Dave Amitri on Low
Month 9 of 12 Bowie Albums in 12 Months. Bloody hell, how did that happen? Three quarters of the way through this dive into Bowie having never listened to one of his albums before. After the high of “Station To Station” the next album “Low” had something to live up to. I try to limit my research as I want to come to these albums as fresh as possible. Coming to this knowing he was off the drugs living in Berlin and experimenting musically was encouraging yet slightly worrying at the same time. What would clean arty Bowie cone up with? Let’s see, or hear, whatever…..
It starts with “Speed Of Life” an instrumental, not the last as I would discover later but with all the build up it’s a pretty basic straight up rock n roll number that does include some Human League style keyboards. I found myself making up lyrics that Mick Jagger might have sung as it reminded me of 80’s Rolling Stones in the style of “Under Cover Of The Night”.
“You done me young you won’t do that twice cos,
I’m moving on at the speed of life.
I won’t be coming round in the dead of night cos,
I’m moving on at the speed of life”
Etcetera. You get the point. It’s ok, but as an opener? I know by now it’s Bowie so I shouldn’t be surprised.
Next up is “Breaking Glass” which I assume Nick Lowe loved the sound of. Not for the first time it reminds me of The White Stripes . Meg’s drumming remains pretty rudimentary. Again there’s some random keyboard thrown in and it finishes pretty abruptly. It’s ok.
“What In The World” takes me back to “Station To Station” and The Associates comparisons again. The mix of keyboards and guitar works really well and it’s a great noise. I like it.
The hit next. “Sound and Vision”. From nowhere it’s one of those great Bowie grooves. The band drive it on and I’m reminded of that clip of Stevie Wonder doing “Superstition “ on Sesame Street with the coolest band you’ve ever seen. Of course it was a hit. It’s another of those ubiquitous Bowie songs that when you really hear it, wow. I suspect somewhere the band is still playing that groove it’s so entrenched. I love it.
“Always Crashing In The Same Car” is a really cool song. I can’t escape the feeling that it’s a little bit Steely Dan but a slightly rougher version, less polished. The guitar in this is perfect for the kind of easy flow of the song. “Whisky In The Jar” like in parts. Following the slightly odd opening this is a strong run of songs.
“Be My Wife” is Chas and Dave meets Van Halen meets The Stranglers. That’s it. I’ve nothing else to say about it.
Typical Bowie fare so far. Eclectic, interesting but no real consistent style. That’s fine, this is David Bowie he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants. Now he does exactly that with 5 almost entirely instrumental tracks. Each one clearly experimental, exploring new ideas and sounds. As always I’ll tell you what I hear, here goes…
“A New Career In A New Town” starts like “Blue Monday” then becomes Madness doing “The Return Of The Los Palmas 7” with plenty of Spaghetti Western harmonica.
“Warszawa” is more Joy Division than New Order mixed with Stings “Russians”
“Art Decade” instantly makes ne think of Japan. It’s another track that in my head I sing in my best David Sylvian voice…
“Art Decade….. (long pause here)
Is it real or an illusion?……(another long pause
Thankfully for us all I can leave “Wailing Wall” be as an instrumental. My first thought was “Tubular Bells” (side 1 obviously…). Then maybe because my Sylvian antenna had been agitated from the depths of my memory I added Sakamoto. I has to go and rediscover “Forbidden Colours” and of course to complete the circle “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence”. This will be the point at which, Timbar, Tigger or Gary will regail stories of the links. It’s what I’ve enjoyed most about these threads. I hear something familiar and an expert comes along to fill the gaps…
Finally “Subterraneans” in which you can imagine David Attenborough breathily expressing wonder at some creature just discovered at the bottom of the Atlantic. Musically I can imagine Midge Ure belting out “Subterraneaaaaans”. It could on the other hand be one of Mark Hollis’ more esoteric compositions. Whatever it is its a bit lovely with its Gregorian chant / Kenny G sax to close….
So there it is “Low”. It’s a grower, it’s eclectic, it’s Bowie. I have this vision of the recording studio with all these old guitar engineers tripping over wires and extension cables muttering about bloody keyboards while scratching their heads at the noises being called “music”.. Overall for me while I really like it I am left a little frustrated. Why Dave? Well imagine he’d gone all in on the electronica, the ambience, the Neu!? His influence from what he’d heard in Germany is clear but he’s only really committed in parts. It’s importance to the period that followed is clear. That period from 1979 to 1984 that to me is the most exciting, inventive, creative since Chuck Berry picked up his guitar can be traced right back to this along with Kraftwerk I’m sure. If he’d really gone for it in 1976 / 77 “Low” could have been so ahead of it’s time, such a defining work that it could have been discussed in almost Arc of The Covenent terms. After the clear “Station To Station” / The Associates link it will be interesting for me now to find definite references from those early 80s pioneers back to “Low” or at least the parts where he goes all in. Finally I think this album will take me on a Japan/ Sylvian journey that I’ve been meaning to take for a long time.