Straight from the ’70s, today we’re talking about a genre that’s perhaps been forgotten. It’s called “plastic soul” and was most commonly used by Bowie to describe his output during those years.
The term is used to deride and slap a label of falseness on someone’s musical taste or creations. I’m as defensive of peoples’ music tastes as the next person (see also my posts on guilty pleasures) but in this case…I think it’s right. There’s a feeling of hollowness to the sound. Not only that, the term almost feels fitting since plastic soul is literally packaged for an audience that wouldn’t necessarily seek out soul music themselves (i.e. white suburbia).
My favorite podcast, “You’re Wrong About”, did an episode on Disco Demolition Night that I think dovetails nicely with my argument here. It was a literal rejection of “real” disco because attendees felt like it didn’t speak to them: maybe it was too funky, maybe it was too emotional, maybe it had been created by a marginalized group that they didn’t identify with.
But music has a way of being slippery and adaptable so as much as people tried to turn it down, disco just kept getting louder until it morphed into what we call “house music” today. After all, people still need to dance to something.
Plastic soul, though, isn’t danceable. It lacks that urgency that makes you want to get up and move because the saxophone is just a little too sharp, a little too clean (“Young Americans” is a great example of this). There’s no funk here, nothing rich that’s holding it all together.
I still like listening to it, but I’m not about to boogie.