David Bowie - Low (1977) (1 Viewer)

travispickle

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oh man, where to start with this.

I've loved listening to this over the past week. I'd say I'm easily on my 10th listen since last friday and the album sounds better on every listen. Its not a new album to me, but I never gave it the attention I've tried to give it in the past week.

And though great, its been utterly frustrating.

I found it hard to get my head around this album when I sat down to think about it. There are great albums that are great because they have great songs, they have a flow, a well thought out running order, and/or, as my English teacher used to say, a beginning, a middle, and an end.

There are albums that have great songs but are not, in my opinion, amazing (though still great) albums, because they can be hard to listen to. I'm sure we all have albums we love but which we struggle to get through in a single sitting. I'd include 'Have One on Me' by Joanna Newsom in this bracket, or the first Lady Lamb album.

Then there are albums who's songs might be grand, but when put together with other songs, make for a great album (better than the sum of its parts, kinda thing).

I think what I'm trying to say here, rather clumsily, is that there's a kind of formula to what makes a great album.

Then we have Low. If someone gave me this album and said it was a collection of out-takes, or B-sides, or EPs thrown together, I'd have well believed it. Its not a difficult listen, per se, but you do tend to sit up once in a while and think to yourself, 'wait, whats going on here', or, 'where the hell did this bit come from.'

It doesn't have a very seamless flow at all. The first half of the album reminded me a bit of 'Preview', the last track on the end of 'Theres Nothing Wrong With Love' by Built To Spill. This thing;


Its basically a 2-minute joke preview of a fictional upcoming album. They play 3 or 4 second snippets of fictional songs. And thats what the first half of Low is to me (though not with fictional songs). Its like Bowie had a tape with some ideas of songs he was working on, to bounce off someone, then thought, fuck it, just release it.

I tried listening to the album in its own right, without context. But that was impossible. I had to listen around it, read some of the background, just to find out what the hell was going on at the time. So the 'ideas' thing apparently was true. These songs were never originally intended to be released the way they were. And that makes a lot of sense.

Someone (@Lili Marlene, probably), mentioned that the origins of a lot of Britpop are in this album. And that is very evident. And, as @GO said, once you've listened to this album a few times, you start hearing it everywhere, in songs by almost everybody else.

I was out cycling last saturday and a Bluetones song came on. I recognised a riff from Speed of Life. I remember when the first Franz Ferdinand album came out, everyone raving about it saying it was very like Gang of Four. Me hole, it was basically Low by Bowie.

And then theres Low, the band, who don't really sound much like this album (except maybe the chanting bit at the end of Warszaea) but who took their name from it.

I could imagine Always Crashing being done by Pulp, or Be My Wife being done by Blur, or even Madness.

Even the instrumental before the trippy stuff starts, A New Career, reminds me of the Housemartins, who I'd have thought would be a million miles away from Bowie, but there ya go.

I always thought Warszawa and Art Decade were the same song. They could be the same song, or different movements in the same song. I love this stuff. Generally I like the second half of the album better than the first. Weeping Wall sounds a bit like the Saucerful of Secrets Floyd era. And, as has been mentioned, Subterraneans is clearly from some movie that Bowie had going on in his head, but which never got made.

And Sound and Vision - what a fucking song. It sounds amazing in headphones. Its my new favourite Bowie song.

It would all make you wonder what was going on in Bowie's head at the time. Or what drugs he was doing to make all this stuff spew out of him the way it did. And I'd love to know more about who did what on this album. A lot of Eno's influence is obvious, but I'd love to know more about the dynamic between them.

Since I first heard this album 10 or so years ago I've always said it was my favourite Bowie album. Now I realise I didn't really do it justice in that I didn't listen to it nearly enough. I'm glad I did now.

Oh and I'm just imagining if this album came out today and was given to some newspaper reviewer to have a review ready by tomorrow. My absolute arse. I've spent a week with this and I'm still baffled. And to those who were claiming that a week is too long between albums on Thumped album club, I reckon we nearly needed a month with this one .

Overall its been a lot less contentious than the Smiths album, and thats reflected in the absence of any disagreement or argument in this thread. As it should be in the case of this wonderful album.
Brilliant post Scutter.
I agree with your earlier post about not knowing how to articulate how I feel about this record. I know this album very very well, but I have struggled too with trying to critique it for the album club, which I haven't.
But your post here speaks for me too, and I've thoroughly enjoyed reading other people's views on it (and re-evaluated my own views on it too) - some who have never heard it before (lucky bastards), some who have but don't know it that well, others, like me, who know it well but somehow hear it differently now through others' views on it.
I've returned to it a lot over the past week and still feel it's a superb album, which does indeed get better with each listen. And I've been listening to it since I was about 13.
I hope the Album Club continues in this vein; the discussion has been terrific, as has the extra information/videos etc, that posters have stuck up, which have added to my knowledge and enjoyment of this record.
it's wonderful to hear exciting new (or old) music that we haven't had much exposure to before - I'm hoping that I will land on an album that will excite/baffle me as much as Low seems to have done on most posters so far.
I'm looking forward to the next one!!!
 

MacDara

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I could imagine Always Crashing being done by Pulp, or Be My Wife being done by Blur, or even Madness.
I was thinking the same thing: Blur's 'For Tomorrow' sounds very much 'inspired' by 'Be My Wife'. (And I can't stand Blur, which probably informs my reaction to that song.)
 

travispickle

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I was thinking the same thing: Blur's 'For Tomorrow' sounds very much 'inspired' by 'Be My Wife'. (And I can't stand Blur, which probably informs my reaction to that song.)
Yep I always felt Albarn's vocal style was heavily influenced by Bowie, and musically too, I hear a lot of Bowie's very early stuff in Blur's music.
 

travispickle

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I'm gonna hang out in hipster bars all weekend so I can wow the fuck out of everyone with all my Low knowledge (still fresh in the head)

I'm fucked if anyone asks me about any other album though
If anyone asks just say, "everyone knows there IS no other David Bowie album".
Incidentally, I've got a copy of this going spare if anyone wants it.
 

Lili Marlene

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Even though i've been meaning to listen to this album for going on 20 years now I just never got round to it till after Bowie died. Sorry Bowie : (

As others have been saying, I hear a lot of Britpop in this. As a movement/moment it's been unfairly remembered as the time everyone turned into Austin Powers and tried to remake Sgt. Pepper. In fact I think if you go back to it you'll see most bands (aside from Oasis obvsly) consistently giving huge props to this album. I have a vague memory of an interview with Donna Matthews from Elastica on 2TV or something where she was in front of in front of a huge poster of the album cover and was looking exactly like him in it, orange hair and fringe and all.

Looking at it in that way it's interesting to view all the tracks (on side 1 anyway) as part of this treasure chest of ideas that people have been nicking from for 30 years, taking elements of it and then turn them into "proper" songs. The Manics (not britpop I know) actually took Sound and Vision and showed how it could be turned into a "proper" sound rock song. I'd love to see if this could be done with every track on the first half of the album.

But, yeah, that'd be missing the point wouldn't it? The manics track is great and all but by polishing off the musical edges of the Bowie track it completely loses the very thing that makes the Bowie song great. It says a lot that despite the manics song being easier on the ear and more immediate and familiar sounding, it's the Bowie song that's considered a pop classic now. Great quote from Paul Weller, of all people, on it:

"I fucking love Low. I remember being in Dingwalls, it must have been about '76 or whenever, and I was with Joe Strummer and 'Sound And Vision' come on. We were like: 'Fucking hell!' Just to hear that drum sound. We'd never heard anything like that before."

So... eh, my point to all of that is that there must be a lot more going on here than just an album of demos for other people to rifle through and turn into proper songs. It must have something else going on here that people keep returning to it.

My question is, was this deliberate? Do you think he heard all the songs they could have been and said "no, leave it" or is the whole thing just a beautiful mess that we're lucky turned out like this? People love to blame drugs for whatever they can't understand, and I get the impression he was still mad for the drugs in this era, but I reckon it's like what @ann post was saying earlier about it being an album "about creativity". The beautiful mess is the product. He's trying to communicate something beyond well written, witty songs, even if he (and I) can't fully express it. It's not the drugs that make it weird, it's you. Listening to side 1 this week i've come to see it as a big of a magic-eye (ear?) picture of an album. When I actually listen to a specific song straight on it makes no sense, and even seems a bit weak, but when I just let it wash over me and listen (look?) at it sidelong I can hear all these amazing ideas swirling around, popping in and out but without ever coming to the fore. I love all the mad honky tonk piano bits, the harmonica, all of that! Who in the mainstream would do that now? Nowadays creativity is all well and good if we can sell it as an idea but we've got synergies to think of.

Side 2 I'm a little more iffy on and have a lot less to say about. I wish they had thrown a little bit more vocals on it. Long experimental tracks are fairly par for the course for any "serious" band, especially in the 70's, so there's no real surprise there. I spent the week going through some of Eno's stuff before this, most of which I was unfamiliar with, and it's a lot easier to draw a line straight to here. You could easily trace it back to I Hear a New World by Joe Meek and then further again into various avant garde classical pieces in the 20th century that I personally haven't a clue about. Having said that, it's all enjoyable enough, I won't be turning it off, I just think side 1 is so out there that it comes across as a little dull by comparison.


Anyway, 10/10, how could I give it anything else?
 

HMD

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Here's my take on it.

Speed of Light - It’s so happy you have to smile listening to it and i really like the farting bass.

Breaking Glass - This is the first one i feel get’s cut short which is annoying, also reminds me of Frans Ferdinand.

What in the World - the 8bit synth is great but the lyrics sound a bit rapey

Sound & Vision - Great song for the 3 minutes it plays but it’s cut off before it get’s going. Is there a 12” version the fulfils the true potential of the song?

Always in the same car - Grand

Be My Wife - Didn’t Blur rip this off

A new Career in a New Town - Nice synthy bits but it’s incidental music in a movie

Warsaw - i really like this but it doesn’t feel like it belongs on this album

Art Decade - Nice atmospheric synth messing that i’d say they recorded in 15 mins while waiting on the dinner to be delivered.

Weeping Well - Another bit of messing that i don’t mind too much but it’s not a song i’d come back to.

Subterraneans - this one is hard work. I hate sax especially sleazy sax.

Over all this album certainly is as others pointed out an album of two halves. It feels like a sound track and the songs were recorded to fit into their bit in the film. I'm glad i spent the time to fully listen to it a few times and decide that i won't be rushing to listen to it again for a while.
 

travispickle

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Sound & Vision - Great song for the 3 minutes it plays but it’s cut off before it get’s going. Is there a 12” version the fulfils the true potential of the song?
Don't know about a 12" but there is this 808 State remix-
 

ann post

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.."My absolute arse"...

That is poetry

Its an incredible album..I'm gonna listen to it again now..even though I don't have to!
Last friday I was back home, put it on the posh speakers (remember that amp you freecycled to me?) and had it on repeat. No idea how many times, still fun.
 

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