Review #443: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), David Bowie

Karla Clifton
3 min readOct 13, 2023

#443: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), David Bowie

My first David Bowie review was a mess. I’m linking it only to shame myself. “Adult contemporary?” Don’t hold it against me.

This is our fifth and final Bowie album, and his first release after his famous Berlin trilogy, which included Low (which made the RS 500 list) and “Heroes” (which didn’t, which is crazy to me). It was also apparently an attempt to create something commercially successful, after having spawned a bunch of New Romantic copycats. Including Gary Numan, who rose to prominence in the late Seventies, apparently to David Bowie’s chagrin.

It’s so funny to me that Bowie was threatened by some guy named Gary that I’ve never heard of. (Though I have heard of his biggest success, The Pleasure Principle, which, lol.) He had such distaste for Numan that during his appearance on 1980’s The Kenny Everett Christmas Show, but Bowie had Numan kicked off! Numan spoke about it some years later, and honestly, he’s way more magnanimous than he had to be: “[A]s the years have gone by, I understood far more the way he saw things then. He was still a young man, with ups and downs in his own career. … I don’t think that period was the best for him.” Indeed, the song “Teenage Wildlife” is purportedly about his grudge against Numan, though Bowie has said that it was about “about taking a short view of life, not looking too far ahead and not predicting the oncoming hard knocks.”

It’s also so funny to me that this was apparently Bowie’s effort at commercialism, because … I don’t even know what to say to that. It opens with “It’s No Game (Pt. 1),” an eery discord-filled track that comes with its own frantic Japanese translation. Then we get “Ashes to Ashes,” a sequel to “Space Oddity” where we visit a less happy, more strung-out Major Tom. Also, I don’t think songs about getting thrown in political prisons and tortured over your sexuality (see “Scream Like a Baby” and the cover of Tom Verlaine’s “Kingdom Come”) or songs about how pitiful young love is (“Because You’re Young”) are quite commercial. By “Fashion,” the chorus of which involves a Beep-beep, I was convinced that David Bowie wasn’t capable of commercialism.

What he is capable of is heady art rock. Robert Fripp of King Crimson, who we’ve seen before, plays all over this album, and all up and down the neck of his guitar and the range of his abilities, making songs like “Up The Hill Backwards” and “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” scarily urgent.

Oddly, my favorite track was the closer “It’s No Game (Pt. 2),” which is really just a slowed-down version of Pt. 1, minus the Japanese. The first song sounds like he’s intentionally disorienting us — almost like he’s angry at his listeners. Pt. 2 has the exact same lyrics but goes at a more mellow pace. It felt maturer, like the same person with the same convictions grew just a few years older. How about that?

Fun Fact: Skrillex named his second EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites after this record! Remember Skrillex? Sometimes I miss dubstep.

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