Review Summary: This mixture of pop, ambient, krautrock, and Bowie sexiness proves to be one of his underrated classics.#249 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of all Time
Everyone's favourite cross-dressing glam rocker reached a new level of innovation with Low
in 1977. Starting his career as a club entertainer following the mod fashion in the 60s, as the early 70s rolled in he adapted an androgynous persona as he ventured into a unique brand of psychedelic rock/pop. A self-proclaimed music chameleon, Bowie's music and image constantly changed. Low
was no exception. It was the first of the Berlin Trilogy
, three albums made in collaboration with the Jesus of ambient music Brian Eno while Bowie was in Berlin, absorbing its culture and recovered from his big as
s cocaine addiction. In the trilogy, Bowie's music slowly started becoming seen as more accessible, until the 1980s where he had begun to be considered a pop star. People will always argue which Bowie album is the best, but Low
will always be the most influential and ground-breaking.
The first thing to point out about this album is that the first side is a collection of straightforward songs, influenced by Krautrock (you know, Kraftwerk
right?) and the second is almost entirely instrumental and shows more of Eno's effect on the music. Each side is very different, but they join together naturally, in an ironically mechanical feeling album. The sharp guitars and dense synths ditch Bowie's past of glam rock and R& B, but side one still presents pop sensibilities through the curiously robotic layers of music. Bowie mixes and matches different bits of pieces of music, taking funky basslines, rock guitar riffs and quirky synthesizers as he makes his own music Frankenstein. But instead of a Frankenstein that goes and kills people, yearns for love and whatnot, this Frankenstein sets out to make sure it is known that Bowie is a genius!
Bowie's voice has that certain British charm that all the ladies (and lads??) love and is as flexible as Bowie's music itself. In Low
it's about as quirky and variant, sometimes overdubbed to sound like a choir of shaky voiced old men like in What in the World
. His voice is batted around in the mix of music, sometimes sinking below, other times springing up. Bowie makes his voice more accessible and natural in some songs like in Crashing in the Same Car
, a slower and more serious song, outlining the darker things Bowie was writing about during the recovery from his cocaine addiction. The song foreshadows the more solemn, darker mood of side two. The song also shows that great guitar work is still present in Low
, but spiced up to a spacey attire.
The second side is of an ambient nature as said before, where Eno's influence comes out more. Entirely instrumental, as are the bookends of side one, emphasizing the importance of atmosphere. The instrumentals sound futuristic and emit an ethereal feeling of both warmth and desolation, as Bowie, Eno and co-producer Tony Visconti shape different landscapes made through storms of electronic music in each instrumental. Tracks like Warszawa
sound like cold, creepy classical pieces reinvented through claustrophobic synthesizers and eerie choirs.
Each song is unique, outlined by the variety of effects and synthesizers in each song, sometimes none at all. Be my Wife
is driven by a thumping bassline and honky-tonk piano, which are suddenly subverted for a stylish R & B chorus, again showing the brilliant fusions of music. Low
again shows Bowie slapping the expectations and boundaries of Rock in the face, and skyrocketing to a level of innovation and music exploration never seen before. It takes traditional and new instruments and morphs them in a beautifully flowing collage of avant-garde music that influenced endless amounts of 80s bands and newer acts like Nine Inch Nails
and Billy Corgan
, while still owing credit to bands like Kraftwerk, Can and Tangerine Dream. Rarely does an album capture so much ingenuity and still be so polished and appealing. To ignore Low
as one of the greatest and inventive albums of the 70s is to deny a lot of modern music ever existed.
Low---------------------> 5 stars