Review Summary: No lower than perfection.Low
is one of the greatest, influential, and most groundbreaking albums ever released. It sidestepped punk and blueprinted what would come next; colouring in the late seventies musical landscape an icy shade of post-punk. For its creator, it rejuvenated his creativity, and in the process, solidified his claim to artistic genius; his lasting appeal; his indelible mark on the popular music of the twentieth century.
Station to Station
held scant but lucid hints at Bowie’s desire to escape America. Although the United States were once an exciting and inspirational creative environment for Bowie; the star-spangled landscape soon evolved into a prison, of sorts. It was in America that Bowie first embarked on his ravaging relationship with cocaine - a drug that by late 1976, had begun to erode its victim’s mind and body to a frightening degree - turning Bowie into an 80lb, paranoid, and near-terminal caricature of rock ‘n’ roll’s self-destructive excess.
Hoping to come clean and break away from the musical trappings of the past, The Thin White Duke fled America for Europe - more specifically France’s Chateau d’Herouville, where the bulk of Low
’s composition took place. Joining him in the Chateau were erstwhile Roxy-Music member Brian Eno, producer Tony Visconti, and the Alomar/Davis/Murray band, carried over from the Station
sessions. Together, they shaped Bowie’s vision - Eno’s electronic virtuosity and Visconti’s technical skill made possible the avant-garde, experimental masterpiece Bowie had envisioned.
Eno and Visconti’s contributions are almost as important to state as that of Bowie’s, as they acted as the mortar, holding together the bricks of Low
’s detached, synthesised rock. Eno’s unique approach to composition served as a conduit for Bowie’s ideas. One technique Eno introduced was the use of the ‘Oblique Strategies’ cards he had developed in 1975, which would be flipped over by musicians at random during recording, revealing instructions as obtuse as ‘emphasise the flaws’ or ‘use an unacceptable colour’.
Such odd methods were anything but detrimental to Low
’s brilliance. Divided between brief, angular flecks of synth-tinged rock, and sparse, menacing instrumentals; Low
’s astounding diversion from traditional song structures redefined pop music. Even the small cluster of songs that feature fragmented lyrics are marked by a radically different approach to song writing - opting for an expressionistic, non-linear use of words, as opposed to the cohesive, narrative-driven lyrics of Bowie’s past.
The songs on the first half are jagged and disjointed, marked by walls of squirming synthesisers, deadpan vocals, and sharp, reverberated drums, which became icons in themselves after Visconti’s heavy use of the Eventide Harmonizer. The set flows perfectly, moving from the moody instrumental ‘Speed of Life’, to the fractured, waling guitars of ‘Breaking Glass’, then to leftfield avant-pop hits, such as the introspective ‘Sound and Vision’, the tragic ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’, and the desperately anthemic ‘Be My Wife’. The second half completely flips the album on its head - presenting sparse, barren, alien landscapes of synthetic ambience - the only human touches appearing in the form of indecipherable chanting.
is the pinnacle of David Bowie’s career. It completely rejuvenated his creativity, and presented the world with a distinctly different sound to the glam rock or plastic soul of the past. Low
’s fractured arrangements, detached vocals and seamless blend of synthetic and traditional instruments influenced a generation of musicians, serving as a blueprint to the forthcoming post-punk explosion. What’s more impressive is that Low
is only the first part of a groundbreaking trilogy; but even when separated from its partner albums, Low
unfolds as an endlessly thrilling and awe-inspiring experience, to be missed by none.