Despite the negative sentiments that Bowie changed up his style solely to garner wider mass market appeal, his fifteenth studio album validates that he was a pure musical chameleon. The post-disco aura of “Let’s Dance”, with its synthesised beats and shimmering synths, makes it hard to believe this record came from a man who was making heavy metal tunes just over a decade earlier.
“Let’s Dance” is unlike anything Bowie had put out previously and came with a dramatic change; the substitution of long-time collaborator and producer Tony Visconti for Nile Rodgers, with additional mixing from Bob Clearmountain. Rodgers’ disco and soul roots clearly had a significant influence on Bowie and his songwriting.
Bowie enlists the help of Stevie Ray Vaughan who has a powerful presence on the record providing lead guitar that is effective on every single cut. His guitar lines and solos are well paced and placed to compliment both the classical and synthesised instrumentation. Let’s just cut to the chase – “China Girl” is simply one of Bowie’s greatest tracks. Tonally, it is eerily dark yet the gospel-infused synth organs and Bowie’s soulful vocals provide the perfect contrast. Then we have Vaughan’s sublime guitar-playing, chipping in a couple of delightfully bluesy solos that personally, are the highlight of the album.
Carmine Rojas’ bass work is an integral aspect of the album’s overall structure and sound. Forming melodic hooks for the majority of tracks here, Rojas’ bass-playing is jazzy, funky and exploratory. What is noticeable however, is the quality level concerning the second half of the album. The first three tracks are the strongest in terms of songwriting and musical performances; from then on, tracks become rather redundant in comparison to the high-quality and resonance of side one. On the contrary, Bowie’s radical change in sound (“Let’s Dance” is his best-selling album) was a smart move in terms of attracting a wider commercial audience whilst, for the most part, successfully executing a fresh scope of sonic experimentation.
Favourite track: China Girl // Least favourite track: Shake It