Album Review: Old and New
David Bowie - ‘Low’
by Clay Neely
(Editor’s note: The Newnan Times-Herald is launching a feature looking at albums old and new and finding the common thread between them. Today, we look at Arcade Fire’s 2013 release “Reflektor” and how the mix of disparate styles is reminiscent of David Bowie’s 1977 “Low,” one of 1970’s most essential records.)
It’s often been said that “good artists borrow; great artists steal.”
The same could be said in terms of an artist’s identity. Some may seamlessly transform their own musical and visceral direction while others may appear to be desperately grasping for a new gimmick or “look.”
David Bowie, for intents and purposes, invented the persona of the genre-hopping artist. His ability to try on musical styles as often as he changed wardrobe ultimately became part of his appeal and thus allowed him much more creative freedom than was afforded other performers.
"Low," released in the beginning of 1977, shows Bowie logging yet another "change" into his catalog of ever expanding styles.
Following the transitional “Station to Station,” Bowie found himself in poor health and felt the need to escape the demons that dwelled within the Hollywood Hills. Where else to forget about sunny Los Angeles than mid-’70s Berlin, Germany? "Low" would be the first of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy." Working tightly with Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti (T.Rex, Morrissey, Kaiser Chiefs), Bowie’s fascination with the “krautrock” sounds of Germany at the time has the album peppered with nods of appreciation to the masters of the genre such as Kraftwerk, Neu! and even elements of Tangerine Dream.
The sequencing of "Low" is a vital element to how the album ultimately plays out — allowing the listener to get acclimated to this new style which unfolds before them. By opening the album with an instrumental opening track, “Speed of Life,” this would prove to be an indicator of what awaits the listener as the album unfolds.
The first side of the album allows Bowie to showcase this new direction without leaving the listener feeling alienated through tracks like "Always Crashing In The Same Car" and "What In The World" which are undeniably Bowie.
However, "Low" would prove to be a much more synthesizer laden outing than any of his prior works — the hand of Brian Eno is almost impossible to ignore on the second side.
Soundscape passages like "Warszawa," "Art Decade" and "Subterraneans" have the ability to send the listener into an otherworldly state of mind or possibly leave them with an anti-climatic feeling as the album etherley winds down.
While “Low” received mixed reviews upon its initial release, it has since gone into the "essential" category for not only Bowie fans but for many artists that would ultimately be influenced by it.
Bowie laid the blueprint for future artists that they too could attempt to absorb the sounds of their surroundings without sounding entirely contrived or obvious.
It’s a tightrope walk but Bowie has always made things look effortless.