March 4, 2014

The Bowie Project: Low (1977)

Have I really been listening to this album for an entire month? Well, no not really. I haven’t been in the car much recently, and that’s where I normally do most of my music-listening. However, I think I’ve heard enough to form my opinions.

Low_(album)The album opens with Speed Of Life which sounds pretty cool, but it also doesn’t sound like it was intended as an instrumental – it sounds like the vocal tracks are just missing, like they were accidentally wiped in a catastrophic studio error. Or they intended to add lyrics, but never got round to writing them. “Yeah, there’ll be a verse there, and then a chorus…”

Next is Breaking Glass, probably one of my favourites on the album. It’s a fine electro-funk stompathon which lands somewhere between Franz Ferdinand and of Montreal (who I also referred to when reviewing Diamond Dogs). Criminally short though, it starts to fade out after just 90 seconds.

What In The World then channels Talking Heads, but it’s uncertain as to who copied who. Low was released in January 1977, eight months before Talking Heads: 77, so it’s probable that Bowie hadn’t even heard of them by the time he wrote this song.

Sound and Vision is another brilliant but shamefully short song – half of it is the instrumental introduction. I mean, I’m a staunch advocate of the “keep your song short, don’t overstay your welcome” ethos, but this is just insane. I feel like this must be what speed-dating is like.

I’m fairly fond of Always Crashing In The Same Car, I love the way it blooms and swells, I love the delicacy in Bowie’s voice, I love the guitar hooks. Whereas so many of the songs on this album seem to consist of just one great idea, this is a 3m30s epic which never gets boring. I might end up selecting this as my favourite song of the album, just because I feel that it’s the one that I’d be most likely to say “if you haven’t heard it, then you should” about.

Be My Wife has joined Across The Universe and Lady Stardust in the “So Terrible I Have To Skip It” club. The lyrics are inane, sung with zero conviction, arrrgh take it away.

And then we’re on to side two and it’s all just this weird instrumental ambient self-absorbed weedling and shite.

A New Career In A New Town reminds me of one of my songs in particular. It was when I’d first acquired a harmonica. Now, the thing about harmonicas is that they have a very low barrier to entry – you can get some technically correct notes out of them without any effort. However, unless you work on your technique, you have a very limited range, and basically end up playing the same notes over and over again in the same order, and it bores the listener to the point at which they want to smack their head against a wall. I’ve done it once, and look here, so has Bowie.

Warszawa is lots of dark synthy noises for six and a half minutes. As I’ve mentioned, I tend to listen to music in the car, and this song really doesn’t suit that context.

Nor does Art Decade which is a bit more plinky plonky, it sounds like the sounds that you found in banks 80-90 of your Casio keyboard that you had when you were a kid. The same can be said for Weeping Wall.

Subterraneans I found slightly more appealling, but to be honest the second half of this album pretty much left me cold. It’s all a bit “look at me, I’m a tortured artist” kind of guff. Time to move on.

Hits from this album: Sound and Vision was released as a single and did fairly well.

My favourite song from this album: Tough choice, there are four excellent songs in a row, but I’m going to land on Always Crashing In The Same Car for the reasons given above.

Next up: Heroes. Now that I have an idea of what this fabled “Berlin Trilogy” entails, my expectations for this next album are a lot lower.

Pete

2 thoughts on “The Bowie Project: Low (1977)

  1. I was reading today that “Nite Flites” by the Walker Brothers – where the first four tracks are as clear a signal of the direction Scott Walker was about to take as you will find and all sound *astonishing* – was apparently inspired by Bowie’s “Berlin” period. If that’s true, then it’s worth the price of entry alone.

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