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David Bowie- Low: Review and Analysis (Part 1)

David Bowie- Low: Review and Analysis (Part 1)

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Published by Joe Pennington
Review and analysis of David Bowie's 1977 album- Low.
Review and analysis of David Bowie's 1977 album- Low.

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Categories:Types, Reviews, Music
Published by: Joe Pennington on Aug 27, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/10/2013

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Don't look at the Carpet, I've drawn somethingawful on it. See?
Low
David Bowie(Part 1)
Key Facts
Released: 14
th
January 1977Recorded: 1976 Château d'Hérouville, Hérouville, France/ Hansa Studios, West Berlin, GermanyLength: 38.48Label: RCAProducer: Tony Visconti, David BowieA shaft of light penetrates your window, otherwise shrouded in velvet curtains. This is the onlysignifier that another day has passed. Not that it matters, nothing changes in this world. There arefour walls and darkness. No one enters and you never leave. Milk and red peppers are your onlysubsidence. You have no one.There is nothing beyond your four walls. Instead of looking outwards, you begin looking inwards,it's a more interesting place, things happen there. Your best friend becomes introversion. Your thoughts begin to entertain you, take on a life of their own. You are spectator to the theatre of your own mind.All this almost amuses you. Almost. You are intensely lonely.Low is the beginning of Bowie's experimental period. It is the starting point of the 'Berlin trilogy', aseries of works conducted in collaboration with Brian Eno, that would end with 1979's
 Lodger 
. Atrilogy which would be heralded as Bowie's finest work, his largest contribution to the progressionof music. The album has been credited for influencing artists such as Gary Numan, Depeche Mode,Heaven 17, The Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division, New Order, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, MarilynManson, The Smashing Pumpkins, Paul Weller and more recently Ladytron, Robots in Disguise,White Rose Movement, Adult., Brandon Flowers and Mark Ronson.The two no doubt saw each other as perfect partners in crime. Eno, at the time, was working withKrautrock bands Neu!, Cluster and Harmonia (a collaborative of the two). While Bowie was a greatadmired of the Krautrock scene, in particular Kraftwerk, So much so, Bowie had initiallyapproached both Neu! and Kraftwerk respectively regarding perspective collaborative work.However in the case of Kraftwerk, they declined, not wanting to be presented as a 'backing band'and Neu! apparently accepted only to be told there services wouldn't be required by Bowie'smanagement. (It later transpired that Bowie's management at the time told Bowie that Neu! Hadrespectfully declined his offer to work with them, seemingly in an offer to protect their cash cow.RCA were very nervous about the direction of this album, going so far as to offer Bowie extramoney to live in LA again and produce 'Young Americans II'.) So, Eno was a logical choice givenhis involvement in the Krautrock scene. With Eno came the motorik rhythms, the pulsingsynthesisers and alien soundscapes. A direct progression of the work Kraftwerk and Neu! Amongstother Krautrock acts were producing.While
 Low
is often cited as the start of the Berlin trilogy, the experimental nature of the work has
 
it's roots in
Station to Station
, as we addressed in my
Station to Station
piece. Like
Station toStation
,
 Low's
creation is rooted in Bowie's unreleased soundtrack to
The Man Who Fell to Earth.
A Nicolas Roeg film in which Bowie played an extremely intelligent, aloof alien by the name of Thomas Newton. Indeed both 'Weeping Wall' and 'Subterraneans' have both been attributed to theaborted project. It is likely only parts of the said tracks are actually found on the final cut. Though,to what extent it's hard to say, the bass-line for Subterraneans in particular is often rumoured to befrom the aborted soundtrack. While the soundtrack to the film remains unreleased it is hard to reallysay how much of it made it's way on to
 Low.
However, what it does tell us, is that the album was notsolely a Brian Eno influenced creation. Bowie was beginning to write music, in this vein, 12 monthsearlier.
 Low
like
Station to Station,
uses a still from Roeg's film as the album cover, which is rumoured to be a visual expansion on the albums title. On the cover Bowie, as Thomas Newton or The ThinWhite Duke persona, is shown in profile. Low+Profile=Low Profile. Cutting analysis this is!But seriously, this in some ways, is exactly what Bowie was trying to achieve. A
 Low
profile. It's1977, punk has happened, the established order is being torn apart by the sneering, young andrelevant Johnny Rotten (all the things he isn't now), The Clash, The Damned and The Buzzcocks.Music has a new swagger, a new dance and a new beat. A new look.What Bowie had achieved earlier in the decade with Ziggy Stardust had been wiped away. Punk wiped everything away, it changed the way people think. Everything since punk has beeninfluenced by punk. EVERYTHING. Punk. Changed. The. World. So, given the power of such amovement, Bowie chose to keep a low profile and do his own thing. This was a master stroke,alongside Roxy Music, the New York Dolls and reggae acts like Steel Pulse, he was embraced andchampioned by punks, not ridiculed, classed as dinosaurs, in the same way The Beatles and TheRolling Stones were.It is always important to never understate just how experimental and brave Low was as an album.Bowie at the time was an internationally famous artist. A rock star. A popstar. A trend setter, whohad just a few years earlier enjoyed an American number one with Lennon collaboration 'Fame'.And here he is, releasing an album, to almost no promotion and no supporting tour, which is mostlyinstrumental and almost entirely lacking a song written in a conventional structure. Never mind a pop song. Musicians on the whole just don't do that, especially in recent years. That's why musictoday is crap and why Bowie is a legend.Brian Eno, the former Roxy Music 'bleeps and bloops' man, had carved a name for himself as being part of music's avant garde at the time and to this day. His work with Roxy Music and his first soloalbum
 Here Come the Warm Jets,
marked the beginning of his experiments with music from the position of the non-musician. However, it is on his fantastic
 Another Green World 
we see a hybridof a rock and roll album, combined with musical experimentation. Which came in the form of instrumentals and the construction of suggestive sonic soundscapes. These soundscapes teleport thelistener in to different environments, through sound they suggest geography, mood and sensation.Low, being half instrumental uses the same techniques, the idea of three minute pictures throughsound. A postcard from space.It is said that David Bowie and Brian Eno's relationship dates as far back as 1970, the two meetingat a Philip Glass concert. Their relationship was to be re-established six years later when Eno was inattendance for Bowie's Station to Station tour at Wembley Stadium, meeting back stage. Eno was to be in attendance on the tour again during a date in Paris on the same tour, the two again were tomeet back stage.
 
The two no doubt saw each other as perfect partners in crime. Eno at the time was working withKrautrock bands Neu!, Cluster and Harmonia (a collaborative of the two) while Bowie at the timewas a great admired of those acts, alongside Kraftwerk, So much that he approached both Neu! andKraftwerk respectively regarding perspective collaborative work. However in the case of Kraftwerk, they declined, not wanting to be presented as a 'backing band' and Neu! apparentlyaccepted only to be told there services wouldn't be required by Bowie's management. It later transpired that Bowie's management at the time told Bowie that Neu! had respectfully declined hisoffer to work with them, seemingly in an offer to protect their cash cow.It is important to remember RCA were very nervous about the direction of this album, going so far as to offer Bowie extra money to live in LA again and produce 'Young Americans II'. WhileKraftwerk and Neu! did not appear on the album their influence over it and the trilogy as a wholecannot be denied. The motorik rhythms, the pulsing synthesisers and alien soundscapes are a direct progression of the work Kraftwork and Neu! Amongst other Krautrock acts were producing.So, one day in 1976 David Bowie was to give Brian Eno a call and put to him a very interesting project. Eno recalls Bowie no longer wanted to write music like his previous albums. He felt like hewanted to go against the tide of his own success and start an experimental project with him, entitled'New Musick: Night and Day'. The two were to usher in the 'new age of pretence'. While Bowiewasn't even sure the project would work, the two were to work together very well. Eno's minimalist,neoclassical and unconventional hybrid approach to music contrasted to Bowie's interest in thedynamics of music as it is traditionally preformed and the creation of characters and persona to preform it. The result was the two influences, combined with the unsung influence of the albums producer Tony Visconti would be a stimulating environment of productivity.Bowie was right to have reservations about the project. Due to RCA's lack of confidence the album,while finished by Christmas 1976, saw its release date set back to the end of January 1977. In effectreleasing it at a time no one bought records. Reviews at the time panned the album,misunderstanding the experimental nature, criticising the lack of lyrics and dubbing it inaccessible.Which was the WHOLE POINT.I always find it funny how now the same critics will tell us what a good album it is. Please the nexttime the NME tells you how good Adele is (who's music is as bloated as her), how bad Placebo is(who for a few years were one of the only exciting things coming out of the British music scene)and how Florence and the Machine are going to lead us to musical salvation (seemingly oblivious tothe reality that even though I have seen what she looks like 1000 times I can never remember her face and her cookie cutter vocals grate with every listen) remember: critics are a fickle bunch that jump on to the nearest bandwagon and hold on as tight as they possibly can in order to sell copy. Not exactly a mind blowing revelation but something that I wanted to say!
Speed of Life
The instrumental upbeat, but cold opener is a signal of Bowie's intent. The album as a whole, is anexploration in to moods and emotional states. A series of decadent mini-essays exploring a varietyof themes: isolation, emotional coldness and extreme solitude, to name a few. With the instrumental pieces on the album in particular Bowie selects a mood and then attempts to give it a sonicgeography. A picture painted in sound. The evoking of an emotion by sonically crafting a space for it to exist in. Speed of Life is a less ambiguous piece than say Warzsawa which with it's titlesuggests the geography and then through the music conveys the emotion. Speed of life however,suggests the emotion first and then leaves the geography of the piece more ambiguous.As a listener you are introduced to Low and the track itself by the rapid fade-in of a distorting synth

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Enjoyed this review.Hopefully Part 2 will appear as if by magic.

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