Diamond Dogs was an album I first heard, I think via Ashley Rose, one of those guardian angels of music who come into your life and show you what you should be listening to. He was never snobbish and had the broadest as well as the deepest taste of anyone I've ever known. He was very into Bowie. Diamond Dogs is the White Album to Ziggy Stardust's Sgt. Pepper. A concept album that lost its concept; a soundtrack for a musical not made. It froths with George Orwell cut up with William S. Burroughs, riven through with a Queerness and ambivalence.
The original idea was to make a musical of 1984 which gave the album its disco-driven song of that title, as well as Big Brother - that booming bass slide is my favourite moment in the whole album - and We Are the Dead. But the opening sets up an altogether less austere and more grimy dystopia. There's some Huxley in here as well. The Sweet Thing Suite is the closest rock opera ever got to being good. It's amazing stuff, with Bowie displaying his full range as a vocalist.
The more cod rock n roll comes as a genuine relief. At last something clear and straightforward, but then is it? Rebel Rebel is a call to arms but also an ironic undercutting of rebellion that so quickly becomes consumerism. And that circular riff. Where are we actually going? The irony is even heavier in the title track of the album, with its almost parodic cowbell (Christopher Walken can be heard saying 'I need that cowbell baby') and its preceding declaration: 'This ain't Rock n Roll, this is genocide!'
I read a comment that this is the Bowiest of Bowie albums and it certainly sits centrally to my personal discovery of Bowie. I went from Diamond Dogs back to Ziggy and forward to Station to Station and then filling in all the gaps in-between. It also meant that I was fully primed when Bowie had a resurgence in the 90s with Outside, an album which felt almost miraculous considering how many had given him up for dead.
In the age of Spotify and streaming, it's good to sit down and reclaim these albums one at a time if necessary.