Friday, August 14, 2009

David Bowie 13: Low

His experiences in film and onstage had left him feeling more claustrophobic than ever, so just like that, Bowie packed off to Berlin to record the first of three albums influenced by Brian Eno. (“Influence” is an important word to emphasize here, because while the so-called “Berlin trilogy” looms large in Eno’s biography, he was never the producer per se, but a collaborator and catalyst. Eno had been busy of late recording his own “music for films”, and a partnership with Bowie seemed almost inevitable.)
To add another ingredient to the mix, Low also sports the influence of Iggy Pop, whose albums The Idiot and Lust For Life were recorded immediately before and after, and using many of the same musicians. (Both are highly recommended for Bowie enthusiasts.) The result was one of Bowie’s most experimental albums to date, and one of his most successful, if not commercially then critically.
“Speed Of Life” spurts in with something of an opening-credits theme-song motif, and don’t bother waiting for the vocals since there aren’t any. “Breaking Glass” is over before it gets started, while “What In The World” burps along with crazy synth percolations. “Sound And Vision” is of the same cloth as “Speed Of Life”, but puts some vocals on halfway through. “Always Crashing In The Same Car” drives home the despair, which is lifted for a moment in “Be My Wife”. The vocal-less “A New Career In A New Town” closes the side on a transitory note—a little traveling music if you please.
The second side is called the instrumental side, which is accurate since the only vocals are wordless. “Warszawa” sets the tone with its portrait of the bleak capital of Poland. The grey is dissipated a bit with the changes in “Art Decade”, but “Weeping Wall” brings back the despair in the vibraphone. “Subterraneans” is one track that is said to have derived from the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell To Earth, and it really lends a spooky, otherworldly end to the proceedings.
Low is a fascinating album, full of pop songs that would never get played on the radio and longer songs that would influence a generation of punks with synthesizers. Bowie may not have been actively looking to fill the role of resident alien, but there was no question that he was creating music that seemed to come from the future. (As with the rest of the so-called Berlin Trilogy, the Ryko bonus tracks include some instrumentals of unknown vintage, as well as some unnecessary remakes. In this case, “Some Are” and “All Saints” complemented the rest of Low nicely.)

David Bowie Low (1977)—
1991 Rykodisc: same as 1977, plus 3 extra tracks

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