), there are so many other amazing moments here. The "Sweet Thing- Candidate-Sweet Thing" passage alone is a work of malevolent genius (and clearly something the likes of Andrew Elditch spent a lot of time listening to in his youth). I've never understood why "Rock'n'Roll With Me" isn't a more celebrated Bowie tune, given its shamelessly romantic sentiment and feel-good chorus (rather at odds with the rest of the Orwellian album). "We Are the Dead" returns to proto-Goth territory, and it still gives me gorgeous shivers (especially the line: "you're dancing where the dogs decay, defecating ecstacy....") Who provided the female vocals augmenting Bowie's on the second verse? It's fucking beautifully gloomy, libidinous track.

I was always curious about how Bowie's adaptation of "1984" would've been, had Orwell's estate given the green light. Alas, they didn't, leaving only fragments of the story left within Diamond Dogs ("We Are the Dead", "Big Brother" and "1984" being the obvious allusions). A surprisingly discoey track, "1984" still exudes a vibe of impending chaos (wrapped in those shrieking disco strings, alarm-bell keybs and wah-wah guitars). "Big Brother" assumes a suitably dour and stentorian pace then closes with the looping "Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family", ending with that breathless "BRA-BRA-BRA-BRA-BRA.." that still gives me a bit of fear.

The new 2-discer comes with a nice little booklet and disc of extras, containing more versions of "Dodo" ( itself excluded from the original album, but featured on the Rhino release) and some other stuff. Ultimately filler and spin-once-then-put-away stuff, but interesting nonetheless. I haven't poured over the book yet, but it awaits.

I'm not even going to ask "what say you?", as if you can't appreciate the grimacing majesty of Diamond Dogs, you clearly have your head well up your own canine's hindquarters.

DIAMOND DOGS RULE OK, indeed.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Thursday, 17 June 2004 01:39 (fifteen years ago) link

in-deed.

Matos W.K. (M Matos), Thursday, 17 June 2004 01:41 (fifteen years ago) link

does this work now?

Matos W.K. (M Matos), Thursday, 17 June 2004 01:42 (fifteen years ago) link

"Candidate" is utterly, utterly wonderful. I've quoted the bit about 'rumors and lies and stories they made up' to myself far too many times when confronted with idiocy.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Thursday, 17 June 2004 01:43 (fifteen years ago) link

Alex, that's yer real e-mail addy, isn't it?

scott seward (scott seward), Thursday, 17 June 2004 03:35 (fifteen years ago) link

i come not to bury diamond dogs (though it isn't one of my faves) -- but to wonder aloud why station to station hasn't gotten a thread of its own?

Eisbär (llamasfur), Thursday, 17 June 2004 03:37 (fifteen years ago) link

still, i may very well drop some $$$ on this 2-disc reissue.

Eisbär (llamasfur), Thursday, 17 June 2004 03:38 (fifteen years ago) link

Alex, I sent you an e-mail at that address up top. If you didn't get it, e-mail me back. I'll get back to you in the morning. I'm going to bed. (I got some bizness to discuss)

scott seward (scott seward), Thursday, 17 June 2004 04:07 (fifteen years ago) link

agreed re the album proper a longtime personal fave. but this 2cd set is a bit cheap methinks. the packaging is a LOT shoddier than the Ziggy/Aladdin 2cd reissues . wherefore are thouh hard cardboard cover ? and the extra tracks have all been put out previously on the ryko reish's as mentioned .. surely there is other 'unreleased' stuff that they could have included for the collector scum amongst us ?
and as for rebel rebel .. heard the new mash that bowie has released on vinyl only ? my last thread died as no-one interested .. but i wont take it too personally !

mark e (mark e), Thursday, 17 June 2004 07:16 (fifteen years ago) link

"Fleas the size of rats/sucked on rats the size of cats/and ten thousand peoploids.... "

'Nuff said. Marc Bolan at his absolute worst wouldn't touch a line like this with a ten foot pole.

"When You Rock & Roll With Me" = song as lame as something found in Broadway production of "Grease".

Consolation: nothing on this album is quite as bad as "Lady Grinning Soul".

QLW, Thursday, 17 June 2004 08:00 (fifteen years ago) link

I don't think the fleas/rats line is too bad. There are some stunning lyrics on this album, in particular sweet thing/candidate, but it's a lame game quoting lyrics out of their musical context anyway. Diamond Dogs is a magisterial album and one of Bowie's best, although I think the title track is weak and too pldding.

Jonathan Z. (Joanthan Z.), Thursday, 17 June 2004 08:08 (fifteen years ago) link

um, "plodding".

Jonathan Z. (Joanthan Z.), Thursday, 17 June 2004 08:08 (fifteen years ago) link

Guess I shouldn't have sounded so snide/dismissive, but I've always thought that Diamond Dogs was a weak album by 70s Bowie standards. There are some good things about it, namely his bravery in taking voer the lead guitar slot. I do like his amateurish playing. It's too bad that the musicians he did work with here sounded so plodding and faceless. You know, the typical 70s session man sound. And as for the vaunted "concept" ... hell, the album, whether you like it or love it, makes no damn sense, really. It's one big incoherent mess that people have always projected a lot more into than was actually there. Now I know the back story here - Orwell estate refusing permission to use the 1984 themes and characters - but, still, the album as it stands isn't much. It just seems kind of ... goofy.

To be fair, the title song would be an OK Stones ripoff if it was maybe half the length that it is. It makes its point quickly and then proceeds to plod on (I agree) endlessly and pointlessly. And introducing these characters - Halloween Jack (I think I can type that name with a straight face), etc. - that never get mentioned again throughout the duration of the record. See what I mean?

Good Bowie vocal performance in "Candidate". OK. Wish it had a better lyric, though. Every time I heard "Boys/boys/ it's a sweet thing", I always thought of Ferry singing "Here's looking at you kid". Yep, it's a Roxy Music rip-off. And not a good one at that.

"Rebel Rebel" has a great riff, surely. But I think this one also goes on too long and pointlessly. Really, I think you can objectively state that the entirety of side one consists of a few ideas - 3 short songs - stretched out far beyond what is necessary. Unless, of course, you're David Bowie and short on material and need to fill up an album side quickly.

Speaking of which, most of the second side seems much less memorable. "Rock & Roll With Me" remains a faux-Broadway piece of shit. (I'd much rather hear faux-West End pieces of shit like "Love You Till Tuesday" - it's a better song, at least.) Things like "1984" and "We Are The Dead" - hard to rememember much of anything about these.

The chant thing was at least kind of cool back in the day, if you were stoned and didn't have an auto return turntable.

Perhaps you can tell that I haven't owned or heard this lp since around 1979. I haven't wanted to either.

QLW, Thursday, 17 June 2004 08:35 (fifteen years ago) link

I think the fact that it doesn't really make sense as a concept album is actually one of its strengths. There's 1984, there's some other Futuristic overlay of the intro and title track, there's the Burroughs world of Sweet Thing/Candidate, all the bits sort of relate to each other without quite cohering. If it all really did cohere, it would be much more boring and classically prog. And I think you can say much the same about Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane - they're almost concept albums but they don't quite come together and that's a strength.

Jonathan Z. (Joanthan Z.), Thursday, 17 June 2004 08:45 (fifteen years ago) link

Ah, now we're talking. When I was three, my godbrother played it over and over again. I got sent home from playgroup for reciting "future Legend". It's the first cultural thing I remember being aware of, and it totally defined my taste in everything. If I had to point to one record that was what pop music should sound, look and feel like, it'd be Dogs.

Incidentally, Eighties isn't Rebel Rebel, but Jane Says totally is.

Jim Eaton-Terry (Jim E-T), Thursday, 17 June 2004 10:36 (fifteen years ago) link

I got sent home from playgroup for reciting "future Legend".

LOL
[did you use your creepiest voice? "and in the death..."]

willem (willem), Thursday, 17 June 2004 10:49 (fifteen years ago) link

whats on the rhino edition thats different?

i thought the bonus cd on this new version was a missed opportunity. theres a lot of other, more interesting, rarer tracks they could have put on there instead.

dickvandyke (dickvandyke), Thursday, 17 June 2004 11:17 (fifteen years ago) link

Jesus, QLW took no prisoners. I don't think Diamond Dogs is meant to be an orthodox "concept album" (thus it doesn't matter that Halloween Jack never rears his pumpkin again). It's more about an all-around feeling than a specific narrative.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Thursday, 17 June 2004 12:07 (fifteen years ago) link

Diamond Dogs has always been my favorite one, but I got that reissue and it didn't have the depth to me that it once seemed to: this could be because I played it more than any of the other ones when I was in high school, or it could be that I'm old & cranky and so the "ten thousand peoploids" bit now grates at me worse than it used to. HOWEVER. "We Are the Dead" is still one of his best numbers, and really shocking to me in how fucked-up it is: really pretty electric piano, one of Bowie's best vocal performances this side of "Wild Is The Wind," and then all that churning and grinding in the lead up to the chorus: like the song is decaying just as it arrives at its center, and everybody's just trying real hard to hold it together long enough to finish their thought. "When You Rock and Roll With Me" is terrific when heard not as faux-Broadway but as faux-English musichall, which 1) is where Bowie'd been taking inspiration from since his earliest efforts and 2) is a much more useful lens through which to view the song. I wouldn't say "faux" after some consideration either but rather "oversaturated," which I think is kinda the WHOLE POINT 1) of the treatment of the song and 2) of the album itself. (Whether "the whole point" has its genesis in mountains of pink Columbian flake is beside the point.)

QLW is right that the title track is overlong (which is a total shame, because it's such a great song otherwise), but then Bowie's albums are always most interesting where they're most flawed. Hating on "Lady Grinning Soul" seems historically uncharitable to me. As to charging Bowie with "rip-off": you're kidding, right? Pastiche is ALL he ever did, and he was quite obvious about it: only dumbasses ever called him "original," since originality is the most overrated trope in the whole critical galaxy.

J0hn Darn1elle (J0hn Darn1elle), Thursday, 17 June 2004 12:24 (fifteen years ago) link

It's my absolute favourite Bowie album... but then I tried to think of the reasons why and I realised it hasn't been off my shelf for quite some time (live Ziggy took over as the one I automatically reach for) so I can't properly remember enough of it to say. I will put it on after the footie tonight and consider things.

BUT When You Rock and Roll With Me is a song that has always kind of gripped me and made me want to swoon. It sort of reminds me of Prince.

Madchen (Madchen), Thursday, 17 June 2004 12:34 (fifteen years ago) link

I think it's the word 'foxy' that does it.

Madchen (Madchen), Thursday, 17 June 2004 12:35 (fifteen years ago) link

It sort of reminds me of Prince.

Oh please don't ruin it for me. Prince is great, but he doesn't TOUCH this.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Thursday, 17 June 2004 13:08 (fifteen years ago) link

"i come not to bury diamond dogs (though it isn't one of my faves) -- but to wonder aloud why station to station hasn't gotten a thread of its own?"

otmfm

de, Thursday, 17 June 2004 13:16 (fifteen years ago) link

diamond dogs is sort of like prince's parade. at least career wise.

dickvandyke (dickvandyke), Thursday, 17 June 2004 13:17 (fifteen years ago) link

Parade is one Prince album I've never owned, so I'm afraid I can't get stroppy with you on that point, though I suspect it would make me want to douse you with a full pint of beer for the comparison. I suppose I could be dead wrong, though.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Thursday, 17 June 2004 13:22 (fifteen years ago) link

However this thread's use of the word 'smorgasbord' has made me happy.

de, Thursday, 17 June 2004 13:27 (fifteen years ago) link

get parade. you need to hear it. prince needs to hear it again, for that matter.

dickvandyke (dickvandyke), Thursday, 17 June 2004 13:44 (fifteen years ago) link

I'll check it out.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Thursday, 17 June 2004 13:48 (fifteen years ago) link

i reckon prince is to the 80s what bowie was to the 70s.

dickvandyke (dickvandyke), Thursday, 17 June 2004 14:23 (fifteen years ago) link

That could indeed be said by someone, yes.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Thursday, 17 June 2004 14:24 (fifteen years ago) link

i'd go with that dickvan ..

mark e (mark e), Thursday, 17 June 2004 14:50 (fifteen years ago) link

i'm going with lionel richie myself. classic in the 70s, rather rubbish in the 80s

de, Thursday, 17 June 2004 15:01 (fifteen years ago) link

Oh please don't ruin it for me. Prince is great, but he doesn't TOUCH this.

Oh, Alex. You need to hear "Strays Of The World".

I love Diamond Dogs. I was going to pick up the reissue yesterday after seeing the ad for it in the Voice. I'm saddened to read that there's not too much going on of value on the extra disc, though. Guess I'll stick to my Ryko version.

Jay Vee (Manon_70), Thursday, 17 June 2004 20:43 (fifteen years ago) link

get parade. you need to hear it. prince needs to hear it again, for that matter.

Hah! Right on.

Jay Vee (Manon_70), Thursday, 17 June 2004 20:44 (fifteen years ago) link

Oh, I so love this and Alex's review is so uh-huh, thank you.

I was in junior high when this came out and lived when I could with my Indian/Mexican GF whose father raped her any time I wasn't there and one night she shaved her eyebrows and I came by toasted on ludes and she was laying there, nude and all Inca looking, covered in red glitter fingering the DD cover and cooing "Day-vud!" while "We are the Dead" played and it became our song.

Ian G, Friday, 18 June 2004 04:02 (fifteen years ago) link

btw--Is it really BRA BRA BRA BRA?

I always thought it was ROT ROT ROT etc

Ian G, Friday, 18 June 2004 04:03 (fifteen years ago) link

I always assumed it was "BRA" as in saying "brother" repeatedly. If you listen closely towards the fade-out, it actually sounds like "RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN"....which I found also quite creepy (and, thus, hecka cool!)

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 18 June 2004 04:18 (fifteen years ago) link

to me it has always sounded like a cut-off "brother" (i assumed that was what it intended to be), so i guess "bra" is closest, phonetically. i can't recall the wedding present cover, does it have the same ending?

willem (willem), Friday, 18 June 2004 05:25 (fifteen years ago) link

Nah, they just amp up into a frenzy of strumming without trying to replicate the effect.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Friday, 18 June 2004 05:31 (fifteen years ago) link

slightly off topic, but how do these 30th anniversary remasters sound? are they identical to the rykos, or fiddled with? mainly only asking for the Aladdin Sane album, since the ryko had no bonus tracks for some reason; but if the EMI one sounds worse, I'll just download the bonus disc.

As for Diamond Dogs: along with Young Americans and The Man Who Sold the World, these were albums I didn't get into when I was younger, so to this day I don't know them very well. I'll give it a better listen tomorrow. I can't abide Rebel Rebel anymore and never liked the title track much, though. 1984 I only know through Tina Turner!

kyle (akmonday), Friday, 18 June 2004 06:40 (fifteen years ago) link

The cobbled-together quality is part of its charm.
'Lady Grinning Soul' is one of my fave Bowie songs (& one of Brett Anderson's I'd bet).

Didn't Transformer also start off intended to be a musical?

bham, Friday, 18 June 2004 07:56 (fifteen years ago) link

aint these EMI reissues supposed to be 24 bit remastered versions as opposed to the previous sound+vision ryko versions ? i have the complete ryko set and so not been aboe to establish the sonic advantages of the EMI versions. i dont have the budget of shelf space to go buy the whole lot again !

mark e (mark e), Friday, 18 June 2004 08:42 (fifteen years ago) link

ryko versions already were remasters, from what i've heard (from other people) the sound quality of the emi remasters is not significantly better. you can stick to your rykos, mark!

willem (willem), Friday, 18 June 2004 10:54 (fifteen years ago) link

Ick. Rolling Stone's Mark Kemp gave the re-issue a paltry two stars and took the affront a step further by summing the album up thusly: "The only true diamods here -- the title track and the original "Rebel Rebel" -- are available on several far superior compilations."

What a dick.

Alex in NYC (vassifer), Saturday, 26 June 2004 04:18 (fifteen years ago) link

four months pass...
I always loved We Are The Dead. It hurt me when critics would vilify it.

Atnevon (Atnevon), Wednesday, 27 October 2004 19:47 (fifteen years ago) link

two years pass...

Diamond Dogs and Outside are my fave Dave CDs. The failed/goofball/miserabalist narratives adds a weirdly effective structural mood thing.

"When You Rock n Roll with Me" always seemed to be something the future desolation kids might listen to at a secret cabaret, which gave it--for me, anyway--this terribly sad, futile beauty, because, not in defiance of its schmaltz.

i, grey, Wednesday, 5 September 2007 07:00 (twelve years ago) link

btw--What the fuck was a "Cooper Time Cube"? I recall DB claiming the device had much to do with the fuzz/blur guitar sound.

i, grey, Wednesday, 5 September 2007 07:02 (twelve years ago) link

I love Diamond Dogs. I listened to it all the time when I was just out of high school.

W4LTER, Wednesday, 5 September 2007 07:19 (twelve years ago) link

eight months pass...

if there's anything this album just taught me, it's to never listen to negative reviews.

Creeztophair, Thursday, 22 May 2008 00:11 (twelve years ago) link

Re "Cooper Time Cube" - If I recall my "Raw Power" liner notes properly, it was some sort of guitar-treatment device that kinda resembled a bong and was used on (I think) "Gimme Danger" and possibly elsewhere.

Myonga Vön Bontee, Thursday, 22 May 2008 17:53 (twelve years ago) link

if there's anything this album just taught me, it's to never listen to negative reviews

lol you old

Noodle Vague, Thursday, 22 May 2008 17:55 (twelve years ago) link

i didn't know peeps were down on diamond dogs. it's a banger 4 sho

M@tt He1ges0n, Thursday, 22 May 2008 17:56 (twelve years ago) link

when my 5th-grade self first heard this LP (before I had ever even heard the word "genocide"), I thought it went: "this ain't rock and roll...this is...jazz time!"

made sense to me...and in a crazy way, it still does...

henry s, Thursday, 22 May 2008 18:05 (twelve years ago) link

"this ain't rock and roll...this is...jazz time!"

Bahahahahaahahahahahaahaha

Alex in NYC, Thursday, 22 May 2008 22:42 (twelve years ago) link

if there's anything this album just taught me, it's to never listen to negative reviews

Because they're sometimes earned?

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Thursday, 22 May 2008 22:46 (twelve years ago) link

Diamond Dogs is fucking brilliant.

Alex in NYC, Thursday, 22 May 2008 22:54 (twelve years ago) link

we'll buy some drugs and watch a band
we'll jump in the river holding hands

one of my favorite bowie lyrics.

you pretty much cannot fuck with diamond dogs.

Emily Bjurnhjam, Friday, 23 May 2008 01:41 (twelve years ago) link

I've grown to love "Sweet Thing/Candidate" (especially Bowie's wonderful, awful guitar solo on the former) and "1984," but not even the remastered version can disguise how thin this sounds. Plus, this Bowie lover has his limits for doomy doggerel.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Friday, 23 May 2008 02:13 (twelve years ago) link

doomy doggerel.

That was punishing.

Alex in NYC, Saturday, 24 May 2008 18:56 (twelve years ago) link

Oh, I so love this and Alex's review is so uh-huh, thank you.

I was in junior high when this came out and lived when I could with my Indian/Mexican GF whose father raped her any time I wasn't there and one night she shaved her eyebrows and I came by toasted on ludes and she was laying there, nude and all Inca looking, covered in red glitter fingering the DD cover and cooing "Day-vud!" while "We are the Dead" played and it became our song.

-- Ian G, Friday, 18 June 2004 05:02 (3 years ago) Bookmark Link

Dom Passantino, Saturday, 24 May 2008 19:31 (twelve years ago) link

Yeah, I thought it was weird how no one even commented on that - UNTIL NOW

Z S, Saturday, 24 May 2008 19:34 (twelve years ago) link

what a hot story.

Creeztophair, Saturday, 24 May 2008 23:01 (twelve years ago) link

Sweet Thing is a brilliant track, though that bit where he goes off on one about hamburgers does my head in a bit.

chap, Sunday, 25 May 2008 14:53 (twelve years ago) link

one year passes...
one year passes...

My twopennorth on Dogs.

The title track, 'Rebel Rebel' and 'Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)' are the main reasons I find myself returning to this record, and although I'm not as keen on the second side as I am on the first, I'd still rather listen to this than 'Young Americans'.

Turrican, Monday, 31 October 2011 17:30 (eight years ago) link

Marcello, do we know the extent of Alan Parker's contributions? To my ears the lead on the title track sounds too gnarly to be professional (on the other hand I'm sure the magnificent, inept solo on "Sweet Thing" is Bowie's; he can't slide his fingers down the frets).

lumber up, limbaugh down (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 31 October 2011 17:37 (eight years ago) link

xp yeah, DD is way stronger as an album than YA (which I like, but only a few of tracks on it are essential)

...and the title cut of 'Diamond Dogs' just popped up on WinAmp random play

one year passes...

I've always felt this was underrated but listening to it last night my love for it went to a whole new level. It has berserk ambitions and it totally delivers on them. This is the Orwell-on-Broadway lunacy that Muse have been gunning for over their last three albums, a more persuasive take on showbiz, terror and America than Aladdin Sane, and a lyrical feast. I also realised that Blur's use of brass is almost entirely derived from the spectacular arrangements on Big Brother, not to mention Andrew Eldritch's vocal schtick. And while the intro's a dud (the album should begin with the title track's faultlessly decadent opening line) the stuttering ending is perfect. My favourite after Low, I think.

Now to read Marcello's essay.

Deafening silence (DL), Tuesday, 5 March 2013 09:54 (seven years ago) link

one year passes...

Looking forward to sinking my teeth into this: http://thequietus.com/articles/16797-the-hideous-ecstasy-of-fear-diamond-dogs-40-years-on

willem, Tuesday, 2 December 2014 06:35 (five years ago) link

five years pass...

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