of chilly dance music.
Let's Dance sounds great; it's all beat, brains and breathiness. The album's most intelligent strategy is its utter simplicity: Rodgers serves up guitar lines in thick slabs, and Bowie's voice cuts across their surface like a knife slicing meat. His mannered whine is alluringly distant charming but formal, inveigling but austere. This is as true of a song like the loud, slamming "Modern Love" as it is of the quiet, pulsing "Without You."
Working as coproducers, Bowie and Rodgers have updated each other's sound. Although Bowie revitalized his career in 1975 by ripping off a James Brown riff for the hit single "Fame," Chic's brand of black rock & roll is more suitable for him. The icy sheen of aloofness that glistens on Chic's greatest hits ("Good Times," "Le Freak") is a lacquer that coats Bowie's whole career, from "Space Oddity" through the fractured, mysterious LP, Lodger. Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards formed Chic at the height of discomania, and while Chic's work remains interesting and vital, the duo's career has not: their last two albums have stalled on the charts, and their remake/remodel of Deborah Harry on Koo Koo was a disaster.
For his part, Bowie hasn't been heard from much since 1980. Scary Monsters was a good album, but it was also a dead end, concluding the themes of dislocation and alienation developed on Low, "Heroes" and Lodger. By superstar standards, it was only a modest commercial success, and its pervasive feelings of dread and sadness were oppressive. If Bowie has become this much of a downer, his audience seemed to say, give us Gary Numan.
But now Bowie and Rodgers are back, and the title song of Let's Dance is a jittery, bopping single as vital as anything on the radio. It's also relevant to add that Gary Numan is a has-been: there's a difference between following trends and running them into the ground, after all.
The trend Bowie and Rodgers are following is Eighties-style dance music. Let's Dance is synth-pop without the synthsor, at least, without their domination. Although Rob Sabino adds splashes of keyboards, Rodgers' guitar does the work that synthesizers usually do these days, providing the foot-tapping hooks and an aura of cool.
For all its surface beauty, though, there's something thin and niggling about Let's Dance.