Sunday, December 5, 2010

Low (1977)


1. Speed of Life: Opening with a jarring fade-in, this marvellously layered instrumental piece sounds like the theme music to a long lost 50s sci-fi series - as our heroes race through the space-time continuum encountering all sorts of sticky interplanetary situations. Synthesizers are at the forefront and this new ultra cutting edge electronic based music that still sounds fresh via collaborator Brian Eno. Guitarist Ricky Gardiner is excellent all over this album as well with his sharp melody lines, this textured track is the perfect opener to introduce the new music night and day. 9.0

2. Breaking Glass: An instrumental with vocals, this track was cooked up in the studio by the band (Alomar, Murray and Davis) with vocals composed and recorded quickly upon his arrival in the studio. Pure art-funk with some very surreal and paranoid lyrics it’s quite an opaque song, the genesis of which can be heard in the foundations laid by the previous album Station to Station. Worked very well live particularly the extended outro found on Stage. 7.5

3. What in the World: Musically disjointed and lyrically random, Eno’s pulsating “Pac-man” soundeffects very complimentary, this track is memorable not least for its cavernous treated drum sound created by producer Visconti using an Eventide Harmonizer (a sound heard all over Low), or Iggy Pop on backing vocals for his only appearance here (although he was around a lot at the time, they had already recorded ‘The Idiot’ together), and the frantic yet soulful live renditions it received every single night on the subsequent tour. 7.5

4. Sound and Vision: As catchy a synth-pop song as you’re ever likely to hear, the vocals don’t come in on this one until after the halfway mark. The sonic experimentation is evident here within this eclectic, musical vignette and art-rock symphony. The great steam hiss is a heavily gated snare in case you were wondering. 9.5

5. Always Crashing in the Same Car: Masterpiece #22. This is the heart of the first side and a slightly undervalued track, either way it’s a masterpiece. The feel of this recount of a hotel garage car accident is one of resignation and futility sung in a disarmingly un-emotive manner. The closing guitar solo is an album highlight. 10.0

6. Be My Wife: A plea for human connection with some barnstorming honky-tonk piano. Another instance of super catchy, angular art-pop. This had a really weird video clip too. 8.5

7. A New Career in a New Town: Closing side two with a tuneful pop instrumental reminiscent of Kraftwerk’s ‘Radio Activity’, it has a fragmented, processed feel and displays Eno’s fine synth, and Bowie’s limited harmonica, abilities. 7.0

8. Warszawa: Masterpiece #23. The only Eno/Bowie co-write on the album, this track is heavy on the melancholy and seemingly conveying some serious emotional wreckage. Consisting of funereal processional synth steps from Eno (composed while Bowie was attending a divorce court hearing) and a shrieking Eastern European boys choir-sounding vocal from Bowie, the slow and graceful Warszawa is the single finest instrumental in Bowie’s career. 10.0

9. Art Decade: Written, recorded, then discarded by Bowie, then resurrected by Eno some time later, Art Decade lopes along beautifully, sounding futuristic and emitting an ethereal feeling of warmth throughout. 8.5

10. Weeping Wall: Continuing to discard traditional structures of pop music, Bowie plays all this instruments on this one dealing thematically, and evoking a mood, of life in Germany scarred by the Berlin Wall. 8.5

11. Subterraneans: Written as part of the unrealised soundtrack for The Man Who Fell to Earth, this ghostly atmospheric instrumental is similar to Warszawa in tone and possesses some wonderful jazz inflected sax from Bowie towards the end. 8.5


VERDICT: After finding a comfortable niche with hit singles Young Americans, Fame and Golden Years, and displaying some unusually extrovert behaviour during this time, Bowie got off drugs and the treadmill of fame (at least for the foreseeable future) and started recording a wilful departure without any firm plans to make an album. The result was Low - part one of the ‘Berlin Trilogy’. Ironically it was mostly recorded in France (same studio where Pin Ups was recorded), this music at the time was unprecedented for a pop star of Bowie stature, not only the ahead-of-it’s-time art-pop of the first side but particularly the four dense instrumental sonicscapes on side two which baffled both critics and fans alike upon it’s release. This is when Bowie started making the weirdest and arguably the best music of his career. His songwriting on Low tended to deal with difficult issues, as many of the songs concern lethargy, depression, estrangement, or self-destructive behaviour, mostly delivered in an atypical monotone vocal. Low has been acclaimed for it’s originality and now with the benefit of hindsight, it’s is truly one of the most groundbreaking and influential albums of all time. The excellent low-profile pun album cover is another still taken from The Man Who Fell to Earth.

NEXT: “There’s old wave, there’s new wave, and there’s David Bowie.”

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