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Music / Never Let Me Down

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"I saw a black black stream full of white eyed fish and a drowning man with no eyes at all..."
"You've arrived in the land of a thousand different names..."

Never Let Me Down is the 18th studio album by David Bowie, released in 1987.

Bowie, having grown disconnected from his Let's Dance/Tonight fans and reeling from the critical backlash on the latter album, wanted to return to making a more rock-and-roll based album, marking the first time since Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) that he played instruments in addition to singing. He collaborated with Iggy Pop and Erdal Kızılçay with the view of putting the songs into a theatrical tour.

The album was commercially successful, selling more copies than Tonight and spawned three UK Top 40 singles in the title track, "Day-In Day-Out" and "Time Will Crawl". The album additionally peaked at No. 6 on the UK Albums chart and at No. 34 on the Billboard 200, going on to be certified platinum in Canada and gold in the UK, the US, and France. The tour the album spawned, the Glass Spider Tour, ended up being the longest and most expensive tour Bowie had embarked upon at the time, with its elaborate set being called "the largest touring set ever." Despite its unprecedented expense, it too was a huge commercial success, making $86 million USD at the box office across its three legs and 86 shows.


However both the album and the tour were poorly received at the time, which took a toll on the singer. In the album's case, it was received even more negatively than Tonight, and nowadays ranks among most listeners as Bowie's worst album. In this case, however, it's owed less to the songwriting and more to the production, which is grounded quite heavily in late 80's production values and consequently does little to separate itself from the multitude of other samey-sounding 80's pop records. Bowie was in fact so shaken by the poor outcome of the album and tour that he almost quit the music industry entirely; with the encouragement of Reeves Gabrels, he would go on to form Tin Machine in 1988 as a means of artistically reinvigorating himself.

In 2018, two years after his death, a George Lucas Altered Version of the album using the original vocals and a new backing track was released. Titled Never Let Me Down 2018, the album was released exclusively as part of the Boxed Set Loving the Alien (1983-1988). The re-do was a project Bowie had been trying to get off the ground as early as late 1987, first being talked out of it by Reeves Gabrels due to its close proximity to the original version's release before later revisiting the idea in 1996 just prior to starting work on Earthling. However, in both cases the idea never went far enough for anything to actually be recorded. The closest Bowie got to redoing Never Let Me Down in his lifetime was in 2008, when he appointed Mario J. McNulty to produce a new backing track for "Time Will Crawl" for the compilation album iSelect. Bowie did, however, manage to have some degree of influence on the final 2018 product, having hand-picked at least some of the musicians included on the remix.


The original version of Never Let Me Down was supported by three singles: "Day-In Day-Out", "Time Will Crawl", and the Title Track. The 2018 version, meanwhile, was supported with just one single: "Zeroes" (with "Beat of Your Drum" included as a B-Side).

1987 Tracklist:

  1. "Day-In Day-Out" (5:35)note 
  2. "Time Will Crawl" (4:18)
  3. "Beat of Your Drum" (5:03)note 
  4. "Never Let Me Down" (4:03)
  5. "Zeroes" (5:46)
  6. "Glass Spider" (5:30)note 
  7. "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" (5:04)note 
  8. "New York's in Love" (4:32)note 
  9. "'87 and Cry" (4:18)note 
  10. "Too Dizzy" (3:58)note 
  11. "Bang Bang"note 

2018 Tracklist:

LP One

Side One
  1. "Day-In Day-Out" (5:26)
  2. "Time Will Crawl" (4:26)note 
  3. "Beat of Your Drum" (5:27)

Side Two

  1. "Never Let Me Down" (4:26)
  2. "Zeroes" (5:06)
  3. "Glass Spider" (6:53)

LP Two

Side Three
  1. "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" (5:32)
  2. "New York's in Love" (4:33)
  3. "'87 and Cry" (4:25)
  4. "Bang Bang" (4:42)

Note: CD releases of the 2018 version are on a single disc; on LP copies, side four contains an etching of the "David Bowie" logo featured on the front cover.

Life is like a broken arrow; memory a swinging trope:

  • Big Applesauce: "New York's In Love".
  • Cover Song: "Bang Bang", originally by Iggy Pop.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • The 2018 remix of "Glass Spider", which transforms a fast-paced, synthpop song into a slow, moody industrial rock track that sounds like it jumped right out of 1. Outside.
    • The album itself, in both its 1987 and 2018 iterations, is this compared to Let's Dance and Tonight, at least in regards to its lyrics. Songs on this album aren't afraid to more explicitly discuss dark subject matter, featuring topics such as homelessness, drug addiction, and nuclear holocaust.
  • Epic Rocking: The 2018 version of "Glass Spider" clocks in at just short of 7 minutes long thanks to the new ambient-industrial angle it takes.
  • Face on the Cover: Bowie, in both versions. In the 1987 version, he's shown leaping towards the camera among a small room cluttered with circus-themed knickknacks, while in the 2018 version, he's shown standing triumphantly behind the ring of fire in the same room, peering into the distance and making a monocle gesture with his hand.
  • Genre Roulette: The 2018 version shifts between pop rock, art rock, straight pop, straight rock, Alternative Rock, and even industrial rock from song to song.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The 2018 remix.
  • History Repeats: For all intents and purposes, Never Let Me Down more or less repeated the same steps as Cut the Crap by The Clash from two years prior (a similarity not lost on retrospective analysts): an artist famous for his subversive, unconventional, and sometimes controversial music becomes a worldwide phenomenon off the success of his more mainstream-friendly music, but finds it difficult to consolidate his unprecedented levels of success with his artistic ethos and seeks to make a Revisiting the Roots album. The end result, despite featuring admirable songwriting, is hampered by a hands-off approach to production that leaves third parties making the record sound as bombastic and poppy as possible, resulting in an album that becomes widely despised by not only fans and critics, but also the artist himself. On the bright side, Bowie managed to push through the poor outcome of Never Let Me Down, unlike the Clash, who outright disbanded; Bowie also treats his album as more of a Necessary Fail compared to the Un-person status Cut the Crap still carries. Never Let Me Down also eventually got a remix that stripped back much of its own production failings, while Cut the Crap is still only available in its synth-heavy 1985 mix.
  • In the Style of...:
    • Bowie's vocals on the Title Track are deliberately intended to evoke the singing style of John Lennon, with whom Bowie had collaborated in January 1975 during production of Young Americans.
    • Mario J. McNulty described the 2018 version of "Glass Spider" as being based on the works of Brian Eno, Scott Walker, and Nine Inch Nails; Eno's style is most prominently displayed during the song's spoken-work introduction, Walker's during the second third of the song, and NIИ's during the last third.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: The 2018 version of "Zeroes", which cuts out the concert-style intro and jumps straight into Bowie's "yeah, yeah!" just before the acoustic guitar comes in.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A good amount of songs are about as dark from a lyrical standpoint as you'd expect from David Bowie, but they're all written to be quite danceable. "Day-In Day-Out" is a particularly glaring example, being an upbeat, horn-heavy track that brings up subjects such as child abandonment, misguided patriotism, crushing poverty, and (implied) police brutality. The 1987 versions of these songs are even bigger examples on this trope than the 2018 versions, due to the '87 version's more blatantly pop-oriented (think No Jacket Required) production.
  • Necessary Fail: Bowie went on to view the album and the Glass Spider Tour as this, being the point where he hit his artistic nadir and, after a brief Heroic BSoD, took measures to reinvent himself again and regain his muse.
  • One-Word Title: "Zeroes".
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The album, in spite of its seemingly cheery melodies, focuses a great deal on themes of loss and abandonment in its lyrics, likely influenced by the lingering grief from the suicide of Bowie's half-brother Terry two years prior.
  • Record Producer: David Bowie and David Richards, with the addition of Mario J. McNulty on the 2018 version. Based on Bowie's comments about the making of the 1987 version, he himself seemed to be an example of the invisible variety. He retrospectively described himself in an interview as having been "indifferent" towards the album's production when it was first recorded, allowing Richards and EMI to stuff it with synthesized flourishes on every second of every song. This is nowadays believed to be the main reason why the resultant album's quality was so poorly received, and combined with Bowie's own favorable views towards its songwriting, was the main incentive for the creation of Never Let Me Down 2018.
  • Re-Cut: Most songs on the original LP release of the album were cut down to allow everything to fit on one disc without compressing any of the grooves; these edits were also present on the cassette release. The full songs, however, would be included on all CD releases, and would eventually come to vinyl with the Loving the Alien [1983-1988] Boxed Set and the standalone 2019 reissue of Never Let Me Down in its original form (the removal of "Too Dizzy" likely helped in giving some extra room for the full songs on side two, though side one seems to have been squished together a bit to make everything fit).
  • Regional Bonus: The Japanese release of the 1987 version includes a Japanese-language version of "Girls" as a bonus track, slotted between "Zeroes" and "Glass Spider".
  • Remix Album: The 2018 version is this to the 1987 one.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "Time Will Crawl" was born out of Bowie's learning of the Chernobyl disaster during a stay in Switzerland.
  • Take That!: "'87 and Cry" is one to the Margaret Thatcher administration, featuring Bowie sarcastically prattling off a number of shallow, feel-good slogans characteristic of the Thatcher era.
  • Title Track: "Never Let Me Down".
  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: Actor Mickey Rourke on the 1987 version of "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)". The 2018 version replaces Rourke with Laurie Anderson, who instead performs his part as soft-voiced spoken-word.


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