David Bowie
Outside


3.5
great

Review

by Major Tom CONTRIBUTOR (139 Reviews)
August 12th, 2011 | 17 replies


Release Date: 1995 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Death as art.

1. Outside is not only the most ambitious album David Bowie released in the nineties, but one of the most challenging and avant-garde projects of his entire career. Reuniting with Brian Eno, whose last collaboration with the chameleon was on Lodger back in 1979; plus the addition of a few other key figures from Bowie’s past (namely, Mike Garson on piano and Carlos Alomar on guitar) to his mid nineties roster signalled that something was up.

All that was needed was something to push these talented tradesmen to their limits; to craft an album that could proudly sit alongside Bowie’s seventies masterpieces. It was ultimately found with the idea of building Outside around a central theme and concept: death as art. The plan was to create a grim, textural landscape, evocative of a fictional Cluedo-esque town rife with knife-to-neck action. It was initially conceived to stretch over 3 hours on a triple disc mega-album, apparently to be continued on 4 more similarly conceptual records that would take Bowie up to the new millennium. The pieces of the jigsaw were certainly laid out, all the group needed to do was fit them together convincingly and we’d surely have a masterpiece on our hands. But things sadly didn’t go as planned.

The initial triple disc idea was scrapped in favour of a single disc format. Pressures from the label saw Bowie being forced to strip back the concept so it could be released on a single disc - albeit one that would still last for an epic 75 minuets. Despite the cut-backs, Outside is still far too long. Lasting for nearly as long as a feature-length movie, the album is clearly not an accessible or easy listen. Most consumers will likely find themselves losing attention or drifting-off towards the end, whilst even the most patient of listeners will eventually begin to highlight tracks that really could have been omitted. A simple fat-trim would’ve made Outside a much more streamlined (and consequently, more enjoyable) experience.

Another major complaint often levied against Outside is that the concept is far too complex and difficult to grasp. Upon the surface, such a complaint seems justified and legitimate as the 19 tracks are incredibly fractured and non-linear - darting between industrial rock, expansive ambient pieces and brief vocal segues, with the songs featuring the same cut-up lyrics technique utilised by Bowie 20 years earlier. The segues find Bowie’s voice heavily treated to sound like whichever character he is taking the form of - be that an old man (Algeria Touchshriek) or a 14 year old girl (Baby Grace) - adding to the confusion. But those who enter Outside’s intricate world looking for a narrative-driven concept are missing the point. The concept is impenetrable because there is no concept, per se. The 'concept' is the fragmented, incohesive mess which people complain about - the indecipherable lyrics and disjointed track-list is the narrative; the purposeful point of the album.

When one begins to grasp such a notion, Outside suddenly becomes all the more clever and intriguing. The point was not to have a cohesive narrative clearly explaining the gruesome crimes of ‘Oxford Town’, but rather let the dark, brooding textures do all the talking, so that when one comes out the other side - confused and unsure of what to think or feel due to the jumbled, disconcerting listen - Bowie and Eno had effectively achieved what they set out to do - craft an album that forces you to reach its end with a foggy, uncertain mind; much like you’d have if you were an inhabitant in the twisted fantasy world of Outside.

Confused? You’re not alone. Outside, despite its subtle, puzzle-like inclinations, ultimately cuts its own wrists in trying to be so damn smart - the complex, avant-garde presentation proves to be a double-edged sword in every way. In other words, it makes the album both stronger and weaker - its ambitious and challenging approach earns it credibility, but simultaneously holds it back from greatness because it’s all a bit too complicated and unsettling to gel together as a pleasant listen.

It isn’t without its highpoints though, as tracks such as ‘The Hearts Filthy Lesson’, ‘Outside’ and ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ have a real kick to them, with the former featuring a satisfying NIN-inspired electro-beats/distorted guitars melody, whilst the lattermost boasts a caustic, machine-gun like repetitive hook. The lengthy, semi-ambient pieces such as ‘A Small Plot Of Land’ and the brilliant ‘The Motel’ are just as thrilling; genuinely brooding, dark and atmospheric banks of noise.

Ultimately, Outside is too challenging for its own good - even those who grasp its ‘non-concept’ can’t argue against an overly long runtime and an inconsistent set of songs. Still, the album contains some of the most exciting and thrilling moments out of all Bowie’s nineties work, and it’s certainly the most ambitious album he attempted that decade. It’s not the masterpiece it should’ve been, then, but it’s still an impressive and oftentimes brilliant experience, that all Bowie fans should try at least once before they decide to throw its splintered, complex carcass on the rubbish heap with his other misguided efforts, because Outside, despite itself, is far from deserving such a treatment.



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user ratings (207)
Chart.
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
Rick van Veldhuizen (4)
A problematic experiment, an astounding experience....

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Comments:Add a Comment 
Tyrael
August 12th 2011


20885 Comments


Ugh, my last review pales in comparison to what you put out Tom... Pos.

Digging: Darkspace - Dark Space III I

Tom93M
Contributing Reviewer
August 12th 2011


1106 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Thanks a lot dude.

fsharptrit0ne
August 12th 2011


4814 Comments


It’s not the masterpiece it should’ve been, then, but it’s still an impressive and oftentimes brilliant experience, that all Bowie fans should try at least once before they decide to throw its splintered, complex carcass on the rubbish heap with his other misguided efforts, because Outside, despite itself, is far from deserving such a treatment.

Love that ending.

Tom93M
Contributing Reviewer
August 12th 2011


1106 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Cheers, dude. The carcass analogy was meant to link in with the album's death theme; glad you like it.

WhiteNoise
August 12th 2011


3169 Comments


Awesome review! I've been listening to pretty much nothing but bowie since you started posting these!

Album sounds ridiculous! I'll probably give it at least a listen once I get through the remaining of his "classic" albums.

omnipanzer
August 12th 2011


21581 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

double post

Digging: Jenny Lewis - The Voyager

omnipanzer
August 12th 2011


21581 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great read Tom, I'm really kind of excited to give this a try now.

Tom93M
Contributing Reviewer
August 12th 2011


1106 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Thanks guys. Interesting album this, but i'm not sure how people will react to it.

Acanthus
August 12th 2011


9543 Comments


Death as a conceptual stepping stone.... I do wish I liked more than a few tracks by Mr. Bowie.

Digging: Falls of Rauros - The Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood

NocteDominum
Contributing Reviewer
August 12th 2011


7047 Comments


So what's next after the Bowie reviews? Just out of curiosity...

Meatplow
August 12th 2011


5524 Comments


I have no idea how you can write this much about the same artists and keep things sounding fresh

great work

AggravatedYeti
August 12th 2011


7685 Comments


Really enjoyed this review. As if I have to say anymore : )

Tom93M
Contributing Reviewer
August 12th 2011


1106 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Thanks a lot to everyone who dropped a nice comment - appreciate it guys. As for what i'll do next; who knows? Nothing planned as yet...

AggravatedYeti
August 12th 2011


7685 Comments


tackle the big Joy Division and New Order releases?

WhiteNoise
August 13th 2011


3169 Comments


Ooh Joy Division would be interesting!

JohnP
June 8th 2012


15 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

The concept is not hard to grasp; it's just rather silly. Why didn't someone stop him in the studio and say, no, David, no. Too far!

Plus points - Heart's Filthy Lesson, I'm Deranged, No Control, and We Prick You. Really wonderful music.
Minus ponts - most of the rest; daft nonsense from folk who should have known better.
If you want a great Bowie concept album; go back to 74's Diamond Dogs.

PreConvictions
June 13th 2013


14 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I actually really enjoy this album. I do agree with you though- the album is a little too long. I can listen to the whole thing while I'm doing something else, but when I'm on the bus I skip the monologues and just listen to the songs. Maybe 'cause I like experimental metal I'm more open to this album. Some people will scream about how I'm wrong and how most of the music is shit, but it's best to ignore them and enjoy what you enjoy. Oh, and my favourite songs are The Heart's Filthy Lesson, Outside, I Have Not Been To Oxford Town and We Prick You.



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