Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lodger (1979)


1. Fantastic Voyage: A political commentary song about nuclear war, finally resurrected to brilliant effect for the 2004 Reality tour, still sounds relevant lyrically and a showcase for Bowie’s vocal talents and his ever-increasing baritone. This marvellous bass/drums/piano song has no less than three mandolins playing along, but they’re buried so deep in the mix you don’t notice. 9.0

2. African Night Flight: Machine gun expressionist delivery, quite unlike anything he’d done before (or since), and an interesting track full of loops and Eno’s ‘cricket menace’ which appears in the driving coda just before (what sounds like) Swahili chanting weaves it’s way into the piece. And this was even before world music had a name. In retrospect somewhat reminiscent of the Eno/Byrne collaboration ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ masterpiece which was recorded around the same time. 7.0

3. Move On: Charming little first-person wanderlust themed song and a minor favourite. ‘All the Young Dudes’ backwards ends up sounding like a tribal chant, but the best thing about this song is the lyrics, voice and the delivery and the unerring drum shuffle underneath suggesting movement. 7.0

4. Yassassin (Turkish for Long Live): A somewhat awkward venture into eastern reggae saved by a mindblowing electric violin solo by ex-Hawkwind member Simon House and some nice guitar by the ever-inventive Adrian Belew. 6.0

5. Red Sails: Masterpiece #27. Belew’s guitar in all it’s unedited glory finally comes to the forefront here in this swashbuckling classic, the highest point of the album, and one of the great Bowie songs. Has the feel of a traditional Japanese influence in the verses, despite the buccaneer lyrics, Neu references and thunderous outro. The epitome of the late 70’s new wave synth sound, another genre that can be attributed to Bowie himself. 10.0

6. DJ: A mood shift from side one to a more focussed pop sound, although this lyrically complex track has a eclectic brew of electric violin, guitar solos and synth along with a classic Bowie lyric which makes for one of the great warped-rock Bowie singles (and videos) of all time. 8.5

7. Look Back in Anger: Impressive vocal performance Look Back in Anger possesses a terrific opening verse, fantasy-themed lyrics, with a blistering rhythm guitar ‘solo’ by Carlos Alomar, and that fine melodramatic chorus. 7.5

8. Boys Keep Swinging: Same chords as Fantastic Voyage, the musicians swapped instruments achieving a very post-punk primitive sound, which is somewhat jarring as well as Bowie’s deep-voiced oddball lyrics about boys. A very strange video shown on the Kenny Everitt Video Show in ’79, along with the Lennon-esque version of Space Oddity (9.5), did it’s hit-single potential no favours. 7.5

9. Repetition: A song of spousal abuse sung in a cold un-emotive fashion, without any showboating or histrionics, over an appropriately queasy and unrelenting George Murray bassline – this is another album highlight. 8.0

10. Red Money: An inferior reworking of Iggy’s classic Sister Midnight, this track has some interesting moments (eg: a nice little guitar lick, multi-tracked vocals) but generally an disappointing way to finish the album. 6.0


VERDICT: An experimental album of good materiel rather than a brilliant cohesive whole, Bowie was coming down off the artistic and commercial success of the 1978 world tour and lyrically was continuing on with the travel motif laid down by The Secret Life of Arabia. Lodger is the third and final instalment in the Berlin trilogy (although recorded in Switzerland), is equally experimental as the previous two albums (minus the wonderful instrumentals) but is easily the most underwhelming of the three and can almost come off as a transitional album between “Heroes” and Scary Monsters rather than part of the Berlin trilogy. Unfortunately there is not the same amount of creative grandeur or sheer brilliance as Low of “Heroes” and the mix is awfully muddy and hollow (and Belew had just excelled on tour, his guitar is surprisingly inconspicuous, and much of his work on the album was composited from multiple takes played against backing tracks of which he had no prior knowledge, not even the key), and some songs unfocussed and light-on. The input of Brian Eno had also noticeably decreased although featured in many co-write credits. That said, Lodger is a daring and original work without a single dud among it’s avant-pop, which rewards with repeated listens and is split into two clearly defined sides: side one a worldly travelogue, and side two dealing with existential decay which plays like an alt-world greatest hits album. Bowie produced several film clips (as they were called back then) for a number of singles to promote this album, however had the rug pulled from under him and was out-Bowied somewhat with the emergence of, at worst Bowie clones (Gary Numan), and at best intellectual cutting edge art-rockers (Talking Heads), and was far from a commercial and critical success. The cover is Bowie’s most unappealing, although the gatefold sleeve of deathbeds is strangely compelling.

NEXT: “Silhouettes and Shadows…”

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