Greetings, Glancers. Today I listen to an album I have been looking forward to, primarily because it is one of Bowie’s most acclaimed while also being one i don’t think I know any songs from. Looking at the eleven songs on Low none of the names jump out at me, so I don’t think I’ve even heard the singles, though once I start listening I might recognise some of them. I’ve always known that Low was the start of of Bowie’s Berlin period – a time when he moved away from the US to try to get clean and subsequently became influenced by German music. This began a switch to a more electronic, less rock focused style – I’ve never been a fan of electronic music but I have not been the biggest fan of Bowie’s glam rock moments so it’ll be interesting to see how this sits with me.
‘Speed Of Life‘. Throb. Guitars. Noises. Beat. A logical next step for glam. I don’t like that guitar tone. Shift. Good drums and everything else. There’s the synth. Where’s the vocals? Instrumental? It sounds nice and all, but not sure if it does enough to warrant being that long and not merging into next song.
‘Breaking Glass‘. More guitars, nice riffs. Talky vocals. Jump scare. Bass funk. Toe taps. Short. Two songs which are decent but feel very much like last minute ideas jumbled together.
‘What In The World‘. Spectrum game noises. Talky vocals. Drums. Chaos. Guitar bits. Certainly interesting and messy and something else.
‘Sound And Vision‘. Country funky twang. This one sounds familiar. Twinkling synth. Do dee doo. Thrumpet. Yes, thrumpet. Very nice.
‘Always Crashing In The Same Car‘. More traditional, though still lots of noises wafting around. Good ‘chorus’. Good guitars.
‘Be My Wife‘. This one is great right off the bat. I’ve never heard this before but it feels as if I have. Superb drums and bass, guitar and piano are great, and it has a bunch of melody squeezed in. I’d say this is one of my favourites so far in my Bowie journey, of the ones I’m new to.
‘A New Career In A New Town‘. Beat. Beats. Feels like New Order. Nice backing sounds. Smash. Piano and harmonica and guitar. Another instrumental? This is pretty great too. Quiet. Loud. Fading.
‘Warszawa‘. Doom. Epic. Throbbing. Sci-fi soundtrack. Another instrumental? It’s another good one. Loving the Flutey McClarinet. Words. Tribal chants. This is something else entirely. Getting Pink Floyd and The Gathering vibes. Doesn’t sound dated in any way.
‘Art Decide‘. Noises and shakes. Louder noises. More sci-fi soundtrack stuff. This one is okay, not a patch on the previous song though.
‘Weeping Wall‘. Jangling. Giant synth throbs. Noise disaster. Guitar being played from another room. Guitars infested with wasps. Howls. Similar feelings to this as the previous song.
‘Subterraneans‘. Eerie. Hums. Another instrumental? Monks. Yes, I can imagine a horde of cult types huddling in some dank underwater cave, hooded conga lines, and one lonley sole looking up through the sewer grates at the neon world above, wishing to reach out and grab hold of it. Better than the last two, not quite up to Warszawa’s standards.
I’ll get thumped for saying it, but this has an air of a collection of B-Sides to it; that’s not a reflection of the quality of the songs as there are some great tunes here that I instantly liked – it’s more to do with the album lacking a consistency, something tying the whole thing together, and having a lot of instrumentals. This of course is a first listen and an immediate reaction, so this sort of review doesn’t lend itself well to recognizing the less obvious traits. We all know that some albums take multiple listens to get under your skin. The goods far outweigh the negatives here and it’s therefore an album I’ll want to listen to again. The album doesn’t sound anything like what I expected to, based upon what I’ve read about – I was expecting a lot more synth and repetition, but it’s clearly Bowie’s flexible take on things rather than a simple copycat by a lesser artist. I believe many critics lambasted this upon release for not having enough vocals… you know, I’ve never been a huge fan of Bowie’s singing – his voice or his delivery, so I’m quite happy to have less singing. I understand both why people dismissed this on release, and why it has grown in acclaim over the years.
Let us know in the comments what your thoughts on Low are. Is it your favourite Bowie album, or is it one you rarely listen to?