Review Summary: We could be heroes…
1977 was a magical year for music, thanks in no small part to David Bowie. Having refreshed and directed Iggy Pop’s solo career, co-writing The Idiot
and Lust For Life
; the same year saw Bowie rejuvenating his own career upon the release his groundbreaking Low
album in January. Despite achieving all this before summer had even broken out, Bowie deepened his machine-like status by summoning Eno and Visconti to Berlin to begin work on the second album of what would come to be known as his Berlin trilogy.
Now living in Berlin, Bowie reduced his cocaine intake to a leisurely rather than a habitual pace, and begun enjoying his life, taking in the sights and scenes of the divided city, visiting art galleries and various nightlife spots, and perhaps in replacement to the void left by his severance of cocaine abuse; developed a drinking habit. The effect of his recent freedom and the experience of exploring and absorbing the delights of a new city rubbed off on Bowie, and as such, the album feels more optimistic and lighter than Low
, but still retains that essential undercurrent of darkness and paranoia.
Joining Eno, Visconti and the band from the Low
sessions at the spacious Hansa Studio 2 (some 500 yards from the Berlin Wall) was ex-King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. His unique lead work adds to the difference in sound Heroes
boasts from Low
; bringing to life classics like the title track, whose soaring riff is indebted to Fripp. ‘Heroes’ is one of the greatest songs of its time - an epic marked by Bowie’s sublime vocals (building from a deep croon to a throaty, histrionic shriek), a glorious whirlwind of tampered-with guitars, Eno wizardry, and equivocal lyrics - at once both optimistic and cynical.
In many ways Heroes
is similar to it’s older brother. It follows the same pattern of placing the lyrical tracks on side 1 and the instrumentals on the latter half, apart from the misplaced false exotica of the eastern-tinged ‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’ - a track which would come to make sense with the hindsight of Lodger
in 1979. Both lyrically and musically the album sounds familiar to Low
- Eno’s endless tampering with electronics returns, as does Bowie’s expressionistic, non-linear lyrics.
But crucially, Heroes
manages to mark itself out as an individual album, and an experience that works just as strongly alone as it does alongside its partner albums. The songs are less fractured and cold than last time, with numbers like the exhilarating opener (‘Beauty And The Beast’) boasting a fuller sound. Gurgling electronics and a cosmopolitan mix of sounds make for a shockingly invigorating experience when compared to the frenetic splinters of noise that Low
offered. Particular highlights on side one include the glorious ‘Joe The Lion’, the dizzy fairground-waltz of ‘Sons Of The Silent Age’, and the progressive, krautrock influenced ‘V-2 Schneider’.
The instrumental half is also markedly different to Low
. The barren, alien landscapes are replaced by a less compelling, but more diverse collection of ambient pieces; taking in the delights of the serene ‘Moss Garden’, the screaming sax ending to the gloomy Neukoln, and the tide-like wash of synth that undercuts the ominous piano on ‘Sense Of Doubt’. They all work splendidly; each track’s sound paints a vivid sonic picture of the song title.
, for all it’s differences, is essentially more of the same and that’s precisely why it shapes up as a fantastic record. It presents a slightly more optimistic and refreshing slant on Low
’s formula for those who couldn’t stomach its icy, fractured melodies, whilst still sounding similar enough to its predecessor to be hailed as the natural successor to what Low
blueprinted. It may not gather as much credit as Low
, simply because that album came first, but over the years it’s received the mass of critical acclaim it ultimately deserves. And rightly so, as Heroes
is just as thrilling and essential as Low
, managing to shake things up just enough to separate itself from its similarly outstanding older brother, resulting in yet another glistening highlight in Bowie’s extensive catalogue of genius.