on 2 July 2012
If I had to choose three essential and influential Bowie albums, I'd go for Ziggy Stardust, Low and this one. Quite simply, if youre at all interested in the history of rock music, this is a key moment. Punk was breaking in the UK and many of the "old" generation were being labelled dinosaurs. Bowie had already released Low earlier in 1977 and Heroes, like it's predecessor, has a run of instrumentals in its second half. Low had confused many critics at the time, and the instrumental Side 2 of that album had sounded to some like an unwelcome diversion into ersatz mood music or even the dreaded prog. Unlike Low, Heroes has a brace of more fully formed songs rather than the Eno-esque song fragments that made up Side 1 of Low. The monochromatic cover art with Bowie's intense stare sums up the overall mood: this is an album of cool, bleached out sounds, often harsh and treble-y, perfectly evoking the Cold War atmosphere of its recording close to the Berlin Wall. None of the bright stabs of colours seen on Low and little of the lush warmth of his plastic soul days here (the nearest we get is the album closer, The Secret Life of Arabia). Standouts include the mighty title track, of course, which builds on a rolling riff of Frippertronics guitar from Bob Fripp, but also songs such as Beauty & the Beast and Sons of the Silent Age, the latter harking back to songs from his Aladdin Sane phase. Weakest track is probably Blackout, a song I can never put a title to whenever I hear it! Heroes as an album was pretty well received on release, if my memory holds out, no doubt as journalists were prepared now for an almost entire second half of instrumentals having heard Low earlier in the year. The four instrumentals on offer here work well together, unlike the four on Low which were too different to coalesce into whole. The sprightly V2 Schneider kicks off Heroes' cycle, evoking something of the bustle of Berlin to me with it's Sax motifs and rat-a-tat drumming. The title has been explained many ways but the one I always recall is it was intended as a chilly repost to Kraftwerk, who had name-checked Bowie and Station to Station in Trans-Europe Express earlier that year. Sense of Doubt abolishes any upbeat mood and establishes a well-proportion air of chilly gloom with its repeated descending piano scales and tremulous Chamberlain/Mellotron lines. The track then segues into the beautiful Moss Garden via a glorious phased "burn" of noise which owes much to the tricks of the German bands of that period such as Faust and Neu! Moss Garden, named after those Japanese gardens known for evoking a landscape and an air of tranquility and reflective calm, certainly comes up trumps in that respect, with Bowie playing a Japanese koto and birdsong in the background. Its a little oasis of calm before NeuKoln, named after a cosmopolitan suburb of Berlin with a high immigrant population, which features some of Bowie's most abstract sax playing (particularly the desolate parping at the end) over some organ sounds that owe a lot to Pink Floyd's Meddle album. With its oreiental vague feel and successful re-establishment of the feeling of dread and alienation established with Sense of Doubt, it good to have the gloom punctured finally by the upbeat Secret Life of Arabia. This track also continues the global travelogue that Bowie would explore more on Lodger and which Eno would take further in his collaboration with David Byrne, My life in the Bush of Ghosts. Heroes cemented Bowie's reputation as a chameleon and game-changer, found immediate favour with the critics (album of the year for several) and more importantly, chimed well with the emerging post-punk scene who shared similar themes of alienation and isolation. He had side-stepped the dinosaur trap.
David Bowie, may his soul be eternal, gave us many exciting, exuberant, camp, easy-to-like & hard-to-love albums, but with Heroes he gave us beauty. He also included, after the hors d-oeuvre of Beauty and the Beast & Joe the Lion, a six-minute slice of magnificence called "Heroes" (always the inverted commas!) which never fails to take this listener's breath away. It's quite simply a great song, done to perfection by Bowie, Alomar, Eno, Fripp et al - though his live recordings of it are superb too.
Sons of the Silent Age is another fine song, as is the very enjoyable closer The Secret Life of Arabia. Between them are four haunting instrumentals, including the evocative Moss Garden (echoes of Bowie's love of Japan?) and Sense of Doubt. Instead of, as some reviewers have claimed, lessening the impact of this album, for me they only add to its austere, clear-eyed beauty. Back in '77 when I bough the LP, I was intrigued by the non-vocal tracks, liking them but not that fussed, but now I love them as an integral part of this unique record.
Low was terrific, and so is "Heroes" - a far better album, to my mind, than the cold, rather unyielding histrionics of Station to Station, which I find overrated and overwrought. (I wonder how often its fans actually play it.)
This is a silver-bright milestone in Bowie's musical odyssey, and I love it from beginning to end.
We can be heroes
Just for one day...
on 23 December 2006
This really is a seminal album. Almost thirty years later it still may be too heavy and uncomfortable for pop-pickers. Like Low, the B-side/second half is predominantly instrumental, but darken the room, dig out the head-phones and you will be rewarded.
The first half is a bunch of hugely powerful songs, in a strange way it is almost punky, infact ,at times, it is probably a bit harsher/rawer than most punk. I've just finished reading a book (Coming Out As A Bowie Fan In Leeds, Yorkshire, England) by a guy called Mick McCann, a wonderful, vibrant romp through the time in which this album was released. It is very a funny book about being a cross-dressing teenager in a hard place, it's strangely philosophical and very `gritty', it made me see the world slightly differently. Anyway he makes a few references to this album and in one, when talking about the title track, he says that listening to Heroes through a PA brings out a physical reaction, `Like wading through nettles in short pants.' I can't argue with that. `Sons Of The Silent Age' also does that for me, it gets me right in the chest.
This is a special album but it may, like that book, offend sensitive ears - Get me to the Doctor...
on 21 December 2015
This is the second album in Bowie's 'Berlin' trilogy, coming between Low and Lodger. It's not quite as sharp and exciting as Low, and is slightly dominated by the overwhelmingly popular juggernaut of the title track, but there are subtler pleasures to be found. Sons Of The Silent Age is almost as good as Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, and Sense Of Doubt is one of Bowie's most satisfying (if unsettling) instrumental experiments.
on 19 April 2006
After Bowie's last two albums, "Station to Station" and a career high point of "Low", he had alot to live up to.
Thankfully he released "Heroes", a jarring, experimental mish mash of brilliant instramentals and haunting tunes. To be truthfull it will not be everyone's cup of tea; many of the songs are hard on the ear, and have some strange and frankly awful lyrics. However this adds to the album's charm, and makes it all the more fulfilling (that's Bowie for you). The instramentals are outstanding and, although not quite as good as the ones on "Low", make for wonderful audio landscapes (be sure to listen to with headphones for the full stereo experience). However the albums high point is of course the title track. It is truely uplifting and the music eclipses anything else on the album, and is possibly Bowie's best song.
This album is a definate for Bowie fans and anyone else looking for something different and challenging. "Heroes" stands up by itself next to the brillience of "Low".
on 28 May 2011
This is turgid stuff, but in the best way. The title track still strongly affects me every time I hear it. There is an ambient section in the middle after all the tub-thumpers which I am ambivalent about. The finale of 'Secret Life of Arabia' rounds the album off splendidly with a foray into north African stylings and Dave sounding very melodramatic and very much from south London. It is a masterpiece, I think Dave does not get the recognition he deserves, and as ever Bowie was way ahead of his time (with a little help from Can and Cluster etc.)
on 11 February 2001
In contrast to other reviews for this record I'd say "Heroes" is not to be seen as tracks weighted against each other. The record stands out on its own merit and its avant-guardish style is seldom seen in other works of Bowie, except perhaps in the recent "Outside" (also with Eno).
One can distinguish the record split into a part with vocal songs (tracks 1-5) and an instrumental part (tracks 6-9) followed by "the secret life of Arabia" which is rather a bridge to the next part of the trilogy "Lodger" which begins with the similar "fantastic voyage".
The instrumentals very well derive as extra-tracks from the soundtrack of "The Man Who Fell To Earth", Roeg's film in which Bowie starred the leading role a year before the release of "Heroes". The ambience and intensity of the music can hardly be attributed completely to Eno. Bowie himself when asked told he was highly influenced by early works of KRAFTWERK in making this part of the record.
As for the title song (or anthem rather) the connection with the Velvet Underground is more than evident (Bowie and Reed where soul mates at the time) with the piano riff being like an alternate take of VU's "White Light-White Heat" blended with Eno treatments. The result is breathtaking. Nico's later interpretation of the same song reveals the common vibes shared.
Credits must also be given to the personnel involved. Musicians of the magnitude of Fred Frith, Carlos Alomar among others and of course Eno in his most creative era tell the high musical output attained on all levels. One of the greatest and most influential works of Bowie, "Heroes" is indispensable.
on 7 August 2001
As a whole this is a very strong album. It starts with the rather mediocre "Beauty & the Beast". Just when you think your in for a rather uninspired album, it kicks off with the second track, the storming (and quite batty) "Joe the Lion", things get even better with the classic "Heroes". Things get even better than that though, with "Sons of the Silent Age", one of my all time favourite Bowie songs (WHAT a chorus:). A few tracks later and we're into an ambient/instrumental section of tracks, which bleed one into another. The mood is slightly haunting. This was certainly extrememly progressive during its day (the late 70's) and the surprising thing is that it sounds fresh and not at all embarrasing today. The final track, "Secret Life of Arabia" is very enjoyable, and leads on logicaly to the next album "Lodger". All in all this is great stuff, strong throughout, and really grows on you with repeated listening!
Sacrilege maybe, but whilst I like some of Bowie's material, some is a bit too experimental and avant-garde for my taste.
I enjoyed the well known tracks but others left me skipping forward after one listen.
on 1 August 2005
Bowie returned to the Hansa studio's in Berlin in the summer of 1977 to begin "Heroes", he assembled a powerful cast of musicians which included: - Carlos Alomar (rhythm guitar) George Murray (bass) Dennis Davis (drums) Eno (keyboards and guitar treatments) Tony Visconti production and on lead guitar Robert Fripp.
"Beauty and the Beast" (3.34) begins with a burst of energy from Eno's treated keyboards and Davis starts playing a ride cymbal and the ominous guitar playing of Fripp howls into life then a vamping piano can be heard as the vocals of Bowie start with "OOOOOOOOO" he sounds like he is going to burst into flames, Davis plays a roll on the snare drum before Bowie delivers the line of "Weaving down a byroad singing a song, that 's my kind of Highroad gone wrong MY-MY smile at least, you can't say no to The Beauty and the Beast". The discordant riffs play all way through are set against the metallic percussion and thundering drums and backing chorus of MY-MY.
"Joe the Lion" (3.06) is the tale of the performance artist Chris Burden, who liked being put in a bag on a motorway, being hung over a pool of water with 2 electrodes in his hand and yes being nailed to his car.
The title track "Heroes" (6.08), which was co-written with Eno, forms the only piece of narrative writing on the album and is suppose to be about 2 lovers who where from different sides of the Berlin wall and had secret rendezvous by it and lived their love under gun point.
"Sons of the Silent Age" (3.17) has doom-laden saxophone by Bowie with the sound of tambourine and the crashing of cymbals by Davis at the start sets the tone of the track "The Supermen from "The Man who sold the World" album brought forward or taken back to present times where Bowie describes sound uncomfortably as if they're going through what Bowie described from a first person point of view with the lines "pacing their rooms just like a cell's dimension, don't walk they just drift in and out of life, never die just go to sleep one day".
The sax is played in the minor against the almost cheesy choruses of firstly" Baby I'll never let you go, All I see is all I known, Let's find another way down, (Sons of Sound and Sons of Sound) which is followed by "Baby I'll never let you down, I can't stand another sound, Lets find another way in, (Sons of Sound and Sons of Sound) the track ends with more cymbals and treated keyboards and a chorus of Bowie, Visconti, and Antonia Maass going OOOoooaaaaa then fade out.
"Blackout" (3.48) which is about the last great blackout in New York or is it?
There was a story in 1976 that Bowie collapsed in Berlin where he was rushed to hospital this was denied by the man himself at the time.
The lyrics alternate between loud desperation "Get me to a doctor's, get me off the streets, get me to my feet, get me some protection" and the numbness of the album "Low" check the lines which are done talking in pitch and not singing "If you don't stay tonight, I will take the plane tonight, I've nothing to lose and nothing to gain" with these lines Bowie evokes fragmentation and panic "Me I'm Robin Hood and I puff on my cigarette"
4 instrumentals are next which start with V-2 Schneider (3.10) this track is a tribute to Kraftwerk member Florian Schneider with Bowie's saxophone on the off - beat this is intermingled with military style snare drum with the sound of the guitars swooping in from the distance with Bowie singing the title over and over again with a big roar on the guitar to close.
Next is the bleak sounding "Sense of Doubt" (3.57) the piece is foreboding and makes you think you have committed some hideous error, Eno and Bowie use a simple 4 note descending refrain where what sounds like Bowie moaning can be heard that along with the high synth line that is so disturbing the end result is a minimalist masterpiece.
From the blackness of previous to the ethereal sound of "Moss Garden" (5.05) treated keyboards create a backdrop for the koto playing of Bowie with what sounds like birds singing in the background an atmosphere of calm and reflection is created.
"Moss Garden" flows into "Neuköln" (4.32) and disturbs the Zen tranquillity of the garden with a 5-note descending guitar riff and Bowie's saxophone playing away and by the end of the piece is like a fog bound ship in a harbour.
To finish is a vocal track "The secret life of Arabia" which is a Bowie/Eno/Alomar composition and is the best track here along with the title track.
The song has an infectious groove that builds in a typical manner starting with Eastern sounding percussion then a similar riff on the rhythm guitar and boom the drums kick in and Bowie sings the line "The secret life" while harmonizing with himself thundering snare drum sounds and then he sings "of Arabia" which is put through a treatment to make it sound metallic, which is followed by the chorus of Visconti, Maass, and Bowie singing "secret, secret, secret, and anther roll on the snare this builds to a vamping piano playing the same as the guitar, this piano pounds away all through the track with shhh being sung at the end of the piano part as to create a back drop for all to play against, as Bowie delivers the first line "I was running at the speed of life, through morning's thoughts and fantasies, then I saw your eyes at he cross fades" the song is just 2 verses and a chorus of "Arabia (secret, secret )repeated over and over to great effect.
An essential part of any Bowie collection.