Phonograph Record FEBRUARY 1977 - by Bud Scoppa


The new Bowie album doesn't make much sense. While practically everybody else in rock is striving for cleaner and more accurately recorded sound, Bowie's Low has drums that thump nastily like cherry bombs exploding under tin cans, hazy vocals that slide in and out of the predominating beeps and crackles, guitars that seem to be blasting not out of the speakers but from the garage down the street, and synthesizers that sound as if they're a bit rusty and held together by twisted paper clips.

With all the kids waiting for a clever follow-up to his hit, Golden Years - something sleek and danceable, maybe - Bowie scrambles expectations, enlisting the services of iconoclast Brian Eno and assembling an album in which six out of the eleven tracks are either instrumentals or instrumentals-with-chanting, none of them likely to get play in your local disco. The remaining five have eerily claustrophobic lyrics about "always crashing in the same car," breaking glass in his lover's room, using the promise of love to lure the lady out from "deep within" her room, and waiting for "the gift of sound and vision" in yet another room, this one "blue, blue, electric blue."

Low seems to be the inner document of someone either on the edge of psychosis or obsessed right down to the bone. Nothing fits or holds firm, nothing makes rational sense, nothing follows the formal or practical rules of the game. But for Bowie, who never follows the rules, none of this disorientation is negative; on the contrary, Low is the most intimate and free recording this extraordinary artist has yet made. This haunting, oddly beautiful music, strewn with recesses to be delved into gradually and a few at a time, is affecting in a strikingly subtle and powerful way.

Bowie's instincts are uncanny: he seems to stay on-course by continually veering off-course and he has a knack for making music that (as a friend says) "feels exactly the way I feel right now." There's something about Low's textures, moods, and energies that gets under the skin and keeps working deeper, but I couldn't begin to explain how or why it works. I don't want to try - there are times when it's better to acknowledge than attempt to anayze, and this music is governed by a mystery that exists not to be penetrated but to be accepted as mystery.

The music of Low opens so unpredictably you may find that what seemed at first to be icy and remote has imperceptibly become lush, pulsing, maybe danceable, even. Then again you may not. There's no telling what the album will do to you, or when it will do it. Bowie offers a simple but challenging choice: either be baffled or give in. I made my choice - you'll make yours.