How David Bowie’s Producer Reinvented ‘Never Let Me Down’
David Bowie producer Mario McNulty said he relied on the strength of the songs on Bowie's 1987 album Never Let Me Down to create his new version, which is included in the upcoming box set Loving the Alien (1983 – 1988).
Bowie hated his last LP of the ‘80s, calling it “awful” because of its production and expressed a desire to re-record the entire album before his death in 2016.
McNulty, who worked with Bowie in the years leading up to his death, recalled how the pair had discussed how the task might be completed. “I remember going over to his house, and he was kind of laughing about it a bit,” the producer told Rolling Stone. “‘You know the album, right?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ ‘Well, check this out.’ And he outlined three ideas for the new version: He wanted a new arrangement, he wanted strings and he wanted real drums. He really did not like any of the electronic drums on the entire album. He would listen to it and just be like, ‘Ugh.’”
He used Bowie's 2008 version of the Never Let Me Down song "Time Will Crawl" as a guide to help him guess how the other songs on the album might have been reworked. “He just had such a great vision for what he was doing," McNulty noted. "You can hear that in the [original] vocals on these songs. Even if he wasn’t involved in the production process as much as he wanted to be, his vocals are inspired, and I think that just comes down to the songwriting. He felt close to these songs.”
The 2018 version includes parts of the original tracks along with new recordings by artists who worked with Bowie in his lifetime. Insisting that the new LP is “certainly not a knock on the people that originally made Never Let Me Down,” McNulty said, “I don’t want to be cliché about it and just say, ‘It was the ‘80s,’ but it was the ‘80s. And a lot of crazy things happened in the ‘80s. And who knows what they all were, but you hear it and you immediately could tell it was a sign of the times.”
Guitarist Carlos Alomar, who appeared on the original LP, said he approved of the album’s reinvention. “I take this to mean that the innovation of Bowie is still there,” he said. “If anything, this will force you to reflect on the fact that things aren’t always what you perceive them to be. Let me prove it to you by keeping the same vocal and changing everything else up. Now do you like the song?”