'Young Americans' has always occupied a troublesome niche in David Bowie’s catalogue...
Daryl Easlea 2007
Young Americans has always occupied a troublesome niche in David Bowie’s catalogue, not least because Bowie himself has changed his own opinion toward it many times in his career. The back-of-fag-packet-précis for the album is simple: rock star kills creation (Ziggy Stardust) that gives him the success he had so long craved and headed off to America to immerse himself in the music that had been his first love – R&B.
Recording at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound studios in 1974, this album is a stylistic postcard of all the music that was absorbing Bowie at the time. Young Americans, however is not a straightforward reading of soul. As the more personal and open Bowie appears to be as he emotes throughout, the more distant he becomes. As a result of this detachment, Young Americans can be seen as, overall, slightly queer (in the old sense of the word). But how wonderfully queer it is – for example, the luscious “Can You Hear Me?”, (arguably Bowie’s greatest self-penned ballad); the widescreen aspirations of the title track; and Bowie’s finest foray into funk, “Fame”, are among his very best work.
Young Americans dabbled in all Bowie's then commonplace themes of loneliness, despair and alienation, but, because it has lite-jazz saxophonist David Sanborn and, in his first major recording session, Luther Vandross on it, it somehow comes with a permanent shrug of dismissal from serious-minded Bowiephiles who always place the album well below the Ziggy era and the Berlin trilogy. It’s well worth reappraisal, and with the bonus DVD content and the reinstatement of three bonus tracks from the early CD issue, it’s another feather in the cap for EMI’s ongoing Bowie release programme.