Uncut JANUARY 2003 - by Ian MacDonald


Lodger by David Bowie

Label RCA BOW LP 1
Produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti
Released May 1979

Musicians David Bowie (keyboards, synthesizer, guitar, vocals), Dennis Davis (drums, percussion, bass), George Murray (bass), Tony Visconti (guitar, mandolin, bass, backing vocals), Simon House (violin, mandolin), Adrian Belew (guitar, mandolin), Sean Mayes (piano), Brian Eno (synthesizer, keyboards, guitar treatments), Carlos Alomar (guitar, drums), Roger Powell (synthesizer)

Tracks Fantastic Voyage / African Night Flight / Move On / Yassassin / Red Sails / D.J. / Look Back In Anger / Boys Keep Swinging / Repetition / Red Money

In the so-called 'Berlin Trilogy', Lodger is always thought of as an anticlimax after Low and "Heroes". Eno, who collaborated with Bowie on the album as he did on those two previous LPs, later confided he and Bowie had argued quite a lot about what was going to happen on particular tracks. It started off, he said, extremely promising and revolutionary but it didn't seem to quite end that way.

Certainly Lodger was made under less than ideal conditions. Recorded in two tranches - the first in Switzerland in 1978 during time off from Bowie's world tour, the second in New York early in 1979 - the album was, according to several participants, eventually released in order to get some new product onto the market. Despite the conspiracy of circumstances, however, Lodger has more going for it than was allowed on release.

With its theme of travel and discovery, the first side of Lodger reflects its author's most abiding concern: personal transformation. Bowie deliberately sought circumstances which would bring changes to his personality, adding a deeper cut to his character. This, though, was more than a device to keep his career fresh. The roots of Bowie's anxiety to push himself in order to bring about inner changes go back to his teenage interest in Buddhism. It was a passing fancy, but the underlying impulse - to quest for higher awareness - endured. The lifelong theme of Bowie's work is quality of consciousness. His obsession with revitalisation is founded on this motif: the need to stay fresh in order to catch what others miss and fashion it into an art of incessant provocation. The wrong words make you listen, he sings on Lodger's opening track, Fantastic Voyage. He is concerned above all to provoke unhackneyed reactions in his listeners.

Eno's main concern lies in outflanking the habits of his mind by using techniques designed to redirect creative flow. Bowie has used a similar technique ever since Diamond Dogs, employing the 'cut-up' method invented by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Eno's methods were distilled in a pack of cards called 'Oblique Strategies', each showing a message, such as, Honour your error as a hidden intention, or Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do. These cards were used extensively by Bowie and Eno when making albums together.

Lodger was recorded in Montreux, though Bowie was still living in Berlin. Working titles included Planned Accidents and Despite Straight Lines, reflecting Eno's objective experimentalism. Bowie was interested in the effects these experiments had on the mind as in the way they characterised the design of the material. Adding the vocals in New York after the main work had been done, he put his own swerve on the music, reflecting his life at the time which, as usual, was driven by an underlying project to acquire more awareness.

Because of the deliberately disruptive work methods inherent in Lodger, it's often difficult to say what a given track is about. Thoughts criss-cross and collide, creating foreign contexts for familiar artefacts and vice-versa. Often Bowie himself couldn't say precisely what he meant. For example, the Neu-influenced Red Sails, with its quasi-Japanese melody, may have come from Eno pointing randomly at chords written on a board as the band played. Bowie recalled: Here we took a German new music feel and put it against the idea of a contemporary English mercenary-cum-swashbuckling Errol Flynn, and put him in the China Sea. I honestly don't know what it's about.

African Night Flight sprang from a holiday in Kenya during which Bowie visited Mombasa and met a community of ex-Luftwaffe fighter pilots, permanently plastered and always talking about when they are going to leave. It includes the lines, Lust for the free life/Quashed and maimed/Like a valuable loved on /Left unnamed. This may reflect back to Fantastic Voyage and its exhortation to remember it's true, dignity is valuable / But our lives are valuable too - an apparent counsel to someone trapped in their mind, unable to advance or grow. This, in turn, may link with the final track, Red Money, a rewrite of Sister Midnight from Iggy Pop's The Idiot, wherein the subject appears to reach a crisis point in which his or her identity is overthrown by a climactic experience. Such responsibility/It's up to you and me, Bowie concludes, again apparently referring to the album's enigmatic companion figure.

A further cross-reference to this figure and its consciousness problem figures on Red Sails: Do you remember we another person / Green and black and red and so scared. This shadowy companion again appears on the chorus of All The Young Dudes run backwards. It's possible that a further cross-reference to the experience expressed in Red Money crops up in D.J.: One more weekend/Of lights and evening faces/Fast food living nostalgia/Humble pie or bitter fruit. This in turn links to Look Back In Anger: Look back in anger/Driven by the night/Till you come.

Musical cross-references occur also. Boys Keep Swinging uses a chord sequence which is replicated in Fantastic Voyage. The cut-up technique used in the lyrics was also applied to the music via the faders on the mixing board. Often Bowie and Eno would record a part and leave only a click-track and a chord sequence for the other to add another part to. Adrian Belew's guitar solos were cut up by jump-fading between alternative tracks, often creating lines impossible to play in an ordinary way.

Lodger is an engrossing document, especially notable for its synth parts, which add character to the texture, often in abstract ways. Its voyaging, searching character is unique and, if it doesn't add up as a single listening experience, its parts are rarely without quality. It deserves a higher place in the Bowie canon than it's been allowed so far.