on 23 December 2007
Low is the first part of the unequalled Berlin Trilogy, recorded by Bowie when he was in Berlin. In my mind Low is the collaboration of two of the best prog-rock artists of the 70s- David Bowie and Brian Eno. Low shows a return to rock (from the blue eyed soul of the thin white duke) for Bowie. Bowie made a masterpiece in his attempt to wean himself of cocaine.
First is the vibrant Speed of Life, an instrumental it may be but don't let that put you off. The repetitive (twice over) rhythm is a classic feature of Eno's music, but is also a lot more far reaching because of Bowie's input.
Then comes Breaking Glass. This tiny little song is about a man breaking up with his girlfriend. Its irresistible rhythm (you know, you just have to tap your fingers on the table) is evidence of Bowie's songwriting collaboration with Dennis Davis (drums) and George Murray (bass).
What In The World is a bit of a letdown for the album, it hasn't aged well. The Pac-Man like noise throughout the song is quite annoying. The song's subject, a little girl with grey eyes, is thought to be part of Bowie's character (is it the same girl that features in 1971's Life on Mars?)
Then is Sound and Vision. Through many remixes and covers this timeless piece is still at its best in the original version. It is meant to be about Bowie's drug-using-hazy-forgotten what happened yesterday period.
Always Crashing In The Same Car has a slow style that makes t seem as though time has stopped. It is about another of Bowie drug induced dreams.
Next is Be My Wife. It is thought to be a last cry out to his estranged partner Angela Bowie. He apparently played it over the phone to her before recording and, briefly, the pair were together again (of course not in the same place as she lived in Zurich).
A New Career in a New Town is similar to Speed of life in the way that it is a lively opener. As you can probably guess from the title, it is about Bowie's fresh start in Berlin.
Then is Warszawa. Inspired by a Polish choir, this lengthy piece was co-written with Brian Eno. It is good music to play at a funeral.
Art Decade and Weeping Wall are fairly similar. Art Decade is about the atmosphere in West Berlin during the cold war and Weeping wall is about the misery of the Berlin Wall. Weeping wall's melody is based on a twisted version of Scarbourgh Fair.
Subterraneans deserves a paragraph all on its own. It is by far the best piece. It is about the atmosphere in East Berlin. Its tune is catchy (well kind of) and the lyrics are inspiring (if nonsensical). It is the type of music I could eat (not literally).
Low is the best sound I have ever heard. A great starter to a great trilogy!
The first of a trio of albums that David Bowie co-produced with Tony Visconti, this was recorded at Hansa Studios by the Wall in Berlin. Low (originally titled New Music - Night And Day) represented probably the most radical change of colour that the chameleon that was Bowie had so far affected. Their relatively poor sales at the time of release were instrumental in Bowie and RCA parting company (though all three reached the UK album top five), but have served only to enhance Bowie's standing over the decades.
Bowie has described the album as one that was extremely important to him and which had an influence on English music thereafter through its ambience and drum sounds. All three albums (Low, "Heroes" and Lodger) featured the involvement of Brian Eno, whose presence is clearly audible throughout, though on Low he is working to Bowie's brief rather than in true collaboration and has only one shared composer credit on the album, Warszawa.
Work on the album began in France at the Chateau d'Hérouville in June 1976, where Bowie was working with Iggy Pop in preparation for his album, and both albums feature the two of them with Ricky Gardiner and Carlos Alomar on guitars. Low therefore also belongs to a second trilogy, alongside The Idiot and Lust For Life, its sequel.
Bowie and Iggy relocated in 1976 to Berlin, to live and work and to kick their cocaine habits - a bizarre strategy which against all odds seemed to work. The resultant Low is an album of two distinct sides, an aspect that the CD format slightly unravels. The first side consists of half a dozen bursts of song featuring the augmented full band from his previous tour, albeit treated by Eno, sandwiched between two instrumentals, and including the two singles Sound And Vision (with the vocal doo-doo-doos of Mary Hopkin Visconti) and Be My Wife. Bowie had evidently been soaking up the German music scene and their are echoes of Faust, Neu!, Can and others.
If the lyrics on side one were minimal, having more or less discarded narrative, on the second side they were banished altogether for a startling eerie and wordless, largely instrumental handful of atmospheric longer textural tone poems, of which Warszawa is the centre-piece. They possibly comprise Bowie's strongest album side. Though sounding initially dark and sinister because of the (then) unfamiliarity of the sounds, they are intended to be glowing and spiritual, a positive source of regeneration and optimism, that grew out of his impressions of the Eastern bloc, though it was to be another duo-decade before the Wall was to go. Weeping Wall, despite its title, was originally intended for the soundtrack of the film The Man Who Fell To Earth, and the album cover is a still from that film, depicting Bowie as Newton, in profile (Low profile).
The composer Philip Glass used two of the pieces from side 2, Subterraneans and Warszawa, along with the unreleased composition Some Are from the same sessions, to create in 1993 his "Low" Symphony - From The Music Of David Bowie And Brian Eno.
No doubt like many (tens of, hundreds of?) thousands of others, since the demise of the man I have been reflecting on probably the most important musical artist in my time as a listener and fan (the key periods of influence for me being the Bowie/Bolan/Cooper/Mott, etc 'glam axis’ and the advent of punk rock later in the decade). I still hold to the view that the 11 albums (I even include the admittedly 'lesser’, nostalgia-trip, album Pin-Ups) made by Bowie from 1969’s Space Oddity to 1977’s “Heroes” to be the most impressively diverse oeuvre of output from a musician/composer of any hue and this 1977 album is a(nother) key moment and development point in an illustrious career.
Although mostly recorded in France, Low is cited as the first in Bowie’s 'Berlin trilogy’ and the musical (krautrock via Eno, essentially) and social (the Cold War) influences reflected here are plain to see and hear. It was also an album that, despite still reflecting some remnants of the established funk/soul feel of the preceding Station To Station (largely due to the unmistakeable rhythm section of Dennis Davis’ drums and, most memorably, George Murray’s bass), found the master songsmith (and creative genius) bored (again) with conventionality and in need of a rehab-fuelled kick-start. What emerged was an album of two-halves (to be later mirrored on the follow-up “Heroes”) – the 'commercial first side’ (in vinyl parlance) with the pop-funk of the likes of What In The World, Sound And Vision and Be My Wife ('light’ musically, but 'dark themes’ lyrically) bookended with (sparse lyrics dispensed with) 'upbeat’ instrumentals Speed Of Life and (always my favourite) the magnificent A New Career In A New Town, followed by the haunting, synth-based instrumentals (sparsely peppered with indecipherable lyrics) on ‘side two’, reflecting the perceived bleak desolation of the Eastern Bloc. I must admit to a preference for 'side one’, though acknowledge that 'side two’ does have a certain mysterious beauty which fits totally with the album concept.
Recent events finally convinced me to replace my (OK, my brother’s) old vinyl version of the album with the CD version – in the process confirming for me Low’s status as a milestone recording from one of music’s most important and influential artists.
The Thin White One was a bit confused & not having the best of times in the mid to late 1970s- addictions, diabolism, dead Playboy models, slipping with ease into the role of an alien, Nazi-salutes, cocaine...it was all getting a bit much? 1976's 'Station to Station' (my personal favourite) saw Bowie look back to Europe, the title track whirring with noises closer to Krautrock.Bowie left America & with accomplices Tony Visconti (co-producer), Iggy Pop (who Bowie would tryout his new sound with on the classic LPs 'The Idiot' & 'Lust for Life') & Brian Eno he recorded this key album.'Low' is considered the first part in the so-called Berlin-trilogy, though the attentive are aware it was partly recorded at the Chateau d'Herouville in France where Mr Eno was apparently harassed by the ghost of a dead composer!
Bowie & Eno employed those oblique strategies, taking the approach the latter had employed as a solo artist and collaborating with Cluster & Harmonia. Bowie himself was enamoured with all things Kraut, attempting to get members of Neu! involved (he was turned down) and nodding to other key West German acts like Can, Faust & Kraftwerk (whose 'Trans Europe Express' namechecked Bowie & Pop). Having said that, such key Bowie-associated musicians as Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis, George Murray, Ricky'The Passenger'Gardener & Roy Young also contribute. It seems like the tight alien plastic soul collective are there to nail Bowie & Eno's avant-directions to the wall.(I'm sure Hugo Wilcken's 331/3 book on 'Low' will be of interest...)
'Low' was reported to have been initially rejected by RCA, while Bowie's initial plan to blend the vocal/intrumental tracks more was nixed- the first half ('Speed of Life' apart) finds vocal-songs, as the latter half showcases the instrumental side of things. A performance of 'Low' alongside 'Heathen' a few years ago appeared to put 'Low' back in the order Bowie originally intended (...any chance of a release Dave?).
'Speed of Life' is a pulsing instrumental that sets the tone for the album, leading into the classic 'Breaking Glass' co-written with Davis & Murray - certainly the missing link between Can & Chic! Eno's cortex-melting waves of synths are perfect colliding with the funk as Bowie looks back with horror at his time in LA as he embraced the Occult:"...don't look at the carpet/I drew something awful on it/See..." 'What in the World' speeds things up, a rapid pop song with Iggy on backing vocals - the "Deep in your room, so deep in your room" feeling akin to the sybaritic "Blue, blue electric blue/That's the colour of my room" of 'Sound+Vision' - Bowie a bit lost in the scheme of things (...the turning point could be 1979's 'Fantastic Voyage'?).'Sound And Vision' is an absolute joy, as ever, benefiting from Eno and Mary Hopkin's (Mrs Visconti) backing vocals and one of Bowie's perfect popsongs.
The first half becomes darkest with 'Always Crashing in the Same Car', which has the feel of J.G. Ballard's 'Crash', sort of plastic soul after 'Autobahn' - setting the tone for such later joys as 'Pull Up to the Bumper', 'Warm Leatherette', 'Cars', 'Little Red Corvette' & 'The Art of Driving.' As with material on 'Young Americans' & 'Station...' Bowie is dripping with soul and passion here, the "Jasmine..." line and the aching guitar of Alomar is one of the great moments in the Thin White One's canon. The vocal-section concludes with the charming 'Be My Wife', the predecessor of 'Heathen's 'I Would Be Your Slave' and the place where Bowie trys out his Mockney vocals (contrast to uber 80s hit 'Modern Love' & its opening vocal). The "sometimes you get so lonely..." line seems to encapsulate the album - as bleak as it is, Bowie isn't wallowing and is kind of looking for a way out - more an 'On the Beach' than a 'Berlin'...
While some may gripe that Bowie wasn't doing what more cult European acts were, the second side disproves that notion. Bowie may have been influenced by European acts, but he took that Euro-electronic thing somewhere entirely new. The five instrumentals that conclude 'Low' stand up as a key moment in the history of electronica, setting the tone for the years that followed. Their influence can be found in New Order-Joy Division (whose name post Stiff Kittens was Warsaw after the track here), Ultravox!, Tubeway Army, Japan ('Burning Bridges'), Y.M.O., Throbbing Gristle (the instrumentals on '20 Jazz Funk Greats' a definite relative), Associates, B.E.F., Visage, Magazine (Dave Formula's keyboard work on 'Secondhand Daylight' definitely!), Simple Minds ('Empires & Dance'), the Eno/Talking Heads collaborations (notably 'Fear of Music'), Cabaret Voltaire ('Voice of America/Three Mantras' advanced on these climes), Spandau Ballet, 'Kid A'-Radiohead, Vangelis ('Blade Runner'), Soft Cell (Mr Almond nodded to it a few years ago), Devo, Depeche Mode, Suede's 'Introducing the Band', Blur ('He Thought of Cars', 'Yuki & Hiro','13'), Moby, John Foxx, Nine Inch Nails, Madonna, Fennesz, Sylvian/Czukay, Simian, Sakamoto, Pete Shelley's 80's solo albums, Yello, Leftfield, PIL's 'Radio 4' etc etc. 'Warszawa' is also familiar as alongside German single 'Helden' and tracks from "Heroes" & 'Lodger' it appeared on the soundtrack to the bleak 'Christiane F- We the Children from Zoo Station' (some of these instrumentals have a parallel existence on the excellent instrumental only compilation 'All Saints'). & a major tribute to 'Low' not mentioned thus far is Philip Glass' 'Low Symphony', one of the great cover versions and proof that pop-music (...if this is what pop music is...) can belong in the classical world if required...
'Low' is a key album.
on 13 January 2016
I am a big fan of David Bowie and I mostly stick with his Ziggy stuff, but I love this album, it took me a good few listens to get into it but it's great. I love both sides of the album and I particularly love the instrumentals (Speed Of Life, Warszawa are my favourites). Got the album cover as a T-Shirt as well and I love it.
on 2 March 2013
From end to end this is a work of genius. As other reviewers have said, this is one of the greatest of Bowie's albums (and by implication therefore one of the greatest albums, full stop.) The "first side" of shorter pieces is relatively instantly accessible, the longer instrumentals take a few listens to grow but the whole is (even) greater than the parts. The great man's recent reappearance with a song that references his time in Berlin led me to revisit this and its siblings "Heroes" and Lodger and it's even more clear just how much these influenced music through from the 1980's to now. This album took Bowie way away from the punk scene (much of which was influenced by Bowie and Iggy among others) as well as the stale world of mainstream rock at the time. Programmed and synthesised sounds are the norm now but at this time the music was, for the mainstream, ground breaking.
I remember when I first discovered Bowie in around 1980, asking a friend whose older brother had all the albums which one he'd recommend to buy next (after Scary Monsters, the work that wrapped up and put the gold seal on Bowie's leadership of the development of music through the 70's) and he didn't hesitate before saying Low. I've loved this album for over 30 ears and I'm sure you will too.
on 1 April 2014
Low by the legendary David Bowie is a superb album, and one of his best in his vast catalogue of music. This album explores somewhat more in-depth his extraterrestrial like presence in his music. The first of the "Berlin Trilogy" of albums. The album cover depicts Bowie's character in the movie "The man who fell to earth" and that is likely to have been where he drew some of his ideas for this excellent album. My personal favourites from Low are "Be my wife", "Sound and Vision", "always crashing in the same car" and "Warszawa". A must buy for any fan who doesn't already own this album.
on 27 June 2004
way back in '77, david bowie decided to skip the punk battlefield altogether and relocate to the decadent city of berlin, taking smack-buddy iggy pop with him. the wacky duo had two things in mind: getting off the junk, and wrenching an album or two out of their drug-ravaged corpses. after producing and generally helping out on pop's first (and very good) solo album 'the idiot', bowie teamed up with legendary funny-noise-effects man brian eno to create 'low', the first album in his 'berlin' trilogy.
the album is basically spilt into two halves (side one and two, if it were vinyl); the first half consists of tracks with vocals. these are all three-minute blasts of germanic pop perfection, with interestingly textured, melodic arrangements that camouflage the often bleak and dark lyrics- but i'll come back to that later. iggy pops up (no pun intended) on vocals for 'what in the world'. the classic 'sound and vision' is here as well, with it's great guitar hook. while listening to this album, it really struck me that bowie's backing band are really quite good, especially carlos alomar on the guitar. the short, punchy and strangely desperate 'breaking glass' is great as well. side one is book-ended by two bouncy, poppy instrumentals with great hooks and melodies, 'speed of life' and 'a new career in a new town'.
side two is the instrumental side, consisting of four tracks that run together for about twenty minutes as one gloomy, bleak and incredibly atmospheric suite of music: 'warszawa' (and no, i don't know how to say it either), 'art decade', 'weeping wall' and 'subterraneans'. the sound reminds me of german electro-wizards kraftwerk. when i read in a review that half of 'low' was instrumental, i was a bit put off, thinking i'd be bored after about three minutes. but the amazing thing is, there's never a dull second here.
i'd just like to have a brief moan about something, though; brian eno was probably responsible for the majority of 'low', and definitely responsible for the entire second side, yet david bowie manages to fob him off: read the booklet- 'all songs by david bowie'. not very fair. eno must feel a bit cheated. that's the only thing i don't like about bowie; he picks some great sidemen (robert fripp, eno, mick ronson, etc) who obviously have major songwriting input, then hardly gives 'em any credit.
getting back to the lyrics, 'low' contains some of bowie's most personal thoughts and feelings, generated by his state of mind at the time: cocaine was ruining him, and he'd just split from his wife, angie. the reason why I didn't mention 'always crashing in the same car' and 'be my wife' from side one earlier is because even though the arrangements are very good and really suit the mood, it's the lyrics that really hit hard. even the titles seem desperate and dead-end- 'always crashing in the same car'. the first two lines of 'be my wife' are "sometimes you get so lonely/ sometimes you get nowhere".
thanks to wondrous 21st century technology, 'low' has been digitally remastered and three previously unreleased bonus tracks from that period have been added. 'some are' is pretty unremarkable, I think, but the creepy, churning instrumental track 'all saints' fits in perfectly and carries on the atmosphere of the whole album very well. there's a new, longer version of 'sound and vision', remixed especially for the cd re-release that's every bit as good as the original.
i can't compare 'low' to any of bowie's other works- this is my first bowie cd- but i am told by the more informed that it ranks as one of his best. certainly, as a stand-alone album, it's very, very good. it really does capture the gloomy, bleak, morbid decadedence of a post-war berlin and is very atmospheric. i'd recommend it to bowie virgins and veterans alike, as well as anyone into early kraftwerk, can or sixties/seventies kraut-rock. if you liked iggy's 'the idiot' (and if you didn't, you should do!), which i mentioned right at the start of this review, 'low' is a good buy. and that works vice-versa.
overall, one of the most scary, dark, atmospheric and bleak records to come out of the seventies. well done bowie AND eno AND the backing band! five stars *****.
on 7 January 2015
Bowie's Berlin era - side 1 poppy, commercial and sing-along fab, side 2 challenging, innovative, atmospheric, evocative, moody and inspired. Bowie is the greatest rock/pop singer songwriter that has ever lived. No question about it.
on 17 January 2000
David Bowie was a superstar of the Seventies, his appeal kept fresh as he kept with the times, his well-known glam rock era to his success in America with soul music. His hippy orientated early days to his celebrated Berlin trilogy of albums. In 1977 Bowie kicked cocaine addiction in the cocaine capital of Europe; he also released one of the foremost albums in post-war music that helped change the face of European mainstream...
Low is the first of the set from the Berlin trilogy, which included also the LPs "Heroes", and Lodger, which also received lesser acclaim. Low was a relative commercial failure producing one surprise-hit single, Sound And Vision.
After an alienating period in Los Angeles in 1976 (during the soul LP, Station to Station) with cocaine binges and the disintegration of his marriage, Bowie looked for the coldness and isolation of Berlin and lived in semi-recluse for three years. This is heard in the album that (with help from producer Brian Eno) echoes the surroundings and his feelings well.
While the first half of the album is consecutive in catchy songs and is quite easy on the ear Side B is a collection of avant-garde gloomy instrumentals which contains Bowie with an almost opera voice chanting over simple notes played on state of the art synthesisers.
Highlights on the first side are the revealing Be My Wife that exhibits much of his situation and his dissatisfaction which America: I've lived all over the world; I've left every place. It goes someway to express the despair in his defunct relationship with Angie Barnett. Breaking Glass and Sound And Vision portrait remoteness "pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to do, nothing to say" from the latter. Low also contains, good spirits over confusion in What In The World and the bleak but enthralling Always Crashing In The Same Car.
While more of side A would have been more than satisfactory, David Bowie had to go further there was no question. With Berlin and Eno, Bowie had the influence to do just that.
The last five tracks submerge the listener into enchanting instrumentals, breathing the artist's desolation and detachment with monumental originality and maturity in a tense wall of sound. Warzawa, Subterraneans and Art Decade are the best examples here with moody synthesisers holding most of the tune with the occasional howling saxophone or well-placed xylophone put in for good effect.
What Bowie crafted on Low has over time been greatly admired. He has indebted a crop of imitators that followed in the early Eighties, such as Gary Numan, New Order and Talking Heads. He wrote his perhaps most original album, overcame his addiction to drugs and proved us yet again of his talent.