Released in 1974, “Diamond Dogs” is positioned between the glam rock of Ziggy/Aladdin Sane and the new soul direction of “Young Americans”, a fact that´s easily recognized in the overall sound of the album. Originally intended as a rock musical take on George Orwell´s classic novel “1984, Bowie had to change direction after being denied the rights to the work by Orwell´s widow. Instead a sort of concept album emerged chronicling the post-apocalyptic world of “Hunger City”, it´s chaotic ruins populated by depraved and scavenging youth living on the rooftops of derelict skyscrapers. The iconic sleeve, picturing Bowie as half man half dog (canine genitals and all) flanked by two mutated dog-variations on background singers, set the tone together with the eerie opener “Future legend”. Being merely 11 years old when this album was released, I still remember the effect this skin-crawling one minute plus piece of music had on my impressionable mind.
Title song “Diamond Dogs” along with live show staple “Rebel, rebel” is firmly grounded in Stones-type boogie rock, although in the case of “Rebel, rebel” with a killer riff, and as such not that remarkable compared with the rest of the album. The first indication of something fundamentally new comes with the almost 9 minute long song suite “Sweet thing/Candidate/Sweet thing (reprise)”. With a sinister feel to both melody and lyrics, Mike Garson´s wonderful piano work echoing his epic performance on “Alladin Sane” and guitar lines anticipating the sound of British band Magazine, this is classic Bowie with a vocal performance up to par with his best work.
Side two of the vinyl edition continues with a series of his best songs beginning with the piano-led ballad “Rock ´n´roll with me”, supposedly about the relationship between artist and audience. Beautiful melody, evocative singing and a coda reminiscent of Ziggy´s “Five years”.
Returning to the initial theme of Orwellian nightmare, the final four songs marks the highpoint of the album as they blend almost seamlessly into each other. The drama of “We are the dead” morphs into the wah-wah-guitar propelled “1984” with its big string arrangements and funky drive. A splendidly realized piece of music, and if you´ve got the reissue on CD you can compare the final song to the early draft on disc 2. “Big brother” follows, with its wonderful Mellotron sounds, tightly arranged and rich in melody, before the album ends with “Chant of the ever circling skeletal family”. One of the strangest pieces of music ever committed to vinyl. Even stranger is the decision of British group “The Wedding Present” to make a cover of it as a part of their 1992 one-single-every-month marathon.
So, whatever you do, listen to this album and remember that it was recorded before synthesizers became common.