Review Summary: We’re going to sail to the hinterland.Lodger
is one of the most tragically underrated and overlooked albums in Bowie’s catalogue. It’s difficult to comprehend exactly why, because it’s both the ending chapter of the groundbreaking Berlin trilogy and Bowie’s last album of the seventies - a decade which earned him a reputation as an endlessly innovative musical chameleon.
Perhaps why it tends to get overlooked lies in the fact that Lodger
sits in the unenviable position of being sandwiched between two arguably superior albums (Heroes
and Scary Monsters
); or the fact that it doesn’t feature any hits as brashly anthemic or grand as ‘Heroes’. Whatever the case it’s a damn shame, because Lodger
is a superb album and a real grower - unfolding and improving over time, rewarding those who pay careful attention to its 10 tracks with a rich and intriguing experience.
On the face of it, Lodger
appears a more commercial outing than its Berlin predecessors. Gone are the expressionistic, non-linear lyrics, finding themselves replaced by a tenuous return to narrative. The one half vocal, one half instrumental concept is also ditched in favour of a set comprised entirely of vocal tracks, although to call Lodger
a traditional rock album would be to vastly undersell the avant-garde experimentation deployed in studio. Despite its seemingly user-friendly appearance (in comparison with its icy, fractured brethren), Lodger
is still most definitely an experimental album.
Bowie and Eno took just as many risks on Lodger
as they did on Low
. Alongside Bowie’s revealing future remark that a mistake made three times becomes an arrangement; tales of musicians being told to play accidentally (i.e. without the guidance of a backing track or vocals), and Bowie’s instructions for each band member to swap instruments during certain tracks made it clear that neither he nor Eno were content with making a conventional album.
Overall, the odd composition methods proved to be nothing less than successful. The track list is consistent and dense, featuring the most cosmopolitan and intercontinental mix of sounds Bowie ever achieved. Whether it’s the demented Swahili chanting and menacing piano of ‘African Night Flight’, or the exotic, avant-garde sway of ‘Yassassin’; Lodger
shapes up as a diverse and rich album - like a tantalising sonic postcard detailing a travel round a world of musical diversity.
Its melodies and obscure arrangements are subtle and clever - perhaps an explanation as to why the album doesn’t grab as quickly, or seem as instantly satisfying as the other Berlin albums. But if one takes enough time to delve into its bizarre mix of sounds, the ultimate reward is more than worth the effort. Highlights include the exhilarating chorus of ‘Fantastic Voyage’, the funky bass of ‘D.J.’, the gender-blurring, avant-pop of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, and the gem of all gems, ‘Look Back In Anger’- a rollicking wash of frenetic percussion and wailing background guitars make for an overlooked classic.
It might not be as groundbreaking as Low
, nor is as instantly gratifying - its relentless oddness easily overwhelming for fans of cut and dried rock music - but for those who invest the appropriate amount of time into Lodger
, they’ll find an incredibly enjoyable album on their hands. What’s more, Lodger
goes to great lengths to demonstrate just how brave and challenging Bowie was as an artist who could’ve easily rested on the success of Heroes
, and merely churned out more of the same. But the point is he didn’t. He took a step forward and tried something new, so if nothing else convinces you to give Lodger
a chance than perhaps the presence of Bowie’s undeniable ambition and credibility will.