Bowie’s ‘Plastic Soul’ album more ‘Soul’ than ‘Plastic’

Who Can I Be Now? [1974-1976] by the late and great David Bowie
Who Can I Be Now? [1974-1976] by the late and great David Bowie
On January 10th 2016 the whole world stood in mourning. I remember the moment as I walked into school, my friend’s stopped talking and stared at me.

“Have you not heard? Bowie passed away this morning.” I am not ashamed to admit that I – along with half the world – wept for Bowie. But with his passing comes Who Can I Be Now? [1974-1976] – a huge compilation album encompassing Bowie’s ‘American Years’.

It includes Diamond Dogs and David Live – including 2005 mix – plus a whole host of B-Sides and region-specific singles not previously heard.

Although these remastered tracks are as fantastic as expected, the most exciting thing about this compilation album is the inclusion of The Gouster. Previously unreleased in its entirety, it features seven songs which were released as singles and B-Sides over the years, one even forming the basis of Young Americans.

Interestingly, Gouster was “a type of dress code worn by African-American teens in the Sixties in Chicago.” David himself even said he was experimenting with black soul in The Gouster calling it his “plastic soul” album because he felt like he was stealing other ideas and sounds.

The influence that black American soul had on Bowie in this album is clear. Not only has Bowie encapsulated the essential feel of soul music, he’s also managed to explore the different aspects of the genre. It’s Gonna Be Me is a gorgeous love song which relies mostly on Bowie’s voice. Its simplicity is its best feature – a simple piano tune, a small backing chorus, an occasional guitar riff with drums.

In comparison, John, I’m Only Dancing (Again) likens itself to more of the soul Bowie would later explore in Let’s Dance. Although some of these songs were released in other forms it is a rare treat to be able to listen to new Bowie, and perhaps one we will never get again.

The release of Who Can I Be Now? does, however, beg the question of why Bowie didn’t release The Gouster album in its entirety. Did his love of black American soul simply grow old? Did his ever-changing appearance and identity change again, too quickly to justify releasing this album?

To me the answer is obvious. I believe that he wasn’t proud of the album. Instead seeing it as knock-off or imitation of soul music. This is classic Bowie – being modest in his creation, but still producing music that his fans love.