Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Low by Hugo Wilcken (33 1/3, continuum)

After the shock of his death subsided, Low was the only Bowie album I listened to. It felt like a good place to go—a mysterious, elusive album with no big hits on it. I didn't feel nostalgic about it. Emotional resonance was minimal. The whole album slips past you, surreal, the production and atmosphere taking you out of place and time. It's clearly brilliant, and invites repeat listens while still keeping you at a cool distance. It was recorded in France and Germany in 1976, but Bowie, still shaking off his role in The Man Who Fell to Earth, may as well have beamed it from a planet light years away.

This book does a good job getting into Bowie's headspace at the time, drawing from secondary sources to trace his post-Station to Station career in tandem with the origin and development of the music that became Low. It was indeed a low time for Bowie—addled by cocaine psychosis and occult obsessed, his marriage was dissolving and his ability to trust even his closest collaborators often faltered. Yet the work never stopped. With the help of Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, and keeping vampiric hours, he channelled bursts of inspiration to form Low's split personality—the alien pop songs on side one and the nearly all instrumental side two.

As Eno puts it: "He was pretty much living at the edge of his nervous system, very tense. But as often happens, that translated into a sense of complete abandon in the work. One of the things that happens when you're going through traumatic life situations is your work becomes one of the only places where you can escape and take control. I think it's in that sense that 'tortured' souls sometimes produce great work."

No comments: