|Never Let Me Down|
|Studio album by|
|Released||20 April 1987|
|Recorded||Mid 1986 to early 1987|
|David Bowie chronology|
|Singles from Never Let Me Down|
Never Let Me Down is the 17th studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 20 April 1987 by EMI America Records. After a series of miscellaneous projects, Bowie hoped to make his next record differently following his disappointment with Tonight (1984). Conceiving the album as the foundation for a theatrical world tour, it was recorded at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland and the Power Station in New York City in the latter half of 1986 into early 1987. It was co-produced by David Richards and marked the first time since 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) that Bowie played instruments in addition to singing. Musically, Never Let Me Down has been characterised as pop rock and art rock; Bowie himself considered the record a return to rock and roll music. The album cover features Bowie surrounded by numerous elements from the songs.
Released with different runtimes on vinyl and CD, Never Let Me Down was a commercial success, peaking at No. 6 in the UK. Three singles were released, "Day-In Day-Out", "Time Will Crawl" and "Never Let Me Down", all of which reached the UK Top 40. Despite its commercial success, the album was poorly received by fans and critics, with its production being a common source of criticism. Bowie supported the album on the Glass Spider Tour, named after one of the tracks, a world tour that was at that point the biggest, most theatrical and elaborate tour he had undertaken in his career. The tour, like its supporting album, was commercially successful but critically panned. The critical failure of the album and tour were factors that led Bowie to look for a new way to motivate himself creatively, leading him to create the rock band Tin Machine in 1989; he did not release another solo album until Black Tie White Noise in 1993.
Retrospectively, Never Let Me Down is generally regarded as one of Bowie's weakest releases. One of the tracks, "Too Dizzy", has been deleted from subsequent reissues due to Bowie's dislike of it. Throughout his lifetime, Bowie was critical of Never Let Me Down, distancing himself from the arrangement and production of the finished album. He expressed desire to remake the album at numerous times, eventually remixing "Time Will Crawl" for inclusion on his career retrospective iSelect (2008). Its remixer, Mario J. McNulty, brought Bowie's idea to remake the whole album to fruition in 2018. Released as part of the box set Loving the Alien (1983–1988), Never Let Me Down 2018 features new production and instrumentation over Bowie's original vocals. The new version is considered by reviewers to be an improvement over the original album.
Following the rise in fame and success from his 1983 album Let's Dance and its subsequent Serious Moonlight Tour, Bowie felt disconnected from his new found large fan base. After the poor reception of his follow-up album Tonight (1984), Bowie began a series of miscellaneous projects that included collaborations with the Pat Metheny Group and Mick Jagger, acting and composing for film soundtracks, such as Absolute Beginners (1985) and Labyrinth (1986). In 1985, after his successful performance at Live Aid, Bowie's label, EMI, were eager for another record. They compiled a compilation of 12" mixes from Let's Dance and Tonight, titled Dance, that reached the artwork stage before being shelved. In mid-1986, Bowie collaborated with his old friend Iggy Pop for his solo album Blah-Blah-Blah, producing and co-writing multiple tracks. He then collaborated with Erdal Kızılçay for the title song of the 1986 film When the Wind Blows, before returning to the studio to record his next album.
Due to his disappointment with Tonight, Bowie was looking to make the next album differently. He said he wanted to return to recording with a small rock group like he had early in his career, and that he made the album as a "move back to rock 'n' roll music. Very directly."
Bowie spent the middle of 1986 in his home in Switzerland writing the songs with Iggy Pop. Bowie wrote Never Let Me Down with the intention of performing the songs in a theatrical show. He bought a Foster 16-track and AHB mixing console to record elaborate home demos, which he recorded with Kızılçay before beginning work on the album with the full band. Having worked together sporadically since 1982, Bowie greatly appreciated Kızılçay's musicianship, stating, "He can switch from violin to trumpet to French horn, vibes, percussion, whatever...His knowledge of rock music begins and ends with the Beatles! His background is really jazz." During the sessions, Kızılçay played keyboards and synthesisers and, according to biographer Chris O'Leary, "provided any sound" Bowie requested. Unlike the sessions for Tonight, Bowie wanted to encourage collaboration for the new album's sessions, stating: "I made demos of everything before we went in, and I played them to everybody and I said, 'I want it to sound exactly like this, but better!'"
The album took three months to write and record. Recording began at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, and completed at the Power Station in Manhattan, New York City. The album was co-produced by Bowie and David Richards, who had engineered "Heroes" and co-produced Blah-Blah-Blah, and engineered by Let's Dance engineer Bob Clearmountain, who, according to Bowie, was responsible for the album's "great, forceful sound". Returning from the Tonight sessions was regular collaborator Carlos Alomar, Carmine Rojas and a group of saxophonists called "the Borneo Horns". Along with Kızılçay, they were joined by Peter Frampton, a former classmate of Bowie's, on lead guitar. Bowie phoned Frampton after listening to his latest record Premonition (1986), stating at the time, "I always thought it'd be good to work with him 'cause I was so impressed with him as a guitarist at school." Sid McGinnis, a some-time member of David Letterman's band, played lead guitar on three tracks, including "Day-In Day-Out", "Time Will Crawl" and "Bang Bang". For the first time since Scary Monsters, Bowie played instruments on the record in addition to singing. For some tracks on the album, Bowie played keyboards, synthesiser, rhythm guitar and on two of the album's tracks ("New York's in Love" and "'87 and Cry"), he played lead guitar. According to Kızılçay, they "used to start at about 10 in the morning an finish in the evening about 8 o'clock" while recording the album, adding that Bowie "was very disciplined" while recording the album and "was always trying something new."
Bowie, Richards and Kızılçay recorded backing tracks at Mountain for the first two weeks, after which Alomar and Frampton were flown in for guitar overdubs. Sessions then moved to the Power Station, where horns and backing vocalists were added, along with additional percussion from Errol "Crusher" Bennett. According to Richards, these were elements that Bowie said "you can only get in New York". Regarding Bennett's contributions, Richards recalled: "[He]set all his 'bangers' and 'scrapers' on a table, which I miked at each end. So whenever he moved around, the sounds would pan with him, creating some strange spatial effects." The majority of Bowie's vocals were taken from guide vocals recorded at Mountain, although some were later re-recorded at the Power Station. Richards explained: "David always sang a guide vocal very early on in the recording process...Most of these vocals were so good and had such great spontaneity that they ended up on the record." "Never Let Me Down", whose name was originally "Isolation", was a last-minute addition to the album, written and recorded in one day during the last week of mixing the album at the Power Station. Actor Mickey Rourke asked Bowie to be involved in one of the songs, the two having met in London where Rourke was based while filming the film A Prayer for the Dying (1987). Bowie had him perform the mid-song rap to the song "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)". Bowie jokingly referred to Rourke's performance as "method rapping".
The music on Never Let Me Down has been characterised as pop rock and art rock. During its making, Bowie stated he felt that the sound and style of it was reminiscent of his 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and less like its immediate predecessors. He also acknowledged that the songs on the album lacked a cohesive musical style, which he said reflected his eclectic musical tastes at the time, and stated that the album was "a reflection of all the styles of writing I've used over the last few years." When promoting the album, he described it as "an eclectic hybrid of long-standing influences and personal nostalgia." Biographer Paul Trynka writes that the record contains mostly "conventional music, lyrics and sounds."
Overall, Bowie summed up the album after it was released in 1987 as an effort to "reestablish what I used to do, which was a guitar-oriented album. I think the next album will be even more so." His follow-up effort was to be the guitar-oriented rock-band album Tin Machine (1989).
"Time Will Crawl", which Bowie named as his favourite track from the album, was inspired by events from the Chernobyl disaster and the idea that someone from one's own neighborhood could be responsible for the end of the world. During the production of the album, the track was titled "How We War", but was changed before the album was released. Bowie said his vocals on this song "owed a lot to Neil Young", and noted that the variety of voices he used on the album were a nod to the musicians who had influenced him in the past.
The title track, "Never Let Me Down", is about Bowie's long-time personal assistant, Coco Schwab. Bowie wrote the song as a direct reference to his relationship with Coco as a counterpoint to the rest of the songs on the album, which he felt were mostly allegorical. Bowie attributed his vocal performance on this track to John Lennon. One reviewer later called it one of Bowie's "most underrated songs."
Bowie called the song "Beat of Your Drum" a Lolita song, a "reflection on young girls... 'Christ, she’s only 14 years old, but jail’s worth it!'" Bowie biographer Nicholas Pegg, who called the song one of the better tracks on the album, noted that "Beat of Your Drum" could be called a "direct ancestor", both lyrically and musically, to Tin Machine's 1991 song, "You Belong in Rock n' Roll".
The song "Zeroes", which Rolling Stone magazine called the most heartening and successful track on the album, is, according to Bowie, a nostalgia trip: "I wanted to put in every 60s cliche I could think of! 'Stopping and preaching and letting love in,' all those things. I hope there's a humorous undertone to it. But the subtext is definitely that the trappings of rock are not what they're made out to be."
The track "Glass Spider" is a kind of mythological story based on a documentary Bowie had seen about black widow spiders that said that the spiders lay the skeletons of their prey out on their webs. Bowie also thought that the Glass Spider's web would make a good enclosure for the tour, thus giving the supporting tour its name and stage dressing.
Bowie described "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" as one that "reflects back-to-street situations, and how people are trying to get together in the face of so many disasters and catastrophes, socially around them, never knowing if they're going to survive it themselves. The one thing they have got to cling on to is each other; although it might resolve into something terrible, it's the only thing that they've got. It’s just a little love song coming out of that environment." He rejected the notion that his "high, little" voice (which he attributed to Smokey Robinson) in the song was a new character (to follow behind Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke), instead saying it was just what the song needed, as he had tried the song in his regular voice and did not like the outcome: "That never bothered me, changing voices to suit a song. You can fool about with it."
Bowie originally wrote the song "'87 & Cry" as a statement about Margaret Thatcher, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time. The song referred to the distinction between the authoritarian government and the citizens (the "dogs"), and Bowie admitted that the lyrics verged on the surreal, describing people "eating the energies of others to get to what they wanted."
"Too Dizzy" was the first song Bowie and new collaborator Kızılçay wrote together for the album, and was written in homage to the 50s. Bowie said "a real Fifties subject matter was either love or jealousy, so I thought I'd stick with jealousy because it's a lot more interesting". Bowie at the time called the song a "throwaway" and seemed surprised that he included it on the album. The song has been deleted from subsequent reissues of Never Let Me Down.
When asked about his choice of including Iggy Pop's song "Bang Bang" on the album (instead of perhaps co-writing a new song), Bowie stated "Iggy's done so many good songs that people never get to hear ... I think it's one of his best songs, 'Bang Bang,' and it hasn't been heard, and now it might be."
"Day-In Day-Out" was released by EMI America Records as the lead single for the album on 23 March 1987, with the catalogue number EA 320 and "Julie" as the B-side. The single performed decently in both the UK and the US, peaking at Nos. 17 and 21, respectively. The song's music video, directed by Julien Temple, contained controversial content, which caused it to be banned by some networks, which Bowie found ludicrous. A version of the song sung in Spanish was recorded to promote Bowie's first-ever concerts in Spain during his Glass Spider Tour was released for the first time in 2007 when the "Day-In Day-Out" EP was released digitally.
Never Let Me Down was released by EMI America Records on 20 April 1987, with the catalogue number AMLS 3117 (LP) and CDP 7 46677 2 (CD). It was released in a variety of different formats, and was the first Bowie record to feature simultaneous releases on vinyl and CD. Both of these formats had different lengths in the runtime, with four tracks on the CD release up to a minute longer. In Australia, the album was appeared on blue vinyl and in Japan, a Japanese vocal version of the outtake "Girls" was included. The cover artwork was designed by Mike Haggerty, who designed the artworks for Let's Dance and Tonight, and taken by photographer Greg Gorman. It was described by Bowie as being in a "vaudevillian" style. It depicts the long-haired Bowie jumping through a circus ring surrounded by elements from the album's songs, including a drum, a skyscraper, a "candyfloss" cloud, and an angel from the "Day-In Day-Out" music video. Initial sales of the album were strong, peaking at No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart, but dropped off disappointingly. Bowie was not concerned with the album's relative poor performance in the charts, saying "I've made about 20 albums during my career, and so far this is my third biggest seller. So I can't be that disappointed, yet, it is a letdown that it hasn't been as buoyant as it should be. ... But I don’t really feel that negative about it. As far as I'm concerned it's one of the better albums I've made. As I've said. Never Let Down has been a pretty big seller for me. So I'm quite happy." Despite growing criticism in the press, Bowie said that Never Let Me Down was one of the most enjoyable and energetic albums he had made in a long time.
"Time Will Crawl" was released as the second single from the album in June 1987, with the catalogue number EA 237 and "Girls" as the B-side". It stalled on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at No. 33. Bowie pre-recorded a performance of the song for the BBC television programme Top of the Pops, although it was not aired at the time, as the single subsequently fell down the charts. Its accompanying music video was directed by Tim Pope and previewed some of the choreography of the upcoming Glass Spider Tour.
The title track was released as the album's third single in August 1987, with the catalogue number EA 239 and "'87 and Cry" as the B-side. It peaked at No. 34 in the UK and at No. 27 in the US. Its accompanying music video was directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino and was described by Bowie as "experimental". Bowie's performance of the song for Top of the Pops was shown on the first airing of the US version of the show.
"Shining Star" was one of Bowie's early choices to be a single for the album, but EMI had the final say and did not release the song as a single. A 12" remix of the song was made available on iTunes when the "Never Let Me Down" EP was released digitally in 2007. EMI briefly considered "Too Dizzy" for release as a fourth single from the album, and in fact, it did appear as a promo release in the US.
Bowie, having just turned 40 the year the album was released, was a common sight on magazine covers during the year. He appeared alongside Tina Turner on the cover of In Fashion magazine (to the tagline 'Forever cool'), Musician magazine and on the cover of Rolling Stone's US 20th Anniversary "Style" issue, part of a series of contemporary photographs of Bowie taken by photographer Herb Ritts. Articles about Bowie's album and tour appeared inside such teen-oriented publications such as Mademoiselle and Teen magazines, the former calling Bowie "a leading candidate for the coolest character in rock." Bowie was chosen as one of the top male pop stars of the year (1987) in Billboard's end-of-year retrospective issue.
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Village Voice||C+|
Contemporary reviews of the album were mixed. Critic Ira Robbins wrote "although this casual loud-rock outing... seems on first blush to be slapdash and slight, the first side is actually quite good, offering provocative pop-culture lyrics delivered with first-take enthusiasm and carefree backing." In 1987, Spin magazine called the album "an inspired and brilliantly crafted work. It's charged with a positive spirit that makes art soul food; imbued with the contagious energy that gives ideas a leg to dance on", but in 1989 a different reviewer for the magazine called the album "disappointing". Rolling Stone magazine called the work an "odd, freewheeling pastiche of elements from all the previous Bowies," "unfocused," and possibly "the noisiest, sloppiest Bowie album ever. ... Being noisy and sloppy isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sad to say, Never Let Me Down is also something of a mess." Another critic held a general optimism for the potential of the songs on the album, complaining only that the "oppressive production" ruined them. In Creem, Roy Tarkin felt that the album represented a creative low point for Bowie, in that all the songs musically looked back on his career up to that point, but were executed poorly. Tarkin ended his review stating "I guess you could say Never Let Me Down did just that; let me down." Billboard magazine's 1987 retrospective issue called Never Let Me Down "arguably the year's most underrated release" and considered the album a "Critic's Choice" for the year.
Retrospectively, Never Let Me Down has received unfavourable reviews, with its production being a common source of criticism, and is generally considered to be one of Bowie's weakest releases. In The Rolling Stone Album Guide, the magazine compared the album to its predecessor, writing: "Tonight was an expensive quickie padded with lame covers, while Never Let Me Down made things even worse with originals." Writing for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine gave the album a negative review, stating "while it's not as consistent as Tonight, it's far more interesting". Reviewing the album's remaster as part of the Loving the Alien (1983–1988), Chris O'Leary summarised: "For all of its flaws, Never Let Me Down has a unity – the album has a somewhat charming period – piece feel to it now. It's one of the most time-stamped '1987' records ever made." Chris Ingalls of PopMatters primarily criticised the album's production, calling it "headache-inducing [and] overstuffed with garnish". He felt that "Time Will Crawl" and "Zeroes" were good tracks that were ruined by the production choices. He ultimately considered the record to be Bowie's "one major stumble." Looking back in 2019, Patrick Moran of Ultimate Classic Rock considered Never Let Me Down to be "far from being the nadir of Bowie's long stretch between Let's Dance in 1983 and Outside in 1995," although it still remains one of his worst. Calling it "an undigested mix of ideas, time signatures and grooves that never quite comes together", Moran concluded: "Never Let Me Down can boast a handful of tracks that are a credible mix of the commercial and the experimental, a characteristic which has always been the mainstay of Bowie's best work."
Bowie knew he'd be taking the album on tour, and in early interviews said "I'm going to do a stage thing this year, which I'm incredibly excited about, 'cause I'm gonna take a chance again", but when pressed for details, he refused to give up any, saying "I'll just be doing what I always did, which is keeping things interesting."
Bowie performed several of the album's songs during a press tour that preceded his highly theatrical Glass Spider Tour, which played to a combined audience of as many as six million fans. Bowie wanted to produce a live show that picked up where his aborted 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour left off. Although considered financially successful and well attended, the tour itself was critically dismissed. Bowie designed his next few tours specifically to avoid the problems that the Glass Spider Tour was criticised for by avoiding overly theatrical stage presentations and focusing on his music. Despite the criticism, Bowie maintained that performing on this tour was the most fun he had had on tour up to that point in his career. However, no song from Never Let Me Down was performed on any of Bowie's tours after 1987.
Initially after the album's release, Bowie was excited to return to the studio to record more material, having written more songs than were recorded for the album. He said he wanted to record more "experimental" music, referring to his work in the 1970s with Brian Eno. He discussed re-recording some of Never Let Me Down's tracks on his next album with future collaborator Reeves Gabrels, but Gabrels talked him out of it. Ultimately, due to the poor critical reception of the album and subsequent tour, Bowie put those plans on hold and instead formed his rock band Tin Machine, which he used to rejuvenate himself creatively and artistically. Bowie also effectively cut ties with his rhythm guitarist and band leader Carlos Alomar, whom he had worked with since the mid-1970s (starting with the album Young Americans (1975)), although Alomar would play on Bowie's 1995 Outside Tour and on a few tracks for later Bowie albums such as Outside (1995), Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003).
His view on the album soured as the years passed. In 1990, during interviews for his Sound+Vision Tour, Bowie commented that he felt like he was in a "mire" while making this album, and expressed disappointment at having lost good songs by allowing the album's production to give the songs too much of a session man feel.
A year later, while working with Tin Machine on their second album, he mused on his previous few albums: "You can tell I was terribly unhappy in the late '80s. ... I was in that netherworld of commercial acceptance. It was an awful trip. 1983, '84, '85, '86, '87 – those five years were simply dreadful. ... Never Let Me Down had good songs that I mistreated. I didn't really apply myself. I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to be doing. I wish there had been someone around who could have told me."
In 1993, while doing press tours for his album Black Tie White Noise, Bowie acknowledged that, while the album sold more than any of his previous albums (except Let's Dance), he felt that while making it he had almost lost his interest in making music altogether. He elaborated, "In the end I didn't lose the songs, but I lost the sound. ... I literally threw them away by giving them to very good people to arrange but not being involved myself, almost to the point of indifference."
In 1995, Bowie spoke more at length about how he felt his creativity and music had suffered after the success of Let's Dance:
[The great public esteem at that time] meant absolutely nothing to me. It didn't make me feel good. I felt dissatisfied with everything I was doing, and eventually it started showing in my work. Let's Dance was an excellent album in a certain genre, but the next two albums after that [Tonight and Never Let Me Down] showed that my lack of interest in my own work was really becoming transparent. My nadir was Never Let Me Down. It was such an awful album. I've gotten to a place now where I'm not very judgmental about myself. I put out what I do, whether it's in visual arts or in music, because I know that everything I do is really heartfelt. Even if it's a failure artistically, it doesn't bother me in the same way that Never Let Me Down bothers me. I really shouldn't have even bothered going into the studio to record it. [laughs] In fact, when I play it, I wonder if I did sometimes.
Bowie considered the idea of re-recording tracks from the album in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, a project which came to fruition in 2018 with the release of Never Let Me Down 2018, two years after Bowie's death.
This was the first Bowie album to have different length songs on the vinyl release than on the cassette and CD, with almost all the songs appearing on the latter having a longer running time than on the former.
LP: EMI AMLS 3117 (UK)
All tracks are written by David Bowie, except where noted.
|2.||"Time Will Crawl"||4:18|
|3.||"Beat of Your Drum"||4:32|
|4.||"Never Let Me Down" (David Bowie, Carlos Alomar)||4:03|
|2.||"Shining Star (Makin' My Love)"||4:05|
|3.||"New York's in Love"||3:55|
|4.||"'87 and Cry"||3:53|
|5.||"Too Dizzy" (David Bowie, Erdal Kızılçay)||3:58|
|6.||"Bang Bang" (Iggy Pop, Ivan Kral)||4:02|
The shortened LP version of the album was released digitally for the first time in 2007 on iTunes (minus "Too Dizzy").
CD: EMI CDP 7 46677 2 (UK)
All tracks are written by David Bowie, except where noted.
|2.||"Time Will Crawl"||4:18|
|3.||"Beat of Your Drum"||5:03|
|4.||"Never Let Me Down"||Lyrics by Bowie; Music by Bowie and Carlos Alomar||4:03|
|7.||"Shining Star (Makin' My Love)"||5:04|
|8.||"New York's in Love"||4:32|
|9.||"'87 and Cry"||4:18|
|10.||"Too Dizzy"||Lyrics by Bowie; Music by Bowie and Erdal Kızılçay||3:58|
|11.||"Bang Bang"||Iggy Pop, Ivan Kral||4:28|
LP/CD: EMI EYS-91221/CP32-5398 (Japan)
The original Japanese release of the album included an exclusive re-recording of the song "Girls" sung in Japanese. On the LP the song was slotted at the end of side one.
|6.||"Girls"||Music & lyrics by Bowie and Kızılçay, Japanese translation by Hiro Hozumi, coaching by Kiri Teshigahara||4:00|
The track "Too Dizzy" has been deleted from subsequent reissues of the album at Bowie's request, reportedly because it was his least favourite track on the album. He called it "a throwaway" almost immediately after the album's release, stating "I was unsettled with that song, but it's on the album anyway." Regarding it's deletion, Pegg writes: "Its removal from Never Let Me Down has rendered it a latter-day collector's item, but few will feel impelled to hunt it down."
|11.||"Julie"||B-side to the single "Day-In Day-Out" (1987)||3:45|
|12.||"Girls" (Extended Edit)||Bowie, Kızılçay||B-side to the single "Time Will Crawl" (1987)||5:38|
|13.||"When the Wind Blows"||Lyrics by Bowie; Music by Bowie & Kızılçay||From the When the Wind Blows soundtrack (1986)||3:36|
EMI released the second reissue in 1999 featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound but no bonus tracks, and also without "Too Dizzy". A 2007 Japanese re-release of the album, based on the EMI 1999 re-issue, included "Too Dizzy" on the track listing although the song itself doesn't appear on the CD.
In 2009, the album was re-issued in SHM-CD format. The reissue had the same track listing as the 2007 reissue. In 2018, the album was remastered by Parlophone and released on CD, LP, and digitally as part of the Loving the Alien (1983–1988) box set; a standalone release of the album on all three aforementioned formats was issued in February of the following year.
Adapted from the Never Let Me Down liner notes.
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
|Never Let Me Down 2018|
|Studio album (re-recording) by|
|Released||12 October 2018|
|Recorded||January – March 2018|
|Studio||Electric Lady (New York City)|
|David Bowie chronology|
|Singles from Never Let Me Down 2018|
According to Reeves Gabrels, Bowie wanted to remake some of the songs almost immediately after the two met in late 1987, and considered putting some of them on his next album, but Gabrels talked him out of it, suggesting it was too soon to do so. Bowie discussed recording some of the tracks from Never Let Me Down with Gabrels again in 1996, prior to going into the studio to make his album Earthling (1997), but no tracks were recorded. Bowie had Mario J. McNulty remix the track "Time Will Crawl" in 2008 for his compilation of self-selected favourite songs, iSelect, and later included the same mix on his career-spanning 50th anniversary compilation, Nothing Has Changed. At the time Bowie had said, "Oh, to redo the rest of that album", and according to the Parlophone label in 2018, that was the beginning of the desire to "reimagine" the album. In early 2018, musicians including Reeves Gabrels, David Torn, Sterling Campbell, Tim Lefebvre, Nico Muhly and Laurie Anderson started recording in New York's Electric Lady Studios to help fulfill that wish. Of these musicians, Torn, Campbell, Lefebvre and Gabrels were all selected by Bowie before he died in 2016 to take a part in the project. In July 2018, it was announced that a new version of the album, titled Never Let Me Down 2018, would be released in October of that year. The album includes "newly 'remixed' artwork", unseen images from the original album's photo-shoot by photographer Greg Gorman, and was released as part of the 2018 box set Loving the Alien (1983–1988).
McNulty used the experience of making the MM Remix of "Time Will Crawl" with Bowie to influence his approach for producing this version of the album. He received the master tapes from the label and "kept all of Bowie's vocals", some of the original acoustic guitars, and "anything distinctive" about the song, such as Alomar's rhythm guitar on "Never Let Me Down" and Frampton's sitar on "Zeroes". He sent rough mixes, called "stems", to each musician as a baseline along with ideas of what they should record. Each musician recorded their parts separately, and were not typically in the studio together, although Torn and Gabrels did record together for one day at one point. For "Day-In Day-Out", McNulty discovered that Bowie had recorded the Borneo Horns (Stanley Harrison, Lenny Pickett, Steve Elson and Arif Mardin) playing live, but had at some point replaced them with synthesised horns. McNulty restored the live horns in the new version. The new version of the song has "one foot in the past and another in the present", saying "it was difficult. Most of the lyrics are quite dark, but everything else about it is almost uplifting. ... I just thought, 'It makes sense to do something bright.'" For "New York's in Love", Gabrels wanted the new recording to reflect the change in New York, saying "New York isn't really about the blues anymore. It's more multicultural...I wanted to reflect that change with what I did [played]...I told Mario, 'Put up that song and let me see what happens.'...I soloed through the whole song and tried different things, and I reacted to what was going on. When the song ended, Mario looked at me and said, 'Well, that one's done then.' [laughs]". McNulty replaced a lot of synthesiser parts throughout the album with strings, saying "There were a lot of random synthesisers from the Labyrinth department lurking in the background. I was pretty confident I could do a lot of that work with strings." "Shining Star" was particularly hard for McNulty: "The [original] programming is a mess and the rap comes out of nowhere. I was just trying to find the right elements to fit the song. Luckily I know David and Laurie Anderson were good friends and she said yes to this [recording new vocals for the song] and it was really great of her."
Original musicians Alomar and Kızılçay were not part of the reproduction. Alomar approved of the changes to the album, but Kızılçay was unhappy with the new arrangements, and threatened a lawsuit as a result.
After the album was released in 2018, McNulty suggested that he might try remixing some of the other songs from the era, including b-sides "Julie" and "Girls", but added, "'Too Dizzy,' that's not gonna happen."
The release of the box set was preceded by the digital release of the single "Zeroes (2018) (Radio Edit)" in July 2018, and a physical 7" single in September 2018, backed with a radio of the 2018 version of "Beat of Your Drum".
Reviewers have generally considered Never Let Me Down 2018 an improvement over the original album. When reviewing the Loving the Alien (1983–1988) box set, Chris O'Leary of Pitchfork found Never Let Me Down 2018 superior to the original album, giving it a 6.7 out of 10. However, because Bowie's vocals remained the same – considering them "over-the-top performances to ensure Bowie stood out in the traffic-jam mixes", he found that sometimes the new arrangements did not match his vocals, highlighting "Beat of Your Drum" and "Zeroes". Conversely, he gave praise to the new versions of "Day-In Day-Out" and "Glass Spider". Overall, O'Leary found Never Let Me Down 2018 to be "an interesting curio", stating "the remake doesn't improve on Never Let Me Down as much as it honors the original's all-over-the-place frustration." Chris Ingalls of PopMatters writes "Never Let Me Down 2018 goes a long way in salvaging those 1987 songs, with a 21st-century sensibility stripping away the overblown aesthetic of those original recordings." He further commended the 2018 version for helping the album "breath a lot easier". Ultimately, while the record still doesn't stand near Bowie's best work, Ingalls felt that everyone involved in the new version "does yeoman's work here." Similarly, Michael Rippman considered Never Let Me Down 2018 to be the "crown jewel" of the box set. Langdon Hickman of Treble writes that with the 2018 version, the album "no longer feels like a glaring misstep in his canon", rather it brings what Bowie's original vision to life, sounding closer to his Tin Machine work. Rather than being at the bottom, the new version "manage[s] to cinch itself up against [the] middle tier" of his catalogue.
|2.||"Time Will Crawl"||4:26|
|3.||"Beat of Your Drum"||5:27|
|4.||"Never Let Me Down"||Bowie, Alomar||4:26|
|7.||"Shining Star (Makin' My Love)" (featuring Laurie Anderson)||5:32|
|8.||"New York's in Love"||4:33|
|9.||"'87 and Cry"||4:25|
|10.||"Bang Bang"||Pop, Kral||4:42|
|Total length:||19:12 (50:56)|