I have taken on a new project this month--I will be writing a song-a-day for the month of February. I haven't written in a little while, so I wanted to make that a priority in the short term. Because of that, this project will be put on hold for a month. It actually saddens me to know that I can't do it all...especially after having enjoyed this week so much. But, I will be able to look forward to getting right back into it on March 1.
In the mean time, I'm building out my site now for more information about the new album (including a new bio, lyrics, the making of the album, etc.). Check back soon as the site evolves.
090: David Bowie – Low (1977)
This is one of my favorite albums from this whole project. I had never heard it before. I'd never really listened to much Bowie before last year's review of Ziggy Stardust. I liked that album, but thought that Bowie was always that focused on show and, perhaps, less on emotion. This album showed me a whole other side of him
In reading the 33 1/3 book about this album (by Hugo Wilcken), I learned quite a bit about Bowie's state of mind at the time of its recording. It turns out that Bowie was hanging out quite a bit with Iggy Pop (who I somewhat dismissed last week). In fact, Bowie produced Iggy's The Idiot kind of conjunction with the making of this album. I turns out Bowie was coked out of his mind during this period of his life--and on the brink of major depression, exhibiting cocaine induced psychosis.
He recorded this album in a chateau in France, and some in Berlin. He worked very closely with Brian Eno.
The first thing I was struck by about this album was its minimal lyrics and vocals. The album is split into two distinct halves--the first side with the more conventional rock song structures (though with minimal lyrics--and two instrumentals); the second half is mostly moody ambient instrumentals with little vocal embellishment.
The sound of the record sounds so fresh to me, though it is almost 40 years old. Bowie was really inspired by Kraftwerk at this time--but I feel like the synth sounds here held up better than some of Trans Europe Express. I also really like the funky grooves of this album in contrast to the more robotic and stiff grooves of the Kraftwerk record.
Breaking Glass is the first proper song. It is a great example of how Bowie can manipulate his voice into so many characteristics and styles. I never really thought of him as a masterful vocalist before--but I do now. The lyrics here are menacing while still winking at the object of his focus.
Sound and Vision is a favorite track (and was one of the two singles released from this oddly beautiful record). I had heard The Sea and Cake do a cover of it on their One Bedroom record (without ever knowing it was in fact a cover until this week). On Bowie's version, notice how it takes almost a minute and a half for the vocals to come in. It is this restraint that is felt throughout the whole record. He is expressing how he has nothing to say in this song (and perhaps the whole record). But the omission of lyrics and vocals on so much of this album feels truly like restraint rather than a cop-out. There is so much emotional impact in the music, that I feel he didn't need to do anything more than he did.
Always Crashing In The Same Car is a great metaphor and song.
The last instrumental on side one (A New Career In A New Town) is clearly an influence for bands like Radiohead that came later. He and Eno took two disparate ideas and merged them into one piece--the blippy and synthy mellow beginning section with the bluesy harmonica stomping section that trades off a couple times. Both pieces still work as one.
Then we get to the darker second side of the album. With Warszawa, we are taken to some droning otherworldly place. When the melody comes in around 1:19, it is haunting and affecting. It then gets a bit darker around 3:54, just before Bowie's vocals come in, using a made-up language. His vocals, though nonsensical, deeply convey something large and emotionally impactful--a cry for help? A desperate plea?
Weeping Wall is a track that Bowie worked on without Eno. That it sits so perfectly with the other tracks proves that it was a true collaboration with Eno, rather than Bowie (sometimes) singing over Eno tracks. Bowie recorded it in Berlin very close to the Berlin Wall.
Subterraneans closes out the album with a truly beautiful, mostly instrumental track. I can definitely hear the influence this track had on Radiohead. Bowie's low vocals give this track its human and emotional anchor. I love Bowie's sax line that comes in around 3:16. And, again, Bowie's nonsensical lyrics at 3:54 pack a serious punch, clearly communicating the emotion of the song...even if you don't know what that's "supposed to be". You know. This is the music of a star on the verge of collapse.
089: Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991)
I know this album is supposed to be important for the way it brought club music into the rock world. While there is some really cool production here, I'm just not feeling it. Even as he's saying he was lost, now he's fine. I don't believe it. Maybe that's because I spent the week listening to someone who did sound lost.
Maybe it's also that I've heard a lot of rock and club hybrids that have come since--and feel like it's been done better since.
This album just has a distinctly early 90's sound for me. I'm thinking KLF and Deee-lite, whom I loved very much at the time. Deee-Lite was one of my first club shows back in 1994 at a club in Orlando (I think was) called Firestone.
So, it's not that I don't love this kind of music...I'm just not getting why this is exemplary.
What am I missing?
It isn't until Damaged (track 8) that I thought, oh wait, they may have something to say...and this is a decided shift back to rock stylings (a la The Stones) with little to no club influence.
I do like the song I'm Comin' Down. I especially like the sax lines with the layered synth overtop at around 3:40. But this song, like so many others on the record (in my opinion), overstays its welcome. It goes on for about 2 minutes longer than it needs to. I get it, you're drifting.
I can hear how Higher Than The Sun could have influenced trip hop bands like Portishead. So, I appreciate that.
As I said, I loved Low--though feel a bit bad for that, knowing now how badly he felt during this time. Perhaps because of the depths he was really in personally, he created a truly beautiful work that really makes me think differently about song craft. His restraint was truly enlightened and enlightening.
I did not see the light with Primal Scream. Again, maybe this is because I feel like I've heard this before. Maybe if I'd heard this in 1991, I would have a whole different appreciation for it. But it does beg the question, should an album be deemed a best of because it inspired a sea change in music? Or should it have to hold up better than any of those bands that it inspired?
Coming the first week of March:
087: Lou Reed – Transformer (1972) 086: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)