"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Select SEPTEMBER 1991 - by Nick Griffiths
DAVID BOWIE: LOW / "HEROES" / LODGER
Is it the right of beautiful people to drink or drug themselves into a romantic squalor?
When we mere mortals exceed the brain's stimulant limit, we uselessly clear up the vomit and nurse broken heads. When Judy Garland and Jim Morrison did it, they dilated the pupils of the world's starry eyes with their death. When David Bowie drank and coked himself stupid, he made three of his most cherished and experimental albums.
Bowie had already killed off Ziggy and the Thin White Duke, a self-appointed Judas to his own masters, had drifted through an inspired soul rejuvenation, and by late '76 was plummeting the depths. LA was a drag. Paris was a drag. His wife was a drag. And, most importantly, rock music was dead. Bowie relocated to West Berlin, teamed up with Brian Eno and went electronic.
Low (1977) was a bleak collaboration with Eno that bewildered all in its path. The second side, instrumental bar swathing moans and half-sentences, is a down paean to the political wilderness of Berlin and Warsaw. Through waves of Eno's synth chords and oblique momentary instrumentation, it dwells between despair and grace.
The reverse side sandwiches lightly dated, vaguely funked-up songs between breezy, bookend instrumentals, and rises to the Breaking Glass and Sound And Vision classics.
"Heroes" (1977) was the antithesis to Low's mood. A more comfortable listen, it rides punches and shines the brightest spotlight on the Eno period. From V-2 Schneider, the humorous Kraftwerk tribute (an obvious influence), through the transfixing Moss Garden and Neuköln instrumentals, to any of the vocal songs, it's a glorious highpoint of an astonishing career.
But Lodger (1979) was disappointing. The most adventurous and experimental of the three, it falters for that reason. Having perfected the style, Bowie amalgamated it with more hackneyed gestures, plugging in more guitars, jolting the tempo, borrowing Middle Eastern rhythms, and sticking exclusively to vocals - though the previously inventive lyrics take a considerable dive here.
The formula does have its moments - Look Back In Anger, Fantastic Voyage, Move On and, perhaps, Red Money - and the rest are at least "interesting".