Outside (David Bowie album)

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Studio album by
Released25 September 1995 (1995-09-25)
RecordedMarch 1994 – February 1995
David Bowie chronology
BBC Sessions 1969–1972 (Sampler)
David Bowie studio albums chronology
Black Tie White Noise
Singles from Outside
  1. "The Hearts Filthy Lesson"
    Released: 11 September 1995
  2. "Strangers When We Meet"
    Released: 20 November 1995
  3. "Hallo Spaceboy"
    Released: 19 February 1996

1. Outside (subtitled The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper-cycle) is the nineteenth studio album by English recording artist David Bowie. It was released on 25 September 1995[3] through Arista Records, BMG, and RCA Records in Europe and Virgin Records in the United States. It marked Bowie's reunion with Brian Eno, whom he had worked with among others on his Berlin Trilogy in the 1970s.[4] Outside centres on the characters of a dystopian world on the eve of the 21st century. The album put Bowie back into the mainstream scene of rock music with its singles "The Hearts Filthy Lesson", "Strangers When We Meet", and "Hallo Spaceboy" (remixed by Pet Shop Boys).

History and development[edit]

Outside marked the reconnection of Bowie and Brian Eno, who had not worked with each other since the late 1970s, on Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy". They met at Bowie's wedding to Iman Abdulmajid in 1992, where they each played pieces of their own music at the wedding reception and delighted at the "ebb and flow" of couples on the dance floor. At that point, Bowie knew "we were both interested in nibbling at the periphery of the mainstream rather than jumping in. We sent each other long manifestoes about what was missing in music and what we should be doing. We decided to really experiment and go into the studio with not even a gnat of an idea."[5] Bowie and Eno visited the Gugging psychiatric hospital near Vienna, Austria, in early 1994 and interviewed and photographed its patients, who were famous for their "Outsider art".[3] One of the album's songs, "I'm Deranged", was directly influenced by one of the inmates Bowie interviewed at the hospital.[6] Bowie and Eno brought some of that art back with them into the studio[3] as they worked together in March 1994, coming up with a three-hour piece that was mostly dialogue. Late in 1994, Q magazine asked Bowie to write a diary for 10 days, to be later published in the magazine, but Bowie, fearful his diary would be boring ("...going to a studio, coming home and going to bed"), instead wrote a diary for one of the fictional characters (Nathan Adler) from his earlier improvisation with Eno. Bowie said "Rather than 10 days, it became 15 years in his life!" This became the basis for the story of 1. Outside.[7]

"Anything that I'd bought or used to go and see, or listen to, it was always stuff on the edge. I was always far more interested in the periphery of life's matters, than what was happening in the center. The center sort of seemed a simple vocabulary or something. It [the center] didn't catch my imagination."

David Bowie in 1995 on his fascination with things "outside" the mainstream[8]

As a result, unlike for some of Bowie's previous albums,[9] not a single song, save for "Strangers When We Meet", was written prior to the band going into the studio. Instead, Bowie wrote many songs alongside the band in improvised sessions.[10] The musicians were mostly Bowie regulars like pianist Mike Garson and guitarists Carlos Alomar and Reeves Gabrels, but included a few newcomers like jazz drummer Joey Baron.

Bowie and Eno also continued the experimental songwriting techniques they had started using back during the Berlin Trilogy. In 1995, while talking to the press about the album, Bowie said "What Brian did, which was really useful, is he provided everybody with flash cards at the beginning of the day. On each one, a character was written, like 'You are the disgruntled member of a South African rock band. Play the notes that were suppressed.' ... Because that set the tone for the day, the music would take on all those obscure areas. And it would very rarely lapse into the cliché."[10]

The "random cutups" from the Adler story that are part of the album's lyrics and liner notes were written by Bowie, who typed them into his Mac computer and then ran a custom program called the Verbasizer. The Verbasizer was a program written by Gracenote co-founder Ty Roberts,[11] the program would cut up and reassemble Bowie's words electronically, much like he had done with paper, scissors and glue back in the 1970s. He would then look at the lyrics while the band played a song and decide "whether I was going to sing, do a dialogue, or become a character. I would improvise with the band, really fast on my feet, getting from one line to another and seeing what worked." Bowie claimed that it took about three and a half hours using this method to create "virtually the entire genesis" of the album Outside.[10]

At nearly 75 minutes, the album is Bowie's longest. When it was released, Bowie knew that could be a problem. He said, "as soon as I released that I thought, 'It's much too fucking long. It's gonna die.' There's too much on it. I really should have made it two CDs."[12]

Concept and themes[edit]

Bowie in 1995

The liner notes feature a short story by Bowie titled "The diary of Nathan Adler or the art-ritual murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-cycle.", which outlines a somewhat dystopian version of the year 1999 in which the government, through its arts commission, had created a new bureau to investigate the phenomenon of Art Crime. In this future, murder and mutilation of bodies had become a new underground art craze. The main character, Nathan Adler, was in the business of deciding what of this was legally acceptable as art and what was, in a word, trash. The album is filled with references to characters and their lives as he investigates the complicated events leading up to the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl. One is led to assume that Bowie's main character, Nathan Adler, works for the British government due to several references to the cities of London and Oxford, but in the liner notes these are revealed to be, at least in some cases, London, Ontario, and Oxford, New Jersey, indicating that the entire story may take place in North America—or, indeed, that the distinction between the two places has become blurred and indistinguishable.

Bowie would claim that the album has "strong smatterings of Diamond Dogs ... The idea of this post-apocalyptic situation is there, somehow. You can kind of feel it."[13] In interviews, Bowie remarked that the album was meant to reflect the anxiety of the last five years of the millennium, saying "Overall, a long-term ambition is to make it a series of albums extending to 1999—to try to capture, using this device, what the last five years of this millennium feel like. It's a diary within the diary. The narrative and the stories are not the content—the content is the spaces in between the linear bits. The queasy, strange, textures.... Oh, I've got the fondest hopes for the fin de siecle. I see it as a symbolic sacrificial rite. I see it as a deviance, a pagan wish to appease gods, so we can move on. There's a real spiritual starvation out there being filled by these mutations of what are barely remembered rites and rituals. To take the place of the void left by a non-authoritative church. We have this panic button telling us it's gonna be a colossal madness at the end of this century."[14]

Bowie was influenced by performance artist Ron Athey. References to Athey's influence were a regular feature in Bowie's discussions of Outside, including in a published conversation with Brian Eno.[15] Bowie referenced Athey directly in the music video for The Hearts Filthy Lesson (directed by Samuel Bayer, 1995), where porn actor Bud Hole performed Athey's trademark "surgical crown of thorns" (without Athey's consent; Athey previously declined to appear in the video).[16] Bowie also made a digitally manipulated portrait of Athey and Divinity Fudge (aka Darryl Carlton) to accompany his contribution to a special issue of Q magazine the same year.[17] The portrait appropriated a photograph by Dona Ann McAdams documenting Athey's performance of 4 Scenes in a Harsh Life at PS122 performance space in New York. McAdams successfully sued Bowie for using her image without consent.[18]

In 1999, summing up his work since and including Outside, Bowie said "Perhaps the one through-line between some of the stuff in Outside and the coming millennium is this new Pagan worship, this whole search for a new spiritual life that's going on. Because of the way we've demolished the idea of God with that triumvirate at the beginning of the century, Nietzsche, Einstein, and Freud. They really demolished everything we believed. 'Time bends, God is dead, the inner-self is made of many personalities'... wow, where the fuck are we? [...] I wonder if we have realized that the only thing we could create as 'God' was the hydrogen bomb and that the fall-out from the realization that as gods we can only seem to produce disaster is people trying to find some spiritual bonding and universality with a real nurtured inner-life. But there is also this positivism that you find now which really wasn't there at the end of the last century. Then, the general catch phrase among the artistic and literary community was that it was the end of the world. They really felt that in 1899 there was nothing else, that only complete disaster could follow. It isn't like that now. We may be a little wary or jittery about what's around the corner, but there's no feeling of everything's going to end in the year 2000. Instead, there's almost a celebratory feeling of 'right, at least we can get cracking and really pull it all together.'"[19] Although he ruefully noted, "I think it'll all fizzle out on January the 1st. Getting up and deciding what you're going to have for breakfast, that'll be the most exciting thing to do in the New Age."[20]


The album's cover is a close-up of a self-portrait (from a series of five) painted by David Bowie in 1995. The self-portrait's name is "The Dhead – Outside" and is a lithograph measuring 25.5 × 20 cm. The original portrait remains in Bowie's private collection.[21]

Follow-up albums[edit]

Bowie had considered writing an album every year or so through the end of the millennium to tell the story of how the end of the millennium felt.[3][13] He said, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, by a narrative device, to chronicle the final five years of the millennium. The over-ambitious intention is to carry this through to the year 2000."[7] He felt he had recorded enough material during the 1. Outside sessions that he voiced his intention to continue the narrative through a 3-album set.[10] He suggested that he might release more albums that continued the story, saying "I quite foresee that, next year, we'll develop a whole new slew of other characters or maybe re-introduce some of these or even negate some of them. Maybe we'll never find Baby Grace. Maybe Adler will become the next victim. I don't know. And that's what's kind of interesting. Maybe we'll just get bored with murder as art and move into another area of our society. It's all up for grabs. So I'm quite interested in the future of this thing."[10] He intended to call the second follow-up album Contamination, and had sketched out the characters for the album (including some "17th century people") and had expected the album to be released in the spring of 1997.[22] In mid-1996, Bowie said in an interview that he intended to go into the studio in September or October of that year, just him and Eno, to work on Outside's follow-up album, but was going to work on a studio album using his touring band in July first.[23] Despite this, no direct follow-up to Outside was ever produced, and Bowie's next album was his jungle and drum and bass-influenced work Earthling (1997). After an assistant engineer leaked tapes of tracks intended for the project to the Internet, Bowie nixed the idea, according to album musician Mike Garson.[24]

Bowie also mentioned the possibility of releasing an album called Inside which would be a making-of about Outside: "Our working method [will be] detailed on it, a couple of jams and more of those voices. The first monologue of Baby Grace was 15 minutes long and was very Twin Peaks."[25] However, no such album was released.

On having over-recorded for the album, Bowie said "The one thing I can truly, seriously think about in the future that I would like to get my teeth into—it's just so daunting—is the rest of the work that [Brian] Eno and I did when we started to do the Outside album [in 1994]. We did improv for eight days, and we had something in the area of 20 hours' worth of stuff that I just cannot begin to get close to listening to. But there are some absolute gems in there..."[26]

In 2016, one day after Bowie's death, Eno recalled: "About a year ago we started talking about Outside – the last album we worked on together. We both liked that album a lot and felt that it had fallen through the cracks. We talked about revisiting it, taking it somewhere new. I was looking forward to that."[27]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3/5 stars[28]
Blender3/5 stars[29]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[30]
Entertainment WeeklyB–[31]
Q3/5 stars[32]
Rolling Stone3/5 stars[33]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide1/5 stars[34]

Rolling Stone gave the album 3 out of 5 stars upon release, criticising the interspersed narrative tracks, stating "It's the superfluous wordage – the intrusive spoken monologues, the jury-rigged cybernoir narrative, the overelaborate characterizations – that damn near sink the record."[4] However, the magazine generally praised the music, saying that it's "arguably his best work since the '70s"[38] and "a potent collection of avant-garage riffs and rhythm notions". They went on to appreciate Bowie's lyrics as "smart", "effective" and "sly", especially on the songs "I Have Not Been to Oxford Town" and "A Small Plot of Land".[4]

"Regulars might feel short-changed on the tune front", Tom Doyle commented in Q, "and those legions who came in on Let's Dance will most certainly be left completely and utterly bewildered. Perhaps, though, that's entirely the point."[32]

Live! magazine called the album "risky" but considered it ultimately to be successful.[39] Following Bowie's death, Prog said that, "pilloried by some at the time for its perceived self-indulgence, Outside will be now be re-evaluated and be found to be one of his very best."[40] Consequence of Sound ranked Outside number seven on its list of David Bowie's studio albums, above acclaimed records such as Blackstar or Station to Station, stating that the album "succeeded because Bowie bought in completely to its concept and strangeness".[41]

Live performances[edit]

Bowie considered performing Outside theatrically, but was not sure how. He said, "I'm not going to present the new album theatrically, it's far too ambitious a project. ... For me, it's attractive to be working with something which resembles Brecht's work, the pieces he did with Weill. The Rise & Fall of Mahagonny was always a tremendous influence on me. The idea of trying to recreate those kinds of situations in rock has always been attractive and I feel that is what I'm possibly moving back towards."[7]

Instead, Bowie took his music on a more conventional tour from late 1995 to early 1996. Bowie toured with Nine Inch Nails in support of his album, called the Outside Tour.[38] Morrissey opened for Bowie in the UK in September peaking with three shows at the Wembley Arena in London. Morrissey was also supposed to be the support act during the European leg in October but he finally cancelled his commitments just before the beginning of the tour.[38]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics are written by David Bowie.

Outside track listing
No.TitleMusicSung from the perspective ofLength
1."Leon Takes Us Outside"Bowie, Brian Eno, Reeves Gabrels, Mike Garson, Erdal Kızılçay, Sterling CampbellLeon Blank1:25
2."Outside"Bowie, Kevin Armstrongprologue4:04
3."The Hearts Filthy Lesson"Bowie, Eno, Gabrels, Garson, Kızılçay, CampbellDetective Nathan Adler4:57
4."A Small Plot of Land"Bowie, Eno, Gabrels, Garson, Kızılçay, CampbellThe residents of Oxford Town, New Jersey6:36
5."Segue – Baby Grace (A Horrid Cassette)"Bowie, Eno, Gabrels, Garson, Kızılçay, CampbellBaby Grace Blue1:39
6."Hallo Spaceboy"Bowie, EnoPaddy5:14
7."The Motel"BowieLeon Blank6:49
8."I Have Not Been to Oxford Town"Bowie, EnoLeon Blank3:47
9."No Control"Bowie, EnoDetective Nathan Adler4:33
10."Segue – Algeria Touchshriek"Bowie, Eno, Gabrels, Garson, Kızılçay, CampbellAlgeria Touchshriek2:03
11."The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (as Beauty)"Bowie, Eno, GabrelsThe Artist/Minotaur4:21
12."Segue – Ramona A. Stone/I Am with Name"Bowie, Eno, Gabrels, Garson, Kızılçay, CampbellRamona A. Stone and her acolytes4:01
13."Wishful Beginnings"Bowie, EnoThe Artist/Minotaur5:08
14."We Prick You"Bowie, EnoMembers of the Court of Justice4:33
15."Segue – Nathan Adler"Bowie, Eno, Gabrels, Garson, Kızılçay, CampbellDetective Nathan Adler1:00
16."I'm Deranged"Bowie, EnoThe Artist/Minotaur4:31
17."Thru' These Architects Eyes"Bowie, GabrelsLeon Blank4:22
18."Segue – Nathan Adler"Bowie, EnoDetective Nathan Adler0:28
19."Strangers When We Meet"BowieLeon Blank5:07



1995 weekly chart performance
Chart (1995) Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA)[42] 55
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[43] 22
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[44] 12
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[45] 14
Danish Albums Chart[46] 10
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[47] 38
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[48] 26
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[49] 33
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[50] 37
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[51] 15
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[52] 13
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[53] 22
UK Albums (OCC)[54] 8
US Billboard 200[55] 21

Certifications and sales[edit]

Sales certifications for Outside
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Italy 45,000[56]
United Kingdom (BPI)[58] Silver 200,000[57]


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External links[edit]