In which the Thin White Duke invents another new subgenre: Rigor Mortis Soul. Imagine if Otis Redding’s Madame Tussaud wax figure tried to come to life and sing “Try a Little Tenderness,” and you have a good idea of the fascinating, constrained take on black American soul that Bowieassayed on Young Americans. The title track is the classic moment, a gospel rocker tottering on stiff, arthritic knees in an overly starched suit, a too-bright saxophone piping merrily asBowie croaks a story about sexual dissolution, wasted bodies and self-cutters. Meanwhile, an actual gospel choir warms up the chorus just enough to keep the song from freezing.
The genius of Bowie, of course, is that even beneath all the morbidity and formal gestures, he made sure to get the finer points right: On “Win,” you can hear a young Luther Vandross on backing vocals and David Sanborn on saxophone. Bowie might be wheezing like a wounded vampire, but the song itself is so ripe it could have fallen off a tree. The result is baby-making music that manages to also stare directly into the terrifying abyss of existence. Head, heart; meet groin. You might all be able to help each other out.