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David Bowie - Heroes CD (album) cover

HEROES

David Bowie

 

Prog Related

4.04 | 393 ratings

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LinusW
Special Collaborator
Italian Prog Specialist
4 stars The second album of the notorious Berlin trilogy, Heroes continues and expands upon the working formula of Low in an album divided into two very distinct parts. One for the poppier, rockier tracks and one reserved for the more ambient and mood-driven compositions, with the exception of the last track that sneakily puts the album back in more grounded territory.

Make no mistake, the album's first half is a very strong set of driven, pumping and groovy rockers with loads of energy and excitement in their slightly spastic, slightly detached, slightly deranged, but ultimately unfathomably cool little ways. If you don't get the tense, icy swagger of Bowie's music, it's hard to properly explain. But believe me - it's there.

Propulsive rhythms carry expressive, jagged and relatively meaty songs into slick evolutionary trajectories. In comparison to Low it's all a bit more rootsy, chunky, dirty and less controlled, while retaining the beautiful and generous sprinklings of electronic quirkiness and textures alongside some mechanically mangled and screechy guitar angularity. You see, on Heroes there's just a more direct connection to the electric mainline: a fresh, jolting sense of urgent release as well as a stronger affinity for (albeit strangely lopsided and odd) hooks and catchy motifs, without the need to present everything with such cold calculation and precision as on Low. I love both approaches, but this one is definitely more welcoming, giving us more of the man and less of the machine.

You also find the pseudo-Motorik structure of the massive hit song (and album namesake). It floats on a combination of simple groove, rising, falling and floaty keys and leisurely plaintive and melodic anchoring. Hovering above it all is a beautifully piercing, sustained guitar. It's full of little oscillating synth waterfalls and an inviting hissy haze. Not for nothing, it has that same incidental breeziness and laid-back trance you sometimes find with Neu!, but with the added bonus of Bowie's more gregarious, obvious and emotive vocals. There's a reason why this is a classic. Pop-Kraut, if I ever heard it. Sons of the Silent Age also stands out in its slower, more deliberate and spacious arrangement. Evocative saxophone and a mysteriously downplayed keyboard and guitar backing generates a darker feel to this track. It tentatively worms between the cheesy, choir-laden and surprisingly lackadaisical verses. Feels like it's trying to catch up to itself without ever really succeeding. Unfortunately, it unsuccessfully aims to be an hybrid with past musical ventures, but even so it's definitely not without its merits.

Coming up to the instrumental side, it's just as good (if not better), and is able to cram so many moods and colours into so few minutes. V-2 Schneider has some sparse vocals, but is predominantly a relatively sunny and propulsive groove excursion with driving and simple bass-lines and percussion. On top of it you find some some sturdy synth backing, feisty saxophone and distinct flecks of guitar notes (with occasional droning chords and a lick or two). Sense of Doubt has a completely different use of space, where clear, cold and searching synth rays shoot out into a cavernous void where they mingle and echo in the company of an oppressively falling piano cascade. Distant hissing and weak scratches only further serve to make this a rather ominous, hesitant and dark piece. Moss Garden follows, and starts off with a crackling, recurring and deep electronic pulse that makes me think of distant aeroplanes taking off, but is soon joined by beautiful silken strands of pure synth that sway and change in colour and intensity in the background of a wonderfully pure, dry and clear koto. Gently it falls, like perfect droplets of water. The contrast is transformational, mysterious and strangely spiritual, generating images of pristine Oriental temple grounds in the grey morning light. Neuköln has a strangely underwater and bubbling narrative when it starts, obscure and abstract, but evolves into a frosty background organ as the stage for a despondent reciprocity between mournful and fateful guitar and urgent, but more freely wailing saxophone. Haunting, to say the least.

So what can I say? I couldn't care less if Bowie was a trailblazer or a trend vampire - poseur or provocateur. Probably a bit of everything. In the end that's not important. Low, and in this case, Heroes, remain the most successful crossovers and cross-fertilizations between the more mainstream and art-oriented European music of the time. And this while maintaining a strong identity of their own, something indefinably Bowie. None of them is a a proper masterpiece on their own, but together they're simply amazing.

Another example of four shining stars, without the necessary perfection for a fifth. Strangely, I think I like it even more like that, dirty little flaws included.

4 stars.

//LinusW

LinusW | 4/5 |

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