A common misconception is that Brian Eno produced the albums in Bowie’s so-called Berlin Trilogy. He didn’t; he merely co-wrote and performed on them. Therefore it was A Big Deal when Outside was announced. The first of three projected collaborations (the other two albums never materialized), it was supposed to be a projection into the future with a story about “art-crime”; instead it came off as an elaborate inside joke. For the most part it’s a harsh, jarring muddle, without a lot of memorable melody amidst all the texture and spoken interludes. The homemade artwork, most likely created on Bowie’s Power Mac, didn’t help explain anything.
In addition to Eno, the album brought together a handful of names from Bowie’s past, from Carlos Alomar to Tin Machine’s Reeves Gabrels, along with more recent collaborator Erdil Kizilcay. Pianist Mike Garson gets to do his thing all over “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”, which was a single, and “A Small Plot Of Land”, which features a compelling vocal unfortunately fighting against three different accompaniments.
“Hallo Spaceboy” is one decent track, an excellent meld of power and melody. Another is “Strangers When We Meet”, a complete remake of the Buddha Of Suburbia track and the album’s closer. “The Motel” builds over six minutes from a moody Garson piece to a full-fledged song with a slow yet driving beat. “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town” seems to want to push the story along, with some catchy choruses, but it just goes too long without really going anywhere.
There’s probably a good album buried inside Outside, but it’s just not that easy to hear. Whatever the grand concept was is simply not easy to follow, even with the narration on a disc crammed to capacity. Bowie seemed happy to let the Eno hype and his association with yet another record label drive the initial promotional push, and was able to ride the back of Nine Inch Nails, whose abrasive style seemed to resonate with self-flagellating goth posers in the nineties. (Naturally, Trent Reznor loved the album, and his remixes of various tracks feature on the two-CD reissue.)
David Bowie Outside (1995)—2
2004 limited 2CD edition: same as 1995, plus 14 extra tracks