Uncut Ultimate Music Guide SEPTEMBER 2011 - by Stephen Troussé


"Art-ritual murder"? "Non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-cycle"? Bowie recalls Eno to the "school of pretension".

"Art's a barnyard," writes Detective Professor Nathan Adler in the sleeve-notes to David Bowie's twentieth album. "It's my job to pick thru' the manure heap looking for peppercorns." The joy of Outside - or to give its full and proper title, 1. Outside - The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper Cycle - is that the bullshit is frequently beguiling and the peppercorns are plentiful.

Though they hadn't worked together since 1979's Lodger, the reunion of Bowie and Eno was always on the cards. Eno had been a guest at Bowie's wedding - indeed he delivered a typically ludic lecture on the subject at Sadler's Wells - while Bowie fulsomely acknowledged his debt to Eno in his notes to The Buddha Of Suburbia. More significantly, perhaps, the success of Phillip Glass's Low Symphony suggested that their joint stock was at an all-time high, in the art world, if not commercially.

If Lodger had seen their interests diverging, Eno towards the ethnosampladelia of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Bowie tacking back towards pop, Outside found them united in what they delighted in terming "the school of pretension". Eno's oblique strategies, which had proved so unpopular with Carlos Alomar, returned with a vengeance: the team were given detailed roles ("You are a disgruntled ex-member of a South African rockband. Play the notes you were not allowed to play") to inform initial jams; charcoal and paints were supplied to sustain the creative mood during studio downtime. Garson in particular delighted in "the most creative environment I have ever been in", while Bowie enthused over three-hour improv sessions. Within weeks they had recorded over thirty-five hours of music.

It should all have been a monstrously indulgent farrago. And this was pretty much the opinion of labels Bowie tried to interest in early recordings. While he had been able to force through an apparently commercially suicidal album like Low under the terms of his contract, trying to sell such a project as a free agent was a different matter. Whether as potential selling-point or pragmatic framework, a narrative began to emerge. Inspired by a timely combination of Twin Peaks, Damien Hirst and the Jim Rose Circus, Bowie plotted the most grandiose concept album of all time: Leon was to be a three-hour "non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-cycle", detailing the "art-ritual murder" of Baby Grace Blue in a parallel New Jersey consumed by esoterrorist artists high on neuropharmaceuticals and neopaganism. He was eventually persuaded to compromise, and Outside was presented as merely the first episode in a sequence that would occupy the next five years, culminating in a fabulous spectacle of fin-de-siècle epic theatre on Millennium Eve. In 1995, this was, at the very least, an entertaining alternative to Britpop.

In fact, isolated in this way, Outside contains some of the best, most under-appreciated pop songs of Bowie's career. I Have Not Been To Oxford Town, riding on a fabulous Carlos Alomar riff, suggests what Remain In Light might have sounded like if Bowie were the singer in Talking Heads, while Hallo Spaceboy, built upon a piledriving Reeves Gabrels riff and an Eno fantasy of an orbital nightclub, is irresistibly relentless. Remixed by the Pet Shop Boys, who spliced the track with scrambled lines from Space Oddity, it again suggested that Bowie was accelerating toward some terminal career vortex, his past selves and memories returned, reconfigured, whirling around in mad simultaneity.

Hear the album in this context and what is the Baby Grace segue Horrid Cassette Horrid Cassette, with Bowie's voice treated to approximate the last words of a fourteen-year-old girl, but the ghost of all the intimations of insanity, the laughing gnomes and Bewlay brothers, returned in a particularly grisly guise? Or the monologue of Algeria Touchshriek - Bowie's geriatric cracked-actor cockney turn - but the spectre of another child-murder, the singer of the very early Please Mr Gravedigger?

When he's not vari-speeded and warped, Outside is also Bowie's finest vocal record since Scary Monsters. The beautifully brooding No Control finds him perfecting the Scott Walker tenor he'd been essaying since at least his cover of Nite Flights on Black Tie White Noise, while A Small Plot Of Land, despite its hyperactive Garson piano, is eerily reminiscent of a Walker track like Farmer In The City. Tilt actually appeared while Outside was still being conceived, terrifying Bowie and Eno that it would blow their efforts out of the water before they'd even finished. In fact the two albums are curiously complimentary, Outside exuberantly chaotic while Tilt is austerely aloof, but both the work of revitalised elder statesmen, shaming the Britpop pups who idolised them both, by continuing to re-imagine what a pop album could be at the end of an exhausted century.

Tracks: Leon Takes Us Outside / Outside / The Hearts Filthy Lesson / A Small Plot Of Land / Segue - Baby grace (A Horrid Cassette) / Hallo Spaceboy / The Motel / I Have Not Been To Oxford Town / No Control / Segue - Algeria Touchshriek / The Voyage Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty) / Segue - Ramona A. Stone / I Am With Name / Wishful Beginnings / We Prick You / Segue - Nathan Adler / I'm Deranged / Thru' These Architects Eyes / Segue - Nathan Adler / Strangers When We Meet
Released: September 26, 1995
Label: Arista/BMG
Produced by: David Bowie, Brian Eno and David Richards
Recorded at: Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland
Personnel: David Bowie (vocals, saxophone, guitars, keyboards; Brian Eno (synthesizers, treatments, strategies); Reeves Gabrels (guitar); Erdal Kizilcay (bass, keyboards); Mike Garson (grand piano); Sterling Campbell (drums); Carlos Alomar (rhythm guitar); Joey Barron (drums); Yossi Fine (bass); Tom Frish (additional guitar on Strangers When We Meet); Kevin Armstrong (additional guitar on Thru' These Architects Eyes); Bryony, Lola, Josey and Ruby Edwards (background vocals on The Hearts Filthy Lesson and I Am With Name)
Highest Chart Position: UK: 8 US: 21