Monday, February 21, 2011

1.Outside (1995)


1. Leon Takes Us Outside: This nice little curtain-raiser finds Bowie mysteriously reciting dates (August, Wednesday, 13th, Friday, 7th, June) and for some reason other random names (Nicholas), days (Valentines Day, Martin Luther King Day) and phrases (In view of nothing), over a pleasant atmospheric Erdal Kizilcay soundscape. 5.0

2. Outside: The album was originally going to be called Leon (and there are bootlegs) until a severe kitchen-sink sized reworking was undertaken. For better or worse the result was Outside. This anthemic title track is a dark and brooding exercise in post-punk electronica and a hugely improved reworking of a crappy old Tin Machine track called ‘Now’, re-tailored for this album. 7.0

3. The Hearts Filthy Lesson: This heavily textured Euro-dance industrial grind seamlessly interlocks Bowie’s disturbing cut-up lyrics with Reeves Gabrels’ looping sandpaper guitar riff (showing a pleasing new level of restraint and economy), delivering a feverishly menacing undercurrent. 7.5

4. A Small Plot of Land: This looping piece of freakout cabaret-jazz is actually quite superb with Bowie bleating some awesome lyrics: “Poor Dunce, he pushed back the pigmen, the barbs laughed, the fool is dead, poor dunce, he never knew what hit him, and it hit him so". One of the great songs off this album. Mike Garson’s flamboyant piano shines throughout, and in the lengthy outro Gabrels comes to the party (never better than on Outside) with a familiar yet tasteful solo laid underneath some subtle string washes. A highlight. 8.0

5. (Segue) Baby Grace (A Horrid Cassette): The first of a sustained level of tangential departures, this one find Bowie playing the character of Baby Grace, running his voice through a vocoder with extremely creepy results. 4.0

6. Hallo Spaceboy: Or ‘Allo Spaceboy'. Bowie takes great pleasure in revisiting the enduring Space motif in this jarring, chaotic and overbearing galumph. This is the sound of Bowie and Eno going gangbusters on an irritating, yet naggingly addictive Nine Inch Nails-inspired death-disco thud, later remixed by the Pet Shop Boys. His official farewell to Ziggy? I think not. The live version on A Reality Tour is worth a listen for his extraordinary vocal performance alone. 6.0

7. The Motel: The first of two sequential jailhouse laments (“And it’s light’s out boys”), the slow burn of ‘The Motel’ is paced to perfection. Beginning with a threatening whisper channeling Scott Walker over a fretless bass, subtly evolving into a monstrous climax featuring an open-throated vibrato not heard since ‘It’s No Game Pt 1’. 7.0

8. I Have Not Been to Oxford Town: Reminiscent of 'Fame', and the welcome return of Carlos Almoar and his insistent rhythm guitar figures, Bowie cleverly constructed this over a completed Eno instrumental track, wryly delivered with a call and response technique and super-catchy nursery rhyme chorus (“Toll the bell, pay the private eye, all's well 20th Century dies”). Upbeat considering the rest of the album, especially the subject matter. 7.0

9: No Control: Bowie sings with full-bodied vigour as Eno described it: spotlight centre stage, down on one knee, arm extended to the heavens. His marvellous vocal performance and song-craft skills a refreshing revelation. 7.5

10. (Segue) Algeria Touchshriek: A narrative from a tired old man who has been left behind. This is the second of the five ‘Segues’. Nice name. 4.0

11. The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty): Awesome title. Lyrics in keeping with the ill-defined conceptual gobbledygook, this is actually a disfigured juggernaut of a track. Bowie’s vocal performance once again is quite breathtaking as is Garson’s discordant piano splatter. 7.0

12. (Segue) Ramona A. Stone/I Am With Name: Starting with an announcement from the nasty Ramona A. Stone, this is the most unpleasant character encountered so far. Bowie’s voice distorted to sound like a Dalek. Thankfully it segues into the much more pleasant ‘I Am With Name’. That’s a live Brian May sample heard later on in the track “Give it to me one more time” after singing ‘Hammer to Fall’. 5.0

13. Wishful Beginnings: Interesting abstract track although over-long and a little too sparse and minimalist for my liking. This one evokes the nuanced experimentation of Scott Walker’s disturbing Tilt epic which was released the same year. 5.5

14. We Prick You: Experimenting with, and somewhat weighed down by, multi-layered jungle beats (to be further explored on his follow-up album) this melodically stark track features a leisurely groove, Eno’s treatments and strategies, and best of all Alomar’s fine guitar textures. 7.0

15. (Segue) Nathan Adler, Pt 1: Short conceptually relevant piece featuring a nice guitar line from Alomar underneath Bowie’s schizophrenic conceptual monologue. 4.0

16. I’m Deranged: Bowie’s delicately mournful vocals shine throughout the album highlight’s exquisite techno-infused tense Euro-dance propulsions. Beautifully complemented by Gabrels’ and Garson’s understated melancholic tones. 8.0

17. Thru’ These Architects’ Eyes: The rattling funk of ‘Thru’ These Architects’ Eyes’ is another fine traditional Bowie song found towards the end of this album, and is simply one of it’s best tracks. Garson’s piano solo towards the end is his best performance since 1973. 8.0

18. (Segue) Nathan Adler, Pt 2: The final piece of the puzzle finds the main character speaking to himself from inside his padded cell, and at only 0.28 seconds, it’s even more insignificant than Part 1. This one is the most unwelcome as it breaks a nice flow of terrific songs but thankfully the last of the segue tracks. 4.0

19. Strangers When We Meet: A conventional pop song right at the very end works surprisingly well as an album closer. The inclusion of this good track however is a little confusing considering it’s an inferior re-recording of the best song off his previous album. 7.0


VERDICT: Bowie's first bona fide 90s comeback album. Ok, so the indigestible Naked Lunch-esque art-ritual-murder megaconcept (or in Bowie’s words A Non-Linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle) isn’t exactly a page-turner: a detective investigating a murder following a run in with some dismembered livestock or something, I don’t know nor do I care, however this experimental and roundly ignored album was an uncompromising statement from Bowie and contains some of his most compelling and downright exciting moments in years, and sounding more engaged, since the benchmark of Scary Monsters (there I said it). With Outside he seemed intent on thoroughly alienating the legion of fans who jumped aboard in the early 80s with this willfully un-commercial epic. A studio reunion with Brian Eno after some 18 years since his virtually canonized Berlin-era landmarks, together creating a marvelously dense album folding in elements of techno, electronica and grunge resulting in an album as excessive as any mid-90s rock magnum opus as there ever was - and in the 90s there was plenty. Unfortunately it’s needlessly elongated containing a substantial amount of intrusive conceptual fluff, but the storming proper songs can stand up on their own as there is certainly some brilliant and inventive avant-garde rock to be found here. Dispensing with the forced melodrama may have inspired a concise masterpiece (Leon, anyone?).

NEXT: 2.Contamination. No…wait!

The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)


1. Buddha of Suburbia: Bowie’s homecoming. This self-referential title track (featuring the guitar break from ‘Space Oddity’, and revisiting the “Zane, Zane, Zane, Ouvre le chien” refrain from ‘All the Madmen’) and theme song to the TV series, is as strong a song Bowie had written in a long while. Fine vocal performance throughout revisiting his cockney delivery. 7.0

2. Sex and the Church: Well crafted techno beats with Bowie’s semi-spoken robotic vocal effect and strangled sax, this hypnotic track taps into the vibe laid down on the previous album while pointing towards what was to come with his underrated 90s work. 6.5

3. South Horizon: Lengthy supper-jazz/jazz-ambient/instrumental jazz (take your pick) jam with some interesting bass, intermittent beats, trumpet and Mike Garson’s customary piano flourishes. 5.0

4. The Mysteries: Album sequencing not great (another long instrumental track 7 minutes this one) although this fine instrumental concentrates on mood over melody or structure, and conveys quite a lovely ambience. 7.0

5. Bleed Like a Craze, Dad: This is what I can only describe as disco-rock (if there’s such a genre), it’s the most rocking song on the album with it’s ominous funk and pounding drums. A vocal delivered in rapid staccato bursts on top of bass grooves, Garson piano, and Bowie’s Idiot-esque guitar weaving it all together. 6.5

6. Strangers When We Meet: Magnificent lyric (directed perhaps to a certain ex-wife), understated delivery, and a fine fine track. The masterful refrain of “All your regrets, ride roughshod over me” never fails to send shivers. Bowie liked it so much he recorded it again for his follow up album. 8.0

7. Dead Against It: The Britpop sound is characterised by an onslaught of speedy synth layers and a terrific vocal melody, this enjoyable track is placed perfectly within the track order of the splendid side two. 7.0

8. Untitled No.1: Very impressive track. Dreamy, beautifully paced psych-ballad. A lost gem. 7.5

9. Ian Fish, UK Heir: This Eno-esque ambient instrumental drifts along quietly summoning the melody of the title track. This is very much low-key incidental soundtrack music crafting quite a nice texture with a subtle acoustic guitar. 6.0

10. Buddha of Suburbia: A barely noticeable *shudder* Lenny Kravtiz guitar solo, this is otherwise pretty much identical to the album opener and unnecessary. 5.0


VERDICT: The one that got away. Bowie had begun the slow climb back up to artistic relevance with his second album released in 1993 after the middling success and confusion of Black Tie White Noise, and once again teaming up with multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay (he and Bowie play virtually every instrument), this turns out to be one of the great “lost” Bowie albums, as it was deleted shortly after it’s release. Recorded in six days, the album was unfairly overlooked upon it’s release, gained little if any promotional press (and not released in the US until 1995) and was also incorrectly labelled as a soundtrack album, which it is not. It does however play like a soundtrack album and a remarkably enjoyable one, if a little incoherent. While no classic, it’s highly underrated and mysterious and roused Bowie from his artistic slumber. Only the title track appears in the TV series, in fact it was a surprise he called it The Buddha of Suburbia at all. I wonder how it would have been received had he called it South Horizon or Strangers and went with the eventual 2007 re-release sleeve rather than the original Jungle Book version?

NEXT: “The music is Outside….”