Low (David Bowie album)

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Low
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 14 January 1977 (1977-01-14)
Recorded 1976 at Château d'Hérouville, Hérouville, France, and Hansa Studio by the Wall, West Berlin
Genre Art rock, experimental rock, krautrock, electronic, ambient
Length 38:48
Label RCA
Producer David Bowie, Tony Visconti
David Bowie chronology
Station to Station
(1976)
Low
(1977)
"Heroes"
(1977)
Singles from Low
  1. "Sound and Vision" b/w "A New Career in a New Town"
    Released: 11 February 1977
  2. "Be My Wife" b/w "Speed of Life"
    Released: June 1977

Low is the eleventh studio album by British musician David Bowie, co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti.[1] Widely regarded as one of Bowie's most influential releases, Low was the first of the "Berlin Trilogy", a series of collaborations with Brian Eno (though the album was mainly recorded in France and only mixed in West Berlin). The experimental, avant-garde style would be further explored on Heroes and Lodger. The album's working title was New Music Night and Day.[2]

Background[edit]

The genesis of Low lies in both the foundations laid by Bowie's previous album Station to Station, and music he intended for the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth. When Bowie presented his material for the film to Nicolas Roeg, the director decided that it would not be suitable. Roeg preferred a more folksy sound, although John Phillips (the chosen composer for the soundtrack) described Bowie's contributions as "haunting and beautiful".[3] Elements from these pieces were incorporated into Low instead. The album's cover, like Station to Station, is a still from the movie: the photographic image, under the album's title, formed a deliberate pun on the phrase "low profile".[4]

Music[edit]

The album was co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, with contributions from Brian Eno.[1] As a recovering cocaine addict, Bowie's songwriting on Low tended to deal with difficult issues: "There's oodles of pain in the Low album. That was my first attempt to kick cocaine, so that was an awful lot of pain. And I moved to Berlin to do it. I moved out of the coke center of the world [i.e., Los Angeles, where Station to Station was recorded] into the smack center of the world. Thankfully, I didn't have a feeling for smack, so it wasn't a threat."[5] Visconti contended that the title was partly a reference to Bowie's "low" moods during the album's writing and recording.[6]

Side one of the album contained short, direct song-fragments; side two comprised longer, mostly instrumental tracks. On these tracks help was lent by ex-Roxy Music keyboardist and conceptualist Brian Eno, who brought along his EMS 'suitcase' AKS synthesiser (Bowie was later given this particular synthesiser as a birthday present after a friend obtained it in an auction).[7] Often incorrectly given credit as Low's producer,[8] Eno was responsible for a good deal of the direction and composition of the second side of the album and wrote the theme and instrumentation for "Warszawa" while Bowie was in Paris attending court hearings against his former manager. Eno in turn was helped by producer Tony Visconti's four-year-old son who sat next to Eno playing A, B, C in a constant loop at the studio piano. This phrase became the "Warszawa" theme. On Bowie's return Eno played him the work which impressed Bowie who then composed the vaguely Eastern European-sounding lyrics.[9]

Although the music was influenced by German bands such as Kraftwerk and Neu!,[2][8] Low has been acclaimed for its originality and is considered ahead of its time, not least for its cavernous treated drum sound created by producer Visconti using an Eventide Harmonizer.[4][10] On the release of Low, Visconti received phone calls from other producers asking how he had made this unique sound, but would not give up the information, instead asking each producer how they thought it had been done.[10]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[11]
BBC Online (favourable)[12]
Robert Christgau B+[13]
The New York Times (favourable)[14]
Q 5/5 stars[15]
Rolling Stone (mixed) 1977[16]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars 2001[17]
Spin (9/10)[18]
Stylus Magazine (favourable)[19]
Virgin Encyclopedia 4/5 stars[20]

Critical reaction to Low was divided among music critics upon its release. In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ rating,[13] indicating "a good record, at least one of whose sides can be played with lasting interest and the other of which includes at least one enjoyable cut".[21] Christgau viewed "side one's seven "fragments"... almost as powerful as the 'overlong' tracks on Station to Station", but noted "the movie music on side two" as "so far from hypnotic" and characterised by "banality".[13] Rolling Stone writer John Milward noted that "Bowie lacks the self-assured humour to pull off his avant-garde aspirations" and found the album's second side weaker than its first, stating "Side one, where Bowie works within more conventional rock trappings, is superior to side two's experiments simply because a band forces discipline into Bowie's writing and performance".[16] Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn shared a similar sentiment and stated "For 12 minutes, this is Bowie's most striking and satisfying album since Ziggy. But the remaining 26 minutes, including all of Side 2, deal with a spacy art rock style that is simply beyond mass pop sensibilities for it to build much enthusiasm".[22]

In contrast, Billboard called the album's second side "the most adventurous and a stark contrast to the few distorted hard rock cuts on side one" and wrote that Low "emphasizes Bowie's serious writing efforts which only time can tell will appeal to the people who have watched him go through various musical phases".[23] John Rockwell of The New York Times wrote that "There are hardly any vocals, and what there are mostly mindless doggerel heard from afar. And the instrumentals are strange and spacey. Nevertheless, the whole thing strikes this listener as remarkably, alluringly beautiful".[14] Rockwell described its sound as "a strange crossbreed of Roxy Music, Eno's own solo albums, Talking Heads and an Indonesian gamelan. Yet it still is recognizably a David Bowie album", and concluded that "once Mr. Bowie's fans overcome their initial shock at his latest change in direction, they may realize that he's made one of the finest disks of his career".[14] The album was a commercial success, peaking at number two on the UK Albums Chart and number 11 on the US Billboard Pop Albums chart. "Sound and Vision" and "Be My Wife" were released as singles; the former reached number three on the UK Singles Chart.

Low has risen to the top of many critics' "best album" lists. It was rated the No. 1 album of the 1970s by Pitchfork Media.[24] In 2000 Q placed it at number 14 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.[25] In 2003, the album was ranked number 249 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[26] In a retrospective review, The Rolling Stone Album Guide gives Low a 5 out of 5 star rating and states "it's the music of an overstimulated mind in an exhausted body [...] sashays through some serious emotional wreckage".[27]

Adaptations[edit]

Nick Lowe humorously "retaliated" against the name of the album by naming his 1977 EP Bowi. Before finally adopting the name Joy Division, the band played under the name of Warsaw as reference to the song "Warszawa" on Low.[28] Philip Glass based his 1992 classical composition Low Symphony on Low, with Bowie and Eno both influencing the work.[29]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by David Bowie; all music composed by David Bowie except where noted.

Side one
  1. "Speed of Life" – 2:46
  2. "Breaking Glass" (Bowie, Dennis Davis, George Murray) – 1:52
  3. "What in the World" – 2:23
  4. "Sound and Vision" – 3:05
  5. "Always Crashing in the Same Car" – 3:33
  6. "Be My Wife" – 2:58
  7. "A New Career in a New Town" – 2:53
Side two
  1. "Warszawa" (Bowie, Brian Eno) – 6:23
  2. "Art Decade" – 3:46
  3. "Weeping Wall" – 3:28
  4. "Subterraneans" – 5:39

Reissues[edit]

The album has been released three times on CD, the first between 1984 and 1985 by RCA Records, the second in 1991 by Rykodisc (with three bonus tracks on silver CD and later on AU20 Gold CD), and the third in 1999 by EMI (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks).

The Rykodisc edition of this album was released in the United Kingdom on CD, Cassette and LP in 1991 by EMI Records. The three bonus tracks were added to the end of side two of the LP and cassette editions so not to spoil the original running order.

CD: Rykodisc / RCD 10142 (US)[edit]

  1. "Some Are" (previously unreleased) – 3:24
  2. "All Saints" (previously unreleased) – 3:25
  3. "Sound and Vision" (1991 remix by David Richards) – 4:43
  • also released by EMI in the UK (CDP 79 7719 2)

Personnel[edit]

Additional personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b James E. Perone. The words and music of David Bowie. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. p. 60. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: pp.87–90
  3. ^ Hugo Wilcken (2005). Low: pp.16–22
  4. ^ a b David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp.299–315
  5. ^ Scott Cohen. "David Bowie", Details magazine, September 1991: p.97
  6. ^ BowieGoldenYears. Retrieved 12 June 2007.
  7. ^ Hugo Wilcken (2005). Low: pp.59–69
  8. ^ a b Nicholas Pegg (2000). The Complete David Bowie: pp.302–306
  9. ^ Hugo Wilcken (2005). Low: pp.113–118
  10. ^ a b Hugo Wilcken (2005). Low: pp.69–73
  11. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (1 November 2001). Review: Low. Allmusic. Retrieved on 9 October 2010.
  12. ^ Goldring, Susie (18 April 2007). Review: Low. BBC Online. Retrieved on 9 October 2010.
  13. ^ a b c Christgau, Robert (14 February 1977). "Consumer Guide: Low". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 9 October 2010.
  14. ^ a b c Rockwell, John (14 January 1977). Review: Low. The New York Times. Retrieved on 9 October 2010.
  15. ^ Columnist (1999). "Review: Low". Q: 108.
  16. ^ a b Milward, John (21 April 1977). Review: Low. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 9 October 2010.
  17. ^ Sheffield, Rob (5 November 2001). Review: Low. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 9 October 2010.
  18. ^ Marks, Craig (10 October 1995). "Review: Low". Spin.
  19. ^ Mathers, Ian (25 May 2004). Review: Low. Stylus Magazine. Retrieved on 9 October 2010.
  20. ^ Larkin, Colin (1 March 2002). "Review: Low". Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music: 303–304.
  21. ^ Christgau, Robert. Consumer Guide: Grades 1969–89. Robert Christgau. Retrieved on 27 September 2010.
  22. ^ Hilburn, Robert (16 January 1977). Review: Low. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 9 October 2010.
  23. ^ Columnist (15 January 1977). "Review: Low". Billboard: 80.
  24. ^ "Pitchfork Feature: Top 100 Albums of the 1970s". Retrieved 3 February 2012. 
  25. ^ "Q – End of Year Lists". Retrieved 30 April 2007. 
  26. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 30 April 2007. 
  27. ^ R.S. (2 November 2004). "Review: Low". The Rolling Stone Album Guide: 97–98.
  28. ^ Curtis, Deborah (2007). Touching from a Distance. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0-571-23956-6. 
  29. ^ "Philip Glass: Music: "Low" Symphony". philipglass.com. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  30. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  31. ^ "David Bowie – Low – austriancharts.at" (ASP). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  32. ^ "Top Albums/CDs - Volume 27, No. 1" (PHP). RPM. 2 April 1977. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  33. ^ "dutchcharts.nl David Bowie – Low" (ASP). dutchcharts.nl. MegaCharts. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  34. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9. 
  35. ^ "charts.org.nz David Bowie – Low" (ASP). Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  36. ^ "norwegiancharts.com David Bowie – Low" (ASP). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  37. ^ "swedishcharts.com David Bowie – Low" (ASP). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  38. ^ "David Bowie > Artists > Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  39. ^ "allmusic ((( Low > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums )))". allmusic.com. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  40. ^ "Canadian album certifications – David Bowie – Low". Music Canada. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  41. ^ "British album certifications – David Bowie – Low". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 31 January 2014.  Enter Low in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Click Go