David Bowie Linda Solomon - Essay

Linda Solomon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man? No, not the Shadow, but only David Bowie, whose dire prognosis of life on this planet is enough to send you cringing away in fear. Diamond Dogs is a concept album with a dismal futuristic view of life after some unspecified holocaust, when peoplekind has become deformed and half-animal, and the world as we know it no longer exists.

"I'm sorry, I'm not protected for this fantasy," sings Bowie in the title cut, a straightforward British rocker which owes more to Hunky Dory than to his more recent stuff (although the rest of DD tends toward The Man Who Sold The World)…. Bowie makes you grit your teeth and strain to adapt yourself to his H. Bosch-to-H. Ellison horror fantasies, which get more frightening and depressing as the album progresses.

An archetypal Brechtian torch song with cool trad jazz stylings, "Sweet Thing"/"Candidate" merges a Velvet Underground pattern of Bowie's sleazy sax and grating guitar faster and faster until they suddenly loosen to plain old British 1957 Punk. Strangely compassionate, the song gravely glimpses the gay flesh market desperation—implying, perhaps, that Bowie is more removed from Divine Decadence than is presumed….

The outlook becomes more morose with "We are the Dead," in which Bowie goes through "Ch-Changes" and wallows in dog shit with his dress on. You wake up to "1984" with introductory wah-wah licks from "Shaft" and Images-period strings … "Big Brother" appropriately follows, and there's a "Fritz the Cat" quality, as though Bowie felt that freedom leads inalterably to the dictatorship, and it's chilling. It may be better to be ignorant than to suffer Bowie's insights….

[Diamond Dogs] is superb, all well mixed, well sung, and clean as a silver spade over a mahagony coffin. Whether or not Diamond Dogs will be found more diamond than rhinestone, though, is a moot point. The lyric content is no gem; Bowie's negativity gives a false gleam. The album as a musical pastiche, however, is catchy, if frequently banal. It'll hook you the first time out, but I'll bet you won't play it much after that.

Linda Solomon, "'Diamond Dogs'," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1974 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), August, 1974, p. 74.