David Bowie had dropped hints during the Diamond Dogs tour that he was moving toward R&B, but the full-blown blue-eyed soul of Young Americans came as a shock. Surrounding himself with first-rate sessionmen, Bowie comes up with a set of songs that approximate the sound of Philly soul and disco, yet remain detached from their inspirations; even at his most passionate, Bowie sounds like a commentator, as if the entire album was a genre exercise. Nevertheless, the distance doesn't hurt the album - it gives the record its own distinctive flavour, and its plastic, robotic soul helped inform generations of synthetic British soul. What does hurt the record is a lack of strong songwriting. Young Americans is a masterpiece, and Fame has a beat funky enough that James Brown ripped it off, but only a handful of cuts (Win, Fascination, Somebody up There Likes Me) comes close to matching their quality. As a result, Young Americans is more enjoyable as a stylistic adventure than as a substantive record.
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