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The European canon is here...,
This review is from: Low (Audio CD)
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.