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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Desert Island Albums IV David Bowie 1.Outside

David Bowie
1. Outside - The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper Cycle

Given the length, breadth and depth of David Bowie’s catalogue, there are plenty of memorable candidates for the coveted desert island disc. There’s no shortage of albums of his which enjoy a much higher profile, not to mention a significant hit count, than 1.Outside yet the strange magnetism generated by this defiantly indulgent concept album exerts a strange fascination that beguiles and intrigues.

With his talent for reinvention clearly undimmed, after a run of relatively indifferent albums, Outside revels in its love of the different and the provocative. The story is a querulous, surreal and often disturbing narrative, with Bowie maniacally providing all the voices, oozing up between the songs, depositing a sequence of aural stains both on and just below the surface.

The fragments of improvisation heard sloshing beneath his bizarre repertory company of voices, - the result of hundreds of hours of improvisation by Eno and the supporting cast of musicians - places the listener almost as another detective; part of the plot, looking for clues, for meaning, trying to filter determining what’s important and what might be mere red herring.

These songs are not the kind to be easily absorbed or co-opted into those everyday moments where music becomes a memento of something shared. Often brutally ugly in temperament and appearance, they resist the usual listener’s habit of emotional appropriation. While we can close our eyes and recall who we were with or what we were doing when we first heard Starman, Heroes or even Let’s Dance, the music of Outside is more akin to some bruising encounter we’ve tried to put to the back of our minds. It’s hard to imagine a couple hearing Hearts Filthy Lesson, and gazing lovestruck into each others eyes and saying “Oh, listen. They’re playing our song.”

These are powerful songs, whose very austerity and lack of vulnerability are also the very key to their granite-edged charm. They world they imagine is occluded and uneasy; a place where compromise was not allowed to soften or neuter the madly twisted, spontaneous origins of the music. Bowie, ever the skilful craftsman, knows how to put a song together. Perhaps more importantly, he knows how not to in order to avoid habit - the perpetual trap that waits for all artists.  

From the industrial crunch of Hallo Spaceboy, flat-lining mournful cries drifting across eddying spirals of nebulous space-jazz during A Small Plot Of Land, the quicksand electronica of I’m Deranged and the dead-eye certainties of No Control, show an artist who might well be experimenting with form and content but who never loses the plot entirely.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know, it remains his most transgressive record to date. Whilst Bowie’s other albums such as Ziggy Stardust, Low, Heroes, et al deservedly huddle together in the pantheon, Outside remains, well, on the outside, loitering with dark intent.


Chuck Benz said...

I've always thought of it as his "Blade Runner" soundtrack.

Sid Smith said...

That would certainly work!

Steve Clark said...

We saw that tour, with Morrissey as support! It wasn't perhaps the best music for playing big venues with an audience who mainly wanted to hear the hits, but there are some good songs on there. I enjoy some of his experiments with things like Drum & Bass.

Sid Smith said...

Hello Steve, thanks for dropping in. I like that fact that he's prepared to experiment and take chances. Not all of the work but he rarely rests on his laurels.

Norman Lamont said...

I loved the account in Eno's diary of how Bowie arrived in the studio, heard a backing track the band had been jamming, and, it seems, spontaneously recorded first the backing vocal, THEN the lead vocal to Oxford Town. Juslikethat!


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