Circus FEBRUARY 28, 1977 - by Wesley Strick


These are the facts:

David Bowie's latest album, Low, is two-sided. Side One contains seven crypto disco tracks, no track shorter than 1:42 or longer than 3:36. Side Two contains four quasi-instrumental tracks, running between 3:25 and 6:17.

An RCA operative is wondering how the record will be marketed. He is guardedly optimistic because "it's so different".

Side one features Bowie's Station To Station band, minus Earl Slick. Low's guitarist is Ricky Gardner, formerly of Beggar's Opera. Roy Young, a veteran of Cliff Bennett's Rebel Rousers, plays piano. Dennis Davis plays drums and George Murray plays bass.

The RCA operative wonders if side one has a single somewhere but figures that side two will get instant FM airplay because "it's Bowie and it's interesting".

Side two opens with an instrumental piece called Warszawa. It's a collaboration between and Bowie and Brian Eno, ex-Roxy Musician. Side Two of Low bears a striking resemblance to Eno's solo output: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and Another Green World (Island).

Says the RCA operative: "It's avant-garde. It's ambitious. Frankly, I think it needs more work."

New Songs was recorded in France, at the Chateau d'Hérouville. The album was produced by Tony Visconti. His wife, Mary Hopkin (of Those Were The Days fame) contributes sporadic vocals. The tracks are Bowie arranged, except for Warszawa, which is arranged by Bowie and Eno.

Barbara DeWitt, Bowie's Public Relations Person, on Side One: "Fantastic. Strange, but very commercial. Very Bowie. He's very anxious to hear what everybody's going to have to say about it."

Side One opens with Speed of Life. Phased drums, voices, synthesizers - raucous futurism. Metallic chic. Alchemy with a transistor back-beat. Ziggy Krautrock.

"Bowie's been hanging around Berlin lately," says Barbara DeWitt. "He likes it there."

Breaking Glass, written with Dennis Davis and George Murray, is the second cut. Stolen phrases:

Such a wonderful person

Let me touch you

Brian Eno describes Side One as, "seven quite manic disco numbers, like Station To Station carried with gritted teeth. They're quite vigorous numbers, really, they're all really short and they've got very interesting shapes."

Track three, What In The World: Bowie's vocal - jejune and unadorned:

Wait until the crowd cries

The PR person: "It's a definite change for him, once more. It's not disco, for sure. You can dance to it, but it's not Young Americans, again."

Track four, the syncopated Sound And Vision, track five, the gurgling synthesizers of Always Crashing In The Same Car.

"When you say 'avant-garde'," the PR Person protests, "you fall into a category of no melodies, very bizarre-sounding stuff, and its not like that at all. Some of it is very pretty, some of it is very up..."

Immaterial piano on track five, discarnate Bowie:

I've lived all over the world

I've left every place

Be My Wife ...and Side One's final track, A New Career In A New Town.

"I think it might appeal to an even larger audience," the PR Person offers, "than any of his stuff has appealed to before."

According to them, David's been a long-time admirer and acquaintance of Brian Eno. In a recent interview with the UK's New Musical Express, Eno relates:

"He liked Another Green World, actually, and he said he was quite influenced by that... [Low] is quite a courageous album because side two is all these very slow quiet pieces that at first hearing sound a bit like soundtrack music."

In fact, a pair of tracks off Side Two were originally composed for Bowie's Man Who Fell To Earth soundtrack. Due to contractual entanglements, David's score was unusable. For New Songs: Night and Day, he remixed and embellished the tapes.

The subdued fever-beat of Warszawa bisects stereo separation like Stockhausen cum Ringo Starr. Melodious harmonica moans... chorale scored dissonant symphonic...

"There's a lot of instrumental and a tiny bit of singing," Eno says. "It's so isolated and so lovely that it comes as a very pleasant surprise and it's very well laid into the music so it doesn't have this narrative sense which is what claims your attention.

"Oh, and the other thing is, it's not words... it's phonetics. It's not lyrics, you see. But I don't know whether he wants people to think they're lyrics or not. He's just using very nice-sounding words that aren't actually in any language. And it works very well."

The droll-titled tracks Art Decade and Weeping Wall: "Some of this music sounds like Italian movies," comments the RCA operative. His ears twitch as a bank of synthesizer strings shimmer in and out of the rough mix. "...or chamber music for the masses," he adds.

Subterraneans the closing track ...solemn monophonic synthesis underneath an erotic saxophone pulsing with heart. "Religious," sighs the man from RCA.

How do you sell an album like Low? Mutant disco? Auditory cinema? Polytones for the toes? Another fluke from the thin white duke?

Naive question. "Bowie albums sell themselves," says the man from RCA.

"How do you sell any Bowie album?" laughs the PR Person. "It's David that really does the selling. And I'm sure he has something up his sleeve as to what he wants to do."

A Low tour maybe?

"There are no plans at the moment for David to go on tour. That doesn't mean he's not going on tour. We just haven't started working on anything yet."

Provocative. And wonderful, the way this dissolute dynamo unfalteringly pursues his muse. Sometimes in absentia. For, as Eno explains: there were two days when David had to go to Paris to attend this court case or something like that and the studio was still booked and it was still there so I said, 'Well how about if I get on? I'll carry on working and I'll do some things and if you like them, we'll use them'. As it happened, I did a couple of things that I thought were very, very nice and he liked a lot. David came in and put all the voices on it in about twenty minutes... that was a perfect collaboration, you know."

Eno calls Bowie's studio method "impulsive," and adds, "he works like crazy for about two hours or sometimes three-quarters of an hour and then he takes the rest of the day off. And in that time, he does an incredible amount, very quickly and faultlessly."

"Bowie usually does his final mix," chuckles the RCA operative, "after the first ten thousand albums are shipped. He's never satisfied."

David's latest production triumph, meantime, is Iggy Pop's much-anticipated comeback LP, The Idiot (RCA).

Warns Bowie's (ditto Iggy's) PR Person: "An Iggy tour will coincide with the release of the album. Iggy is in great shape, he's not the drug-crazed lunatic of yore. Iggy is very together."

Together? Iggy?

"Well, he's still got mischief forever. And it's a great album. David plays saxophone on it. Everybody's gonna find out where all the punk bands that are making it did their homework. I mean, Iggy's so far ahead of everybody..."

Well, everybody's got a fave-rave construct of Iggy imagery. Rotten eggs, broken bottles, Skippy peanut butter...

"When the punk bands sit down and listen to The Idiot," predicts the PR Person, "they're all gonna stop and say... WOW!"

These are the facts - now fill in the fancy.