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David Bowie - Low CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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4.07 | 371 ratings

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4 stars Classy. Cool. Stylish. Timeless. The Berlin years were good to Bowie, right from the start.

Low is a tale of two albums in many ways, with a quite sharp divide between the more "standard" art rock fare of the first half, and the decidedly more convoluted and evocative sound of the second. But standard is as ever a deceptive word to use when attributed to David Bowie, being his usual mercurial self.

With a backbone of controlled, groovy (and just a tad funky) rhythmic propulsion, the "songs" found here feel, at core, disciplined. Almost a little bit cold. A bit mechanic. They draw from somewhat the same influences as early Roxy Music and pre-ambient Brian Eno, with an added touch of slight new wave and punk sensibilities, but are altogether Bowie in style and presentation, if that makes sense.

The playing is never mindbogglingly technical, but the structures and melodies are familiar, in a way almost catchy, yet wondrously idiosyncratic, generating a lovely, unsettling sheen of detachment. A fair bit of space is also left in the compositions, perhaps as a side-effect of the previously mentioned discipline or a conscious decision. This serves to unclutter the songs, adding power and focus to what is already there as well as leaving a lot of room for the various electronic sounds and effects. Most of them continue as well as bolster the vague theme of detachment and urban desolation I constantly pick from Low. Sharp disharmonious shrieks, washes of crisp and icy synthesizer, jagged underlying sound carpets and what can be only be described as an assortment of various buzzes, beeps and blip-blops. The Brian Eno influence and contributions are tangible, to say the least. Taken altogether, this generates an atmosphere that tends to be a bit cheeky, slightly wheezy and malfunctioning, at times almost approaching the hysterical or the desperate - the sounds of a long-forgotten steam-powered gaming arcade. The guitars tend to assume almost the same role from time to time making it unclear which instrument is leading the pack underneath the structurally dominating rhythm section. It is effective having it this way, allowing the instruments to freely move between rhythm, melody and harmony, adding well-needed life and movement to some of the compositions.

The second side of the album continues in the same slightly bleak, detached way as the first, but it is presented in a wholly different way. Moving away from the warped art rock into ambient territory mixed up with a touch of Krautrock, this is instead a refined, elegant set of musical panoramas. Sleek and beautiful electronic compositions mixed up with tender contributions from guitar and various other instruments (and Bowie's powerful, if sparse, vocals). For being so few songs they manage to cover a lot of ground; sometimes near the busier and more melodious of Brian Eno's ambient works, straight on to an excellent percussion-laden and synth-rhythmic Kraut ditty, wrap it up with a pseudo-orchestral soundtrack-like track. It makes for a nice, if dramatic, change of pace. Here the tone is markedly less abrasive and a good deal more atmospheric, both in structure and in timbre. The jaggedness is almost completely removed and replaced by sweeping, wave-like and more melodic evolution. The cold urban gleam remains, make no mistake, but it is not confrontational in the same way, but more reflective, almost melancholic, one might say.

It is two albums for the price of one, so it is a bargain. It is also a massive artistic statement. A great achievement. A cryptic, constantly fresh gem of a record.

Mandatory. 4 stars.


LinusW | 4/5 |


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