It’s the time of the year when the world falls into two camps: those who like to dress up in fright wigs, cake their face in plaster of Paris and smudge some tomato sauce around their dad’s old ripped shirt to wander the street for sweets from strangers…and those who think it’s all a load of nonsense.
I’m firmly in the second camp. I hated Hallowe’en as a child and I hate it just as much as a parent. Our kids are older now and they wouldn’t be seen dead (no pun intended) in a skeleton costume or a zombie outfit, yet we still persevere with entertaining doorsteppers and (euch!) ‘trick or treaters’ – like Hallowe’en itself, an Americanism too far- because, as my selfless wife points out, our kids benefited from the neighbours when they were younger, whether those neighbours had young children or not. Fair enough, I suppose.
Someone who loved dressing up, who made a whole 40+ year career of it, was David Bowie. After he died, everyone I know went on some sort of back catalogue pilgrimage, reappraising the seemingly ‘weak’ records and finding previously disgarded or misunderstood gems within their grooves. One such album was Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). One step on from his holy ‘Berlin’ trilogy, Scary Monsters… found the magpie-ish Bowie stepping into the ’80s and embracing the nascent New Romantic scene, taking the most interesting parts and presenting them as his own. Everything on the record, from the clown costume on the front cover to the synthetic squall and squeal of Robert Fripps’s wandering guitar parts deals in artifice and pretence.
David Bowie – Scary Monsters
Interestingly, the title track got its name from the blurb on a Corn Flakes advert. ‘Scary Monsters and Super Heroes‘ were the novelty toys of the time and the singer, forever switched on, adapted it for his own needs. It’s a beauty, Bowie in full-on Anthony Newley, his cockernee vocalisms cutting through the racket of the band, hellbent on bashing out their own take on post-punk and sounding not a million miles away from some of those more straightforward Joy Division records. The drums, repetitive, clattering and full of interesting fills, sound like they could’ve been played by Stephen Morris himself. And the pedal-stomping Fripp is all over the track like a free-riffing rash; outrageous and discordant, the grit in the groove. Violent, aggressive, and straight-up avant garde rock, I doubt the track would’ve been half as colourful or interesting without him.
You can compare it to this 1996 bootleg version, recorded in Atlanta.
David Bowie – Scary Monsters (acoustic)
Stripped back and acoustic, it’s presented in a no-frills blues arrangement, Bowie introducing it with very tall tales of his time spent with Johnny Cash, a subtle nod to Rick Rubin perhaps, to get in touch and make Bowie his next unplugged vanity project. Mere speculation, of course. And something we’ll never know.