Thursday, February 11, 2016

29 Days of Bowie: Low

Released on January 14, 1977 by RCA Records, Low is the first of a trilogy of albums David Bowie made in collaboration with former Roxy Music keyboardist/ambient music pioneer Brian Eno that were made partially or entirely in Berlin. Produced with Tony Visconti, the album marks Bowie’s exploration with the world of electronic music as well as unconventional song structure and ideas aided by Eno as well as several of his collaborators in guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist George Murray, and drummer Dennis Davis. With one side devoted to fragmented and unorthodox material and another side of the album devoted entirely to ambient-inspired electronic suites. The album is often considered a touchstone for the world of electronic music.

The album’s first half features songs and instrumentals that serves as a mixture of rock and electronic music with unorthodox melodies and lyrics such as the opening instrumental Speed of Life that features layers of synthesizers that sound off at times along with drums being fed through a machine known as a Harmonizer. Breaking Glass that was co-written with Dennis Davis and George Murray is this mixture of funk with this steady and bopping rhythm along with driving guitars by Ricky Gardiner and Carlos Alomar and Bowie singing fragmented lyrics with these weird synthesizers. What in the World is this upbeat song with very abstract lyrics as it features these wobbling synthesizer and a driving rhythm with Bowie singing as he is joined by Iggy Pop on backing vocals with these wailing guitars from Gardiner.

The single Sound & Vision is another blend of funk and rock as it’s this mid-tempo track that include these amazing synthesizer flourishes and Bowie playing the saxophone as it would also include these abstract lyrics. Other songs like Always Crashing in the Same Car and Be My Wife would feature these chilling and somber lyrics as it play into the world of depression as the former is a steady, bopping track with warbling synthesizers and powerful drum fills while the latter is this upbeat yet eerie track with wailing guitars, crashing piano riffs, and soothing synthesizers as it is one of Bowie’s bleakest songs. The instrumental A New Career in Town is led by soothing synthesizers with a bopping rhythm that becomes a more driving beat courtesy of Davis’ drums and Murray’s low-key bass along with some pianos and keyboards in the background.

The album’s second half is largely devoted to these ambient-like instrumental pieces that play into what could be done with electronic music starting with Warszawa that was written Brian Eno. It is this haunting piece led by these layers of synthesizers that is later followed by Bowie singing strange words that are very expressive in its somber tone. Art Decade and Weeping Walls would continue this suite of ambient-driven electronic music as the former is a more mid-tempo piece but with melodies and textures that is carried by its broad production. The latter is a cut that features elements of xylophones and vibraphones in the background that plays into these evocative synthesizers. The closing track Subterraneans is another ambient-driven track that has Bowie singing in strange words while providing some saxophone accompaniment to the track with Eno playing these swooning synthesizers in this haunting yet beautiful track.

From the 1991 Rykodisc reissue come three bonus tracks as two of them would later appear in the 2001 instrumentals compilation in All Saints. All Saints and Some Are are these instrumental-based material as the former is this very dark and eerie track that mixes brooding synthesizers and guitar noises while the latter is a slow and somber ambient piece as the some would feature Bowie singing strange lyrics. The third bonus track is a remix of Sound & Vision by producer David Richards who was one of Bowie’s collaborators in the late 80s and mid-90s as it include some louder drums and added textures into the synthesizers and vocals.

Low is an outstanding album from David Bowie. Not only is it one of Bowie’s essential albums but also a defining piece of work in the world of electronic music. Thanks in part to the contributions of the many collaborators including Brian Eno, it is an album that really defies the rules of what is music and what could be done as it is also an album that manages to be very adventurous. In the end, Low is a magnificent album from David Bowie.

Studio Releases: David Bowie (1967 album) - David Bowie (1969 album) - The Man Who Sold the World - Hunky Dory - The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Aladdin Sane - Pin Ups - Diamond Dogs - Young Americans - Station to Station - “Heroes” - Lodger - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) - Let’s Dance - Tonight - Never Let Me Down - Tin Machine - Tin Machine II - Black Tie White Noise - Outside - Earthling - ‘Hours…’ - Heathen - Reality - The Next Day - *

Live Releases: David Live - Stage - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby - Bowie at the Beeb - (Live at Fashion Rocks (w/ Arcade Fire)) - (Live Santa Monica ‘72) - (Glass Spider Live) - (VH1 Storytellers) - (A Reality Tour)

Soundtracks: Christiane F. - Labyrinth - The Buddha of Suburbia

Miscellaneous: Peter and the Wolf - Baal - Sound + Vision - (Early On (1964-(1966)) - (All Saints) - Toy - (Nothing Has Changed)

© thevoid99 2016

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