Scary Monsters and Super Creeps is a benchmark Bowie album. Released in 1980, it is the album against which his subsequent albums are compared. Boringly (and somewhat lazily), the statement “…his best since Scary Monsters” can be found in most album reviews post-Tin Machine. While such statements give the album due weight (put simply, this is one mighty album), 1.Outside (from 1995) and Heathen (from 2002) are the equal of Scary Monsters, while Black Tie White Noise, Earthing and Reality aren’t too far behind.
The album follows Bowie’s more experimental “Berlin trilogy” and was his attempt to produce something more commercial. In that sense, the album was a roaring success. It hit the number one spot in the UK album chart (his first to do so since Diamond Dogs in 1974) and produced four hit singles: Ashes to Ashes (a UK number one), Fashion (a One Show favourite), Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and Up The Hill Backwards. However, in contrast to Bowie’s later 80’s output (Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down), this is an album which is creative and ambitious. Long before the New Romantics took over the 1980’s, Bowie invented New Romanticism.
Musically, Scary Monsters is closest to that of 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World, 1974’s Diamond Dogs and 2003’s Reality. At it’s heart, it’s a great rock album – with it’s “Oh! Oh! Oh!” finally, the title track in particular is a great stadium number. There is a real energy and drive throughout, with every song demanding your full attention, and Bowie’s vocals have never sounded stronger. However, if you are looking for a ballad, Scary Monsters is the wrong place to be.
Thematically, Bowie sticks close to his favourite areas – fear (“Up in the tower, they’re watching me, hoping I’m going to die”, “They move in numbers and they’ve got me in a corner” and “Put a bullet in my head and it makes all the papers” and isolation (“The shrieking of nothing is killing me”, “The face of doom was shining in the room” and “Pyschodelicate gril – come out to play, little metal faced boy, don’t stay away) . These themes span the album, with Ashes to Ashes – marking the reappearance for Major Tom, last heard floating away in 1969’s Space Oddity – Scream Like A Baby and Teenage Wildlife (one of THE great Bowie songs) particular highlights.
For me, Scary Monsters is the last great Bowie album of a 10 series set, beginning with 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World. At the start of this new decade, Bowie was looking back over his career (the reappearance of Major Tom and scrapbook-style images of earlier album covers on the reverse sleeve are examples of this) but more importantly, he remained at the forefront of popular music and and continued to break new ground. Scary Monsters was not to be the last great Bowie album…
Songs to download:
- It’s No Game (Part 1)
- Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
- Ashes to Ashes
- Teenage Wildlife
- Scream Like a Baby