The title song of David Bowie’s Young Americans is one of his handful of classics, a bizarre mixture of social comment, run-on lyric style, English pop and American soul. The band plays great and Tony Visconti’s production is flawless — just a touch of old-fashioned slap-back echo to give the tracks some added mystery. The rest of the album works best when Bowie combines his renewed interest in soul with his knowledge of English pop, rather than opting entirely for one or the other. Thus, “Win,” one of his best pop ballads, makes great use of an R&B chorus; it works much better than the straight James Brown impersonation “Right.” He does a plaintive version of John Lennon’s “Across the Universe,” while “Fame” and “Fascination,” besides being complementary titles, continue his merger of styles on a positive note.
As for Bowie’s growth as an artist, the highlight of the album comes when he stops the band and asks, “Isn’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?” With any other pop singer in the world, you’d know that he or she wanted to be taken seriously. With Bowie, you believe that he half does and half just says what he thinks he’s supposed to. Which isn’t bad, but only the way he is.