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David Bowie - 1. Outside CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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3.62 | 156 ratings

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3 stars While Bowie had made a career out of genre-hopping and fairly unpredictable twists, it had been a little while (aside from the Tin Machine detour, though I don't think that career move was as abnormal as people made it out to be) since he'd made an album that totally came out of left field. It was one thing for him to collaborate with Brian Eno for the first time in more than fifteen years: it was quite something else to make what's essentially a 90's version of Diamond Dogs. This, unfortunately, is a case where a concept album is done a major disservice by the concept, centered around a fairly incoherent story Bowie wrote in the liner notes related to the end of the century (one of the obvious parallels with Diamond Dogs is that both albums were largely centered around a specific year: 1984 for DD, 1999 for this). The album is littered with "segue" tracks (and they take up more time than you'd think in aggregate) that highlight different characters in Bowie's tale, and they're as obnoxious and as disruptive to the album's flow as possible without making any coherent sense. This is one of the worst presentations of a concept album's concept I've ever come across; it kinda reminds me of the Peter Gabriel album OVO from a few years later, but at least Peter had the good sense to put everything explicitly related to that album's concept into the opening track, thus containing the badness in one place. Ideally, I wish somebody had been able to persuade Bowie to strip out the album's concept completely, but I guess the story meant something to him, so no dice.

Once I disregard the conceptual aspects of the album, though, I find it rather enjoyable. The album's two most notable aspects on the music side are (a) the aforementioned reunion with Brian Eno and (b) Bowie's embracing of "industrial" music in his latest attempt to stay relevant and hip. Well, sort of; only a small number of tracks come close to industrial, but the album was promoted in such a way as to emphasize them, so it's hard to ignore them. I actually think, based on this album, that industrial suits Bowie rather well; after all, Bowie had always shown a talent for making music that's both ugly and attractive, and both the dancable single "Hearts Filthy Lesson" (I don't know why there's no apostrophe) and the noisy "Hallo Spaceboy" entertain me plenty. I can't remember more than a little bit of each of them, but every time I listen to them I find myself sucked in (especially when some of the noisier guitar lines in "Spaceboy" appear), and that counts for something.

The rest of the album is more Bowie and Eno (who makes his presence known through his various "treatments" and little tricks like "spooky" piano lines popping up pretty frequently) than Trent Reznor, and it follows a similar pattern of songs that have interesting moments when on but don't really leave a significant lasting impression (other than, "hey, I remember kinda liking that when it was playing"). Aside from a remake of "Strangers When We Meet" to close the album (except that the reissue contains a decent upbeat single called "Get Real"), only a couple of tracks really stand tall on their own. The first is the title track (immediately following the brief opener, "Leon Takes Us Outside"), which establishes the album's stylized melancholy by combining tasteful synth and guitar parts with lyrics centered around two phrases: "Now not tomorrow/it's happening now/not tomorrow" and "The music is outside/it's happening outside." The second is "The Motel," a largely directionless ballad that's nonetheless able to get by just fine on atmosphere, especially in the "chorus" that says "There is no hell/there is no shame/there is no hell/like an old hell/there is no hell." It's powerful stuff, no question about it.

Elsewhere, I definitely like the upbeat (relatively) "I Have Not Been to Oxford Town" (what does it say when one of the happiest songs on an album is centered on the phrase, "All's well, twentieth century dies?") and "The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)" has a rather attractive guitar line that could have made for a best-song-candidate if paired with a better vocal melody. And ... uh ... well, I remember liking "No Control" a good amount, and the "tellllllll the truth/tellllllll the truth/we prick you we prick you we prick you" chorus of "We Prick You" is definitely a memorable moment. Going through individual songs, though, is rather pointless; the album works far better in aggregate ... which is what makes the segue tracks all the more aggravating, but let's not focus on that. Every time I listen to this album, I find myself glad that I listened to something that entertained me in the past while, but it's frustrating to have little idea why once I'm finished. Still entertainment is entertainment, and a concept-free version of this album (reduced to about 55 minutes from 75) would get a higher grade. Anybody interested in 90's Bowie should start with Buddha of Suburbia, but this should be stop number two. I'm kinda glad the planned sequel (2. Contamination) never happened, though.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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