Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) is the fourteenth studio album by David Bowie, released in 1980. Released after three avant garde-leaning albums in collaboration with Brian Eno, this is a more mainstream-oriented combination of Hard Rock and Post-Punk, with some Gothic New Wave flare thrown into the mix. The lyrics include both political protest and dark psychological observations. The album is best remembered for the international hit "Ashes to Ashes".
This is Bowie's final studio album with RCA Records. He left the label several years later after a period of deteriorating relations between the two partiesnote . The album was also his last to feature the involvement of longtime collaborator Tony Visconti (who produced a fair number of Bowie's albums over the years, including this one and the Berlin Trilogy directly before it) until Heathen in 2002; the two had a falling out shortly before production of Let's Dance began in December of 1982, and wouldn't patch things up until 1998.
The album was a critical and commercial success, topping the charts in the UK, Australia, France, and New Zealand and peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard 200, later going Platinum in the UK and Canada and gold in France. Reviewers praised it for its adapt blending of musical experimentation with mainstream accessibility, and both upon release and in the decades after it was ranked by most as one of Bowie's greatest records; for a time, it was even a Reviewer Stock Phrase to refer to Bowie's latest album as "his best since Scary Monsters". NME ranked the album at No. 381 on their list of the 500 greatest albums ever made, Rolling Stone ranked it at No. 443 on the 2020 edition of their list in the same category, and as of 2018 it sits at No. 482 on Acclaimed Music's dynamic list of the 3000 most acclaimed albums of all time.
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) was supported by four singles: "Ashes to Ashes", "Fashion", the Title Track, and "Up the Hill Backwards". As Bowie had already made his plans to leave RCA clear by the time the latter single was released, his label decided to commemorate his departure by issuing some copies in the UK with their old orange label (which had been standard during the majority of Bowie's time with RCA) rather than the then-current black one. "Up the Hill Backwards" also featured the instrumental track "Crystal Japan", composed for a Japandering sake commercial, as its B-Side; the instrumental got its own single release exclusively in Japan, with Bowie's cover of the Bertold Brecht & Kurt Weill piece "Alabama Song" (released elsewhere as a non-album single) as the B-side.
- "Its No Game (Part 1)" (4:20)
- "Up the Hill Backwards" (3:15)
- "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" (5:12)
- "Ashes to Ashes" (4:25)
- "Fashion" (4:49)
- "Teenage Wildlife" (6:56)
- "Scream Like a Baby" (3:35)
- "Kingdom Come"note (3:45)
- "Because Youre Young" (4:54)
- "Its No Game (Part 2)" (4:22)
Bonus Tracks (1992 Reissue):
- "Space Odyssey (acoustic version)"
- "Panic in Detroit (rerecorded version)"
- "Crystal Japan"
- "Alabama Song"
It's got nothing to do with you, if one can trope it:
- Addled Addict: Major Tom, as of "Ashes to Ashes".
- Alliterative Title: "Ashes to Ashes".
- Alternative Character Interpretation: Done In-Universe on "Ashes to Ashes", which plays around with the long-standing interpretation of "Space Oddity" as being about heroin use by framing Major Tom as a delusional junkie rather than an astronaut getting stranded in space.
- Big "SHUT UP!": Cuts off Robert Fripp's guitar solo on "It's No Game (Part 1)".
- Bilingual Bonus: Those versed in both Japanese and English will be amused to find out that Michi Hirota's Japanese-language shouting on "It's No Game (Part 1)" is simply a translation of Bowie's English-language verses.
- Book-Ends: The two versions of "Its No Game". Aside from being different versions of the same song, "Part 1" starts with the sound of a film projector starting up, and "Part 2" ends with the sound of a projector reaching the end of the film and noisily looping around.
- Call-Back: The back cover references the covers of Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy": Low, "Heroes" and Lodger, as well as the much earlier Aladdin Sane. Bowie's Pierrot getup on the front cover also harks back to the back cover of Space Oddity, which featured a Pierrot leading away an old woman among the cavalcade of surreal imagery on the back cover.
- Commedia dell'Arte: Bowie's clown costume on the cover and in the "Ashes to Ashes" video is inspired by the Pierrot figure.
- Cover Version: "Kingdom Come" was originally written and recorded by Television frontman Tom Verlaine for his 1979 debut solo album.
- Cure Your Gays: Passionately criticized and depicted in an overtly negative light in "Scream Like a Baby", with the song's gay protagonist being forced by a fascist government to undergo conversion treatment that destroys his mind; in fact, it's possible to interpret the lyrics as describing the protagonist being lobotomized.
- Dance Sensation: "Fashion" opens with the line "there's a brand new dance but I don't know its name." Of course, given that the next verse is about "a brand new talk," it's unclear whether or not the song is describing a dance specifically or trends in general.
- Darker and Edgier: More musically aggressive than Lodger and covering more consistently dark subject matters, with themes of oppression, social decay, and political protest.
- Dark Reprise: Part 2 of "It's No Game" is considerably more low-key and downbeat than the aggressive and determined first part; Bowie practically sounds defeated in Part 2.
- Drugs Are Bad: "Ashes to Ashes"Time and time I tell myselfI'll stay clean tonightBut the little green wheels are following meOh, no, not againI'm stuck with a valuable friend"I'm happy, hope you're happy too."One flash of light, but no smoking pistol
- Epic Rocking: "Teenage Wildlife" is just under seven minutes.
- Face on the Cover: A painting of Bowie as Pierrot, pasted over a photograph of himself in-costume as the character.
- Grand Finale: Not to Bowie's career as a whole, but to his stint on RCA Records. The album has an overarching tone of Bowie casting off the laurels of his previous work and starting anew for the 1980's, and he seemed intent on including RCA among the discarded past. Note how the front cover of this album has Bowie positioned in both the painting and the monochrome photograph in such a way that his back is turned towards the imagery of his previous records, themselves whited out as if being erased; combine this with the lyrical content of songs like "Ashes to Ashes" and "Teenage Wildlife" and Bowie's own collapsing relationship with his record label, it gives the impression that Bowie recorded the album with the intent of making it his last on RCA. Of course, this wasn't Bowie's final officially sanctioned release on the label— that would be the Baal EP in 1982— but this was indeed the last actual studio album he put out for them.
- Gratuitous Japanese: Michi Hirota's shouted word parts on "It's No Game (Part 1)".
- Guest Star:
- Heteronormative Crusader: "Scream Like a Baby" has the narrator and his lover imprisoned by a fascist government for being gay, with said lover being killed and cremated and the narrator being forced to undergo conversion therapy; lines such as "they came down hard on the faggots" imply that this government is particularly hateful towards homosexual people.
- I Have Many Names: Depending on who you ask, the album's either called Scary Monsters (as indicated on the RCA Records LP sleeve spine and disc label) or Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (as indicated on the album art itself). Most official releases lean towards the latter. RCA themselves couldn't keep it consistent; the original CD release of the album uses the shorter title on US copies and the longer title on UK ones.
- Lobotomy: "Scream Like a Baby" equates conversion therapy to the controversial neurosurgical practice; one possible interpretation of the lyrics is that the protagonist actually is lobotomized by the fascist government of the song's setting in order to "cure" his gayness.
- Lyrical Shoehorn: "Fashion" has a humorous one. The line is "they shout it while they're dancing on the dance floor," which is one syllable too short for the rhythm; Bowie just draws out the word "the" to compensate.
- Mythology Gag: The back cover features◊ whitewashed cutouts of the front covers of Low & "Heroes" and the back cover of Lodger, the latter of which is superimposed on the lower half of Aladdin Sane's interior gatefold photo.
- N-Word Privileges: Bowie exercises Other F-word Privileges on the second verse of "Scream Like a Baby"; while Bowie was infamously inconsistent about how he described his sexual identity, he still described himself as bisexual at the time of the album's release and is generally understood to have been at least bi-curious.
- One-Word Title: "Fashion".
- Precision F-Strike: On "It's No Game (Part 2)" Bowie sings about children who "spread camel shit on the wall."
- Punny Name: Played with. "Fashion"; in the context of the lyrics, the title word can be interpreted not only as "fashion," but also "fashin'" (as in practicing fascism), particularly when taking the chorus's lines about "the goon squad ... coming to town" in mind. Fashion designer Hugo Boss infamously designed the uniforms for the SS during the Third Reich, Bowie himself infamously got Lost in Character as the fascist Thin White Duke in 1976 (though he himself never subscribed to the ideology), and the lyrics could further be interpreted as a satire of trends and fads made to seem "fashionable." However, Bowie himself played down the interpretation; nonetheless, biographer David Buckley read the song as a jab at the perceived banality of the contemporary New Romantic movement.
- Sanity Slippage: Happens to the unspecified female character in the Title Track, who winds up "stupid on the street" and asocial; a number of analysts have compared the song's use of this trope to Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" from the year prior, though there's no indication as to whether or not it's coincidental or a Shout-Out (for what it's worth, Joy Division originally named themselves "Warsaw" after Bowie's "Warszawa").
- Sequel Song: "Ashes to Ashes" is a sequel to Bowie's first major hit, "Space Oddity" from David Bowie (1969).Do you remember a guy that's been in such an early song?I've heard a rumour from Ground ControlOh no, don't say it's true(...) We know Major Tom's a junkieStrung out in heaven's high, hitting an all-time low(...) My mother said to get things doneYou'd better not mess with Major Tom
- "Scream Like a Baby" quotes the "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" bedtime prayer near the end of its second verse. Additionally, the way Bowie breaks down into stuttering while saying the word "society" just after recalls Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
- "Ashes to Ashes" takes its refrain from the prayer "ashes to ashes/ dust to dust" during funerals. The song features a treated piano that sounds similar to Pink Floyd's "Echoes" from Meddle.
- The Young Ones: In the episode "Nasty" the young ones conduct a funeral ceremony. As the vicar says "ashes to ashes" Rick sings "funk to funky, we know Major Tom's a junkie", in reference to "Ashes to Ashes".
- The TV series Ashes to Ashes (2008) was named after the song "Ashes to Ashes".
- Singer Name Drop: "Teenage Wildlife":You'll take me aside, and say
"Well, David, what shall I do? They wait for me in the hallway"
I'll say "don't ask me, I don't know any hallways".
- Take That!: "Scream Like a Baby" is one towards homophobia, with particular disdain given towards the practice of conversion therapy (which the song's lyrics implicitly equate to lobotomy).
- Title Track: "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)".Scary monsters, super creepsKeep me running, running scared