David Bowie had been flirting with the idea of moving to Germany for some time, but it wasn't until the release of the distinctly European Station to Station that he decided to go to his home continent. Stationing himself in Berlin with his band, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno, Bowie proceeded to kick cocaine and fully explore the ambient electronica he had started to embrace on the previous album.
Low is a challenging listen, sounding like little Bowie had done before and moving him farther away from the glam-rock sound he had helped create. Perhaps in a peace offering to those fans left behind, the songs are separated, one side devoted to shorter pop numbers and one side to spacey instrumentals. It's a difficult record to love; elegant, cold, detached, seemingly lacking soul, much like Bowie himself for many years.
The best way to immerse into this is in bits and pieces. Start with the shimmering "Sound and Vision," the straight pop of "What in the World" and the cool instrumental "Speed of Life." "Always Crashing In The Same Car" is a throwback to the Hunky Dory period but without charm, and "Be My Wife" features some pounding piano, interesting guitar work, plenty of cymbals and Bowie's simplistic lyrical overture to a woman.
The second side requires patience but yields rewards. "Warszawa" starts off with an ominous synthesizer and proceeds to sound like the death knell in a movie about the Holocaust, throwing in some wailing voices and mournful keyboard solos. "Art Decade" sounds like the lost-in-time theme to one of those cheesy 80s computer movies like Tron. "Weeping Wall" has a sort of African-beat feel underneath a choppy synthesizer and little variety, while "Subterraneans" sounds a bit like the Alan Parsons Project meets Pink Floyd, with an orchestra and saxophone backing up the keyboard notes. It's obvious Brian Eno had a lot to do with this, but Bowie was really into this sound and knew it would be a radically different direction.
On that note, the album cover is a joke of sorts, a profile of Bowie underneath the album title, meant to imply Low Profile. Certainly, "Warszawa" is the exact opposite of anything on Ziggy Stardust.
Low is challenging, different, progressive and interesting, worth hearing by Bowie or electronica fans, even if it sounds nothing like the Bowie you only know from the radio.
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