|1. It's No Game (Part 1)|
|2. Up The Hill Backwards|
|3. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)|
|4. Ashes To Ashes|
|6. Teenage Wildlife|
|7. Scream Like A Baby|
|8. Kingdom Come|
|9. Because You're Young|
|10. It's No Game (Part 2)|
Like many of his albums, "Scary Monsters" has a structural continuity. While this one isn't a concept album like "Ziggy Stardust," "Diamond Dogs," or "1. Outside," it has a beginning, middle and end. The album begins and ends with two highly different versions of "It's No Game." The opening version is loud and angry. Bowie virtually screams out the lyrics as a woman concurrently shouts them out in Japanese. All the while is a screeching guitar and a tense build up to Bowie's closing cry of "Shut up! Shut up!" It's a powerful, confusing and even scary start of a wild ride. In contrast, the closing version of "It's No Game" is deliberately spent. Where Bowie was trying to punch his way out of a straightjacket in the opening number, by close he has given up. His power is gone. The lyrics are easier to follow, and although their meaning is somewhat obscure, they come across as resignation. The listener is also spent by this point. It's as absolute an ending as can be, even more so than "Rock N' Roll Suicide" at the end of "Ziggy." This is why any "bonus songs" tacked on to the end of this album detract from it.
As an interesting side note about "It's No Game," the lyrics borrow from a highly obscure song Bowie wrote in the 60's called "Tired of My Life." More evidence that "Scary Monsters" is a summation of all his work.
In the middle of the two versions of "It's No Game" are eight of Bowie's best songs, many of which were too complex and disturbing for top-40. The two best known are "Ashes to Ashes" and "Fashion." "Ashes to Ashes" puts to rest any question about whether Bowie's first hit, "Space Oddity," was a drug song. This time, "we know Major Tom" (the hero from "Space Odditiy") is a junkie. "Ashes to Ashes" does a better job of conveying the addiction experience than John Lennon's screams in "Cold Turkey" or The Velvet Underground's droning guitar in "Heroin." Musically, "Ashes to Ashes" is one of the milder songs on Scary Monsters, which is probably why it became a hit. The irony is that most casual listeners probably had no idea of what it's about.
"Fashion," on the other hand, is probably the most obvious song on the album. Bowie compares popular culture style shifts with politics. Fashion with fascism. "Fashion! Turn to the Left. Fashion! Turn to the Right." No mystery in the meaning here, but a clever parallelism.
"Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" (the song), "Teenage Wildlife," "Scream Like a Baby" are driving and desperate. They feature some of the best guitar and percussion on any of Bowie's songs. They lyrics are obscure but vaguely disturbing. Is Bowie singing about some sort of future-fascist takeover, a drug-induced hallucination, or something else entirely? One thing he's doing with these songs is harshly criticizing his own past-- and possibly future-- work, in part by offering a superior alternative. "Teenage Wildlife" mocks Bowie imitators - "Same old thing in brand new drag" -- while anticipating "Let's Dance" - "So you train by shadow boxing, search for the truth." "Let's Dance" would be Bowie's next album, three years later, and his biggest hit, and features Bowie shadow boxing on the album cover. It's also considered to be a commercial sellout by many fans. Could he have been thinking about doing a pop album somehow linked to boxing back when he was making "Teenage Wildlife"? Here he sings; "Break open your million dollar weapon, And push your luck, still you push, still you push your luck, A broken nosed mogul are you, One of the new wave boys."
The galloping "Scream Like a Baby" is more about the transformation from raw to cooked, as Bowie and all his qualities get pounded into submission by something like the quasi governmental force from "Diamond Dogs" until he learns "to be a part of soc-society." "Scream Like a Baby" features some recycles gimmicks, like a "Ch-ch-ch-changes" stutter and an "All the Madmen" style insane-elf voice. But this time Bowie takes those devices and makes art from them.
The two last songs before the final "It's No Game" are amongst the most depressing in Bowie's catalogue. In "Kingdom Come," Bowie laments, "Well I walked in the pouring rain, And I heard a voice that cries 'It's all in vain,' The voice of doom was shining in my room I just need one day somewhere far away"
The song recaptures and updates the hopelessness of "Hunky Dory's" "Quicksand." Again, an old theme done better this time around.
"Because You're Young" sounds more optimistic, but if anything is actually bleaker. "A million dreams, a million scars." The song is about a dashed vision of hopeful, youthful love. The delusions of recently exited youth is another theme of the album. "Because You're Young" is a warning for all the "little metal faced boys" and "Psychodelicate girls" who may be listening.
"Scary Monsters" is more of an experience than an album. It should be listened to repeatedly for a full appreciation. It is rock music in its very highest form, and the highlight of David Bowie's contribution.