Wednesday, November 17, 2010

David Bowie 28: Outside

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, as he and Bowie were indeed the producers. The first of three projected collaborations between the two (the rest of the alleged trilogy 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 in accents attributed to various characters. The homemade artwork, most likely created on Bowie’s Power Mac and incorporating several actual paintings, didn’t help explain anything, least of all the plot.

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 as well. Apparently those present jammed for several hours, after which Bowie got around to writing the songs. Those, however, seemed beside the point.

“Leon Takes Us Outside” is basically an atmospheric intro with mumbled voices, before the title track bursts through to frequently insist that “it’s happening outside.” “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” was the first single, and a decent teaser for the better, more contemporary elements of the album. “A Small Plot Of Land” features a compelling vocal unfortunately fighting against three different jazzy accompaniments for an extreme challenge of patience. After an unsettling spoken segue from the plot’s murder victim, “Hallo Spaceboy” is an excellent meld of power and melody. “The Motel” gradually builds over six minutes from a moody Garson piece to a full-fledged song with a slow yet driving beat under his Scott Walker impersonation. “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.

“No Control” isn’t much more than a groove, until he starts to channel Scott Walker on the bridges. A two-minute monologue by one Algeria Touchshriek leads to “The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)”, where the seemingly incongruous vocal eventually finds its way to the backing, ending the track well. Another segue with an annoyingly manipulated voice subjects us to the thoughts of Ramona A. Stone, coupled without indexing with the equally irritating “I Am With Name”. “Wishful Beginnings” sports beats and keyboards very typical of Eno in the ‘90s, so it would be nice to hear the track with the vocals. The high-speed robotic “We Prick You” stands on its own as a song despite the voice effects, then a brief commentary by Nathan Adler takes up space before the croony “I’m Deranged”, halfway through which Mike Garson falls on the piano a few times. “Thru’ These Architect’s Eyes” in another strong track sadly shackled to whatever the plot is, followed by another interjection from Nathan Adler. Perhaps hedging his bets, “Strangers When We Meet” is a complete remake of the Buddha Of Suburbia track and the album’s closer.

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. But 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 remix of “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” was among other remixes on the two-CD reissue, along with the lesser leftover “Nothing To Be Desired” and the anachronistic “Get Real”.)

David Bowie Outside (1995)—2
2004 limited 2CD edition: same as 1995, plus 14 extra tracks


  1. First of all it's 1.OUTSIDE and it's one of bowie's finest, not troubled by commercial goals but a true creative process, edgy and not easy to listen to unless you open your mind and enjoy the work of a great artist and superb singer.