David Bowie

RCA Records, 1977


REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane


It’s really a chore to be a dedicated David Bowie fan. There’s something to be said for predictability in pop music. Actually, isn’t the predictability of pop music one of its most appealing features? You always know what you’re gonna get with the Stones. Same thing with The Beatles: even once they started to expand their musical palette, the aesthetic of the newer material wasn’t that different from their earlier records. The only thing that’s ever been predictable about Bowie is how unpredictable he is. For decades he underwent regular transformations, constantly swapping one persona for the other. It was this bizarre – and derivative – obsession with pop theatrics that would make Bowie a target for regular criticism from rock purists; he relied too heavily on smoke and mirrors. Bowie’s spaced-out, cocaine-enriched bullshit degraded the music and reduced it to spectacle. In the early ‘70s, you didn’t buy tickets to see David Bowie in concert; you bought tickets to see David Bowie’s Traveling Pop Circus.

These assessments are not baseless, but they’d be a lot easier to endorse if the delivery method for Bowie’s music wasn’t used to deliver such fantastic music. Well, it’s not all fantastic; a lot of it is trash.

David Bowie records were always weird, but after his arrival in Berlin in 1976, they got really weird.  The Berlin Trilogy, as it’s known, includes 1977’s Low, Heroes, and 1979’s Lodger. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Bowie’s fascination with German pop began during the sessions for 1976’s Station To Station and would later grow into an obsession prompting the move to Berlin. It was in Berlin where Bowie shared an apartment with the freaky Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop. Sheesh! Can you imagine living an apartment with David Bowie and Iggy Pop during the late ‘70s? How those two made it out alive is beyond comprehension. I’m surprised they didn’t try to set one another on fire so they could snort each other’s ashes off the coffee table.

Heroes is probably the least impressive of the Berlin Trilogy, but it contains Bowie’s best song from the era, the title track. Brian Eno’s synthesizer wizardry on “Heroes” and the rest of the album, as well as Low and Lodger, is remarkable and one of the best features of this bizarre – and sometimes intolerable – collection of recordings. The album’s opening thumper “Beauty And The Beast” gets more likeable with a couple of listens, but only kind of. “Joe The Lion,” “Sons Of The Silent Age,” and “The Secret Life Of Arabia” are only slightly more enjoyable, and just like anything else one is overexposed to – like domestic violence – you grow numb to it and even learn to like their abusive temperament.

The album’s second best track is “Blackout,” which shoves it’s freaked-out, heart pounding sonic prowess straight down your throat. The rest of the tracks on the album (“Sense Of Doubt,” “Moss Garden,” etc.) are mostly instrumental, with the exception of one, “V-2 Schneider,” but even that’s 90% vocal-free. It’s like I said, the title track is the best track on the album by far, and it’s one of the best of Bowie’s career.

The Berlin Trilogy represents just one of the many faces of David Bowie, and even if this album is the weakest of the three, I’d venture to say that none of the records really represent Bowie at his best. Of course they were experimental and they’re valuable as a representation of Bowie’s willingness to try new things, that doesn’t mean the experiment was successful. Rock critics traditionally love Berlin-era Bowie. I think it’s some of his least impressive work. The innocuous Heroes is an altogether un-enjoyable record, one that ought to be bumped down a few slots on the list of great Bowie records, even if it does contain one of his best songs. Good luck getting through the rest of the album; anyone who gets pleasure out of listening to Bowie play with his Casio tinker toys is not a real human being. Then again, David Bowie is about as far from a real human being as one can get – he’s from Mars.

Rating: C+

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© 2008 Kenny S. McGuane and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.