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David Bowie - Low CD (album) cover

LOW

David Bowie

 

Prog Related

3.98 | 221 ratings

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HolyMoly
Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl and Canterbury Teams
5 stars This is a landmark recording of experimental rock music. It was conceived and recorded at a time when Bowie was heavily influenced by German giants such as Neu!, Can, and Kraftwerk, and it shows. On top of that, he had the sonic expertise of Brian Eno at his disposal, which gave Bowie the freedom to experiment and not have it come out stilted or awkward; Eno already had plenty of experience making this kind of thing work. Less well-known is the presence of Iggy Pop, whose album The Idiot was being made at the same time in the same studio; it's as if Bowie's work on that project gave him a chance to think outside the box a bit and try out some new things before shaping them into Bowie album material.

The "song" side of the album presents us with seven short songs, some almost fragments, but each of which gives us some interesting new sounds that might have been heard on Krautrock records before, but not on an international pop star's album. Most of the songs were conceived out of jam sessions by the band, with interesting bits excised and re-arranged in unorthodox ways. "Breaking Glass", for example, is one of the best tracks despite being under 2 minutes long and never really turning into a real song -- parts fly in and out, the guitar player (Carlos Alomar) plays some heroic rock fills, synthesizers jump in at surprising moments, drums stop and start, just a strange piece all around. It's not all crazy weird though -- both "Sound and Vision" and "Always Crashing in the Same Car" are emotive, melodic pieces that seem to harness Kraftwerk's knack for detached melancholy; the faint glimmer of sadness seen across the buzzing wires. On the other hand, "Be My Wife" and "What in the World" are almost ecstatically upbeat, bubbling over with electricity and giddy vocals. The side opens and closes with unremarkable instrumentals ("Speed of Life" and "A New Career in a New Town") which are still pretty good despite their repetitiveness.

Side Two is all instrumental (with the exception of some wordless voices), and just as evocative and impressive as Eno's definitive Another Green World album released a couple of years prior. In fact, one could argue that this stuff is even better, as it condenses the best aspects of the latter work (massiveness, timelessness) into about 20 minutes. "Warszawa" is an absolute stunner, a 6-minute howling void of bigness. "Art Decade" scales it down a little, emphasizing a single sad melodic line on the synthesizers. "Weeping Wall" brings some gamelan-like percussion into the mix, and "Subterraneans" brings all these elements together to a quizzical conclusion.

Long my favorite Bowie album, and a must-own for any progressive rock fan.

(Interesting trivia: former Magma member Laurent Thibault actually played some bass and assisted in the recording of this album; but for whatever reason, his name was omitted from the credits. I learned this from an audiobook about the album from the 33 1/3 series, for which Thibault was interviewed.)

HolyMoly | 5/5 |

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