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CD REVIEW: DAVID BOWIE – Cracked Actor: Live Los Angeles ‘74

| 25 July 2017 | Reply

CD REVIEW: DAVID BOWIE – Cracked Actor: Live Los Angeles ‘74
June 2017
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

David Bowie was in a right old state in 1974: mired in cocaine addiction, painfully thin and gaunt, he looked on the verge of death.

This concert finds Bowie in a state of flux – not only mentally and physically, but also artistically. He’d killed off Ziggy Stardust in ’73, and was en route to becoming The Thin White Duke, but this tour was like a public improv workshop for him, in a sense. Populated by million dollar stages and theatrical set-pieces a-plenty, Bowie abruptly changed tack halfway through the scheduled tour dates, rebranding the show, and bringing in a whole new band, including guitarists Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar.

Consequently, there’s a feel to Cracked Actor that Bowie was unsure of where he was heading. Ziggy-era tracks such as Suffragette City and The Jean Genie are imbued with funky soul and squeaky jazz, yet still retain a bedrock of their original glam stomp. In later years he would transition more completely behind the scenes, rather than baring himself as a work in progress in the public eye. Blame the cocaine psychosis, shall we.

All of which is not to say that Cracked Actor is a bad album – it’s not even a confused album, really. Well, maybe a little confused, stylistically, but the band are great, and Cracked Actor sounds infinitely better than David Live – his first live album, released during the first leg of this same tour, but poorly produced and very different musically.

Showing the great defiance of genre-allegiance which would categorise his entire career, Bowie injects soul into every track here – he had rebranded as The Soul Tour, after all. There’s also a latino edge to Aladdin Sane, all but unrecognisable from the original album version; All The Young Dudes is rearranged as a jazzy, piano-led torch song; the title track is a fascinating mess of ideas. They don’t all work in harmony, but there are flashes of brilliance throughout. That’d be the cocaine again, inspiring and hampering with increasing lean towards the latter. A cover of Steve Cropper & Eddie Floyd’s Knock On Wood is loose and funky; Space Oddity gets a jazzy soul makeover; the Young Americans re-imagining of John I’m Only Dancing is a disappointing finale, though: its cabaret band funk cover pales in comparison to the simple genius of the original.

It would be two long years before he started reducing his cocaine use, and by then he looked liked a cadaver and readily admitted that he was close to losing his sanity, of getting consumed by the characters he was playing in his music and on stage.

What the drug left in the wake of all its carnage was shocking, but once the dust had settled, once Bowie had moved on, there, shining amongst the rubble were even more classics than anyone would have given the cracked actor himself credit for.

Cracked Actor is testament to Bowie’s creativity, and a rare peek behind the curtains to his own artistic development: he’d never be so ‘in flux’ again, publicly. It’s also a reminder of the dangers of drug use, whilst undeniable evidence that for some, drugs assist with creative endeavour. The songs were in Bowie, the cocaine just opened the door a couple of cracks – but we should never forget how close he came to losing his mind or dying as a result.

Category: CD Reviews

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