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The Buddha of Suburbia (album)

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The Buddha of Suburbia
David bowie-the buddha of suburbia-uk.jpg
Studio album / Soundtrack album by
Released8 November 1993 (1993-11-08)
RecordedAugust 1993
David Bowie chronology
Black Tie White Noise
The Buddha of Suburbia
The Singles Collection
Alternative cover
2007 reissue cover
2007 reissue cover
Singles from The Buddha of Suburbia
  1. "The Buddha of Suburbia"
    Released: November 1993

The Buddha of Suburbia is the 19th studio album[a] by English musician David Bowie, originally released on 8 November 1993 through Arista Records in the UK and Europe. The project originated following an interview between Bowie and novelist Hanif Kureishi during a press tour for Black Tie White Noise (1993), where Bowie agreed to compose music for an upcoming adaptation of Kureishi's 1990 novel The Buddha of Suburbia. After making basic tracks, Bowie decided to turn the project into a full album. Recording took place at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland and was completed in six days. Bowie primarily collaborated with Turkish musician Erdal Kızılçay, while pianist Mike Garson contributed overdubs.

The music on The Buddha of Suburbia primarily consists of numerous motifs created using various instruments. The pieces contain references to his late-1970s works throughout. Commentators have noted the presence of rock, pop, ambient, jazz and experimental themes throughout. The music itself bears little resemblance to the music of the BBC serial; only the title track featured in the programme. Aside from three instrumentals, the lyrics are non-linear, which Bowie utilised as a way to reduce narrative form.

Initially marketed as a soundtrack album, The Buddha of Suburbia flopped and received little promotion from Bowie himself, despite receiving positive reviews from British critics. It was not released in the US until October 1995 through Virgin Records with updated artwork. It fell back into obscurity until a worldwide reissue through EMI in 2007, although it still remains one of Bowie's least-known works. Nevertheless, Bowie's biographers and other reviewers have praised The Buddha of Suburbia as a forgotten gem in his catalogue. Bowie himself named it his favourite album in 2003. A remastered version was released in 2021 as part of the box set Brilliant Adventure (1992–2001).

Conception and recording[edit]

An older man with gray hair and glasses
The Buddha of Suburbia began as a soundtrack for an adapation of the 1990 novel of the same name, written by Hanif Kureishi (pictured in 2008).

While promoting his then-upcoming album Black Tie White Noise in February 1993, David Bowie spoke with British novelist Hanif Kureishi for Interview magazine. Kureishi sought permission to use some of Bowie's older material[b] for an upcoming adapation of his 1990 novel The Buddha of Suburbia.[8][10] The novel, which concerned a teenage boy named Karim attempting to be an actor in the 1970s, featured a character named Charlie who becomes embroiled with the rock star life. In The Complete David Bowie, biographer Nicholas Pegg describes Charlie as an amalgamation of Bowie, Sid Vicious and Billy Idol.[1] Kureishi told biographer Marc Spitz that the novel "reminded [Bowie] of his own youth".[11] Bowie agreed to compose the music and months later, Kureishi and the serial's director Roger Michell ventured to Switzerland to see what Bowie had come up with.[9] According to Pegg, Bowie had completed close to 40 pieces by the early summer of 1993. Kureishi suggested revisions, after which Bowie decided to turn the project into a new album—what Chris O'Leary calls a "quasi-soundtrack".[8][1] Speaking with journalist Dylan Jones, Kureishi stated: "[Bowie] said he wanted to write some songs for it because he wanted to make some money out of it."[12]

The album was recorded and mixed at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland and co-produced by Bowie and David Richards,[c][1] who previously co-produced Never Let Me Down (1987).[13] According to Bowie, it took only six days to write and record, but fifteen days to mix because of some "technical breakdowns".[14] For the album, Bowie worked with Turkish musician Erdal Kızılçay, who collaborated with Bowie on numerous projects in the 1980s.[1] The two watched the serial repeatedly while making the album, with Kızılçay recalling that The Buddha of Suburbia came from the stories they told one another while making it, as well as the connections Bowie had with Kureishi.[11] In 2003, Bowie recalled that he felt "very happy" during the making of Buddha.[1] Kızılçay later told biographer Paul Trynka: "Something happened for that album. There wasn't a big budget; David explained the story before we started. It was a challenge, it was a small budget, but David just said, 'Let's go, let's do it,' and everything worked."[10] Pianist Mike Garson, who had recently reunited with Bowie on Black Tie White Noise, overdubbed piano parts for two tracks ("South Horizon" and "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad") in a single three-hour session at O'Henry Sound Studios in Burbank, California.[8][1][3]

Music and lyrics[edit]

I took each theme or motif from the play and initially stretched or lengthened it to a five or six-minute duration. Then, having noted which musical key I was in and having counted the number of bars, I would often pull down the faders leaving just the percussive element with no harmonic informations to refer to. Working in layers I would then build up reinforcements in the key of the composition, totally blind so to speak. When all faders were pushed up again a number of clashes would make themselves evident. The more dangerous or attractive ones would then be isolated and repeated ...[1]

—David Bowie on his working methods for the album

According to O'Leary, the music Bowie made for The Buddha of Suburbia consisted of short "motifs – combinations of guitar, synthesiser, trumpet, percussion, [and] sitar".[8] In the extensive liner notes for the album, Bowie stated: "This collection of music bears little resemblance to the small instrumentation of the BBC play."[14] He also presented a list of influences that he drew from when creating it, including the Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds, Roxy Music, T. Rex, Neu!, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno.[14]

Indeed, reviewers have noted Buddha as containing numerous references to Bowie's 1970s works,[8][3] with AllMusic's William Ruhlmann naming The Man Who Sold the World (1970), Aladdin Sane (1973), and Low (1977).[15] The Guardian's Mark Hooper considered Buddha as "a gloriously experimental mish-mash of 70s influences",[16] while Julian Marszalek of The Quietus found a mix of "glam, jazz, funk, ambient soundscapes and pop".[17]

Biographers have similarly noted the presence of pop, jazz, ambient, experimental and rock material.[3][8][18] Aside from the three instrumental tracks, Pegg considers the album's lyrics "non-linear", which he believes suggests an adoption of the working methods of Eno, who Bowie listed as an influence in the liner notes.[1] Bowie explained that he used "great dollops of pastiche and quasi-narrative" when crafting the lyrics as a way to reduce proper narrative form, which he considered "redundant".[14]


The title track, "Buddha of Suburbia", was written as a pastiche of Bowie's early 1970s sound. As such, it contains musical and lyrical references to his past compositions "Space Oddity" (1969), "All the Madmen" (1970) and "The Bewlay Brothers" (1971).[3][19] Lyrically, it primarily follows Kureishi's novel and was the only track to actually appear in the BBC serial.[8] "Sex and the Church" uses a beat similar to "Pallas Athena" from Black Tie White Noise,[18] which Buckley compares to the music of Prince.[3] Pegg states that the two themes present throughout Kureishi's novel—sexuality and spirituality—combine to form the theme of "Sex and the Church".[20] Bowie's vocals are distorted using a vocoder while the track ends with a sequence similar to "The Jean Genie" (1972).[8] "South Horizon" is an instrumental that Buckley describes as avant-garde jazz.[3] Bowie explained that "all elements, from lead instrumentation to texture, were played both forwards and backwards. The resulting extracts were then intercut arbitrarily".[8] Pegg believes it foreshadows the experimental tracks found on Bowie's next album Outside (1995). It was Bowie's favourite track on the album.[21]

The longest track on the album, "The Mysteries", is an instrumental evocative of Bowie's Berlin work.[22] It is an ambient piece featuring various electronic sounds and synthesiser loops.[8][18] Bowie explained that "the original tape was slowed down, opening up the thick texture dramatically and then Erdal would play thematic information against it".[22] "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad" features contributions from a trio called 3D Echo (Rob Clydesdale, Gary Taylor, Isaac Daniel Prevost), who were recording an EP at Mountain at the same time Bowie was recording there.[8] Bowie almost raps during one section, which Buckley compares to his vocal on "African Night Flight" from Lodger (1979);[3] Pegg also notes the presence of "Lodger-style percussion" with Robert Fripp-type guitar licks.[23] "Strangers When We Meet" uses a sound akin to the late-1970s works of Roxy Music with a guitar riff from the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'" (1966).[3] Pegg calls it one of the album's "more conventional" tracks, featuring impressionist lyrics about the beginning of a relationship.[18][24] O'Leary describes it as "tense, compact and nerv[y]".[8] Bowie would rerecord the track for Outside.[24]

"Dead Against It" is evocative of various New York new wave bands from the late 1970s.[3][25] O'Leary finds the lyric "clotted with internal rhymes and consonance".[8] Bowie considered re-recording the song during the sessions for Outside and Earthling (1997), but the idea was scrapped.[8] "Untitled No. 1" contains a dance beat influenced by Indian music.[3][26] Bowie's phased vocals are both discernable (such as the line "It's clear that some things never change") and incomprehensible, featuring various "Ooohs" throughout.[8][26] "Ian Fish, U.K. Heir" is an ambient piece reminiscent of the electronic work from "Heroes" (1977).[18] It contains gramophone static and a slowed and distorted version of the title track's melody.[27] In the liner notes, Bowie wrote: "The real discipline is ... to pare down all superfluous elements, in a reductive fashion, leaving as near as possible a deconstructed or so-called 'significant form', to use a 30's terminology."[14] The title is an anagram of Hanif Kureishi.[11] The album ends with an alternate version of the title track (labeled the "rock mix"), featuring Lenny Kravitz on guitar.[8][18][19]

Release and reissues[edit]

The Buddha of Suburbia was released solely in the UK and Europe on 8 November 1993[28] through Arista Records (in association with BMG International), with the catalogue number 74321 170042.[8][1] It was marketed as a soundtrack album instead of a David Bowie album.[3] The original album sleeve, featuring a still frame from a BBC stage production of The Jungle Book overlays by a map of Beckenham, lacked Bowie's face and made his name almost unnoticeable.[1] Bowie also did little to promote the album, aside from attending one photo session with Kureishi and filming a music video for the title track.[9] It was further overshadowed by EMI's The Singles Collection, which was released a week after The Buddha of Suburbia and reached the UK top ten.[1] As such, the album flopped,[29] peaking at a mere 87 on the UK Albums Chart.[17] The title track was released as a single, backed by "Dead Against It", and reached number 35 on the UK Singles Chart.[30][31]

The album remained unavailable in the US until 24 October 1995,[15] when it was reissued by Bowie's new label Virgin Records.[32] It appeared with an alternate cover artwork depicting a black and white photo of Bowie sitting on a bed.[1] By this time, Bowie had already released his next album Outside.[18] The Buddha of Suburbia remained obscure until a worldwide reissue by EMI in September 2007,[1] featuring a sepia-tinted version of the 1995 cover art,[33] although this reissue was also met with little fanfare.[17] In 2021, the album was remastered and included as part of the box set Brilliant Adventure (1992–2001). With this release, it became available on vinyl for the first time in almost 30 years.[34][35]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[36]
Record Collector[38]
Robert Christgau(dud)[39]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[40]

Despite receiving positive reviews from British critics on release,[3] with Q magazine noting that "Bowie's music walks a knife-edge once again",[1] The Buddha of Suburbia remains one of Bowie's least-known works.[18] Bowie later stated: "The album itself only got one review, a good one as it happens, and is virtually non-existent as far as my catalogue goes – it was designated a soundtrack and got zilch in the way of marketing money. A real shame."[1] Nevertheless, he named The Buddha of Suburbia as his favourite album in 2003.[1] Indeed, latter-day reviews of the album have praised it as Bowie's "lost great album".[3][16] Some reviewers labelled it—at the time—his best work since 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).[17][16]

BBC Music's Daryl Easlea considered Buddha a return to form for Bowie, considering it the artist's "most important album" of the 1990s.[41] Marszalek wrote that it "contains an approach and execution that not only captures the best of Bowie's past but also kick starts his future".[17] Michael Keefe of PopMatters stated that the tracks foreshadowed the "melodic constructions" of Bowie's late 1990s and early 2000s works. He further argued that "unlike the ten years' worth of releases that came before, you might actually enjoy listening to this album".[5] Pitchfork's Sean T. Collins also noted Buddha as foreshadowing Bowie's other 1990s works and likened the music to Bowie's Berlin period.[37] AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine later called it "an excellent, adventurous album that flew under the radar in 1993".[42] Buddha has also attracted mixed reviews. Ruhlmann described it as "an often engaging collection of songs and instrumental passages" that is "not a major effort by any means".[15] Meanwhile, Jason Draper of Record Collector magazine found it "continually inviting" but thought it was "perhaps still best approached as a soundtrack", citing a lack of cohesion throughout, with "plenty of singular moments to get involved with".[38]

Bowie's biographers have given The Buddha of Suburbia largely positive assessments. Both O'Leary and Trynka considered it Bowie's best album in a decade,[8][43] with the latter furthermore labelling it one of "Bowie's triumphs" that "benefitted from its rushed creation".[10] Spitz, meanwhile, called it "perhaps Bowie's finest album of the 1990s".[11] Pegg states that it "remains one of the choicest treasures awaiting discovery among Bowie's less familiar work. It represents the vital missing link between Black Tie White Noise and 1. Outside, showcasing Bowie at his most bravely experimental".[1] James E. Perone finds it "a thoroughly listenable album and one that makes for interesting study".[18]

In a 2016 retrospective ranking all of Bowie's 26 studio albums from worst to best, Bryan Wawzenek of Ultimate Classic Rock included The Buddha of Suburbia at number 20 (above his other 1990s albums Black Tie White Noise and Hours), describing it as Bowie's "least mannered '90s album".[44] Including Bowie's two albums with Tin Machine, the writers of Consequence of Sound ranked Buddha number 27 out of 28 in their 2018 list, above 1999's Hours. David Sackllah wrote: "The album doesn't find Bowie diverging from anything he'd done before and feels like another middling entry in the midst of a decade where he would put out some of his most disappointing work," concluding "this record doesn't have much to offer to anyone who isn't a die-hard fan".[45]

Track listing[edit]

All songs are written by David Bowie.

  1. "Buddha of Suburbia" – 4:28
  2. "Sex and the Church" – 6:25
  3. "South Horizon" (instrumental) – 5:26
  4. "The Mysteries" (instrumental) – 7:12
  5. "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad" – 5:22
  6. "Strangers When We Meet" – 4:58
  7. "Dead Against It" – 5:48
  8. "Untitled No. 1" – 5:01
  9. "Ian Fish, U.K. Heir" (instrumental) – 6:27
  10. "Buddha of Suburbia" (feat. Lenny Kravitz) – 4:19


According to the liner notes and biographer Nicholas Pegg:[1][14]

  • David Bowie – vocals, keyboards, synths, guitar, alto and baritone saxophones, keyboard percussion
  • Erdal Kızılçay – keyboards, trumpet, bass, guitar, drums, percussion
  • 3D Echo (Rob Clydesdale, Gary Taylor, Isaac Daniel Prevost) – drums, bass, guitar on "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad"
  • Mike Garson – piano on "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad" and "South Horizon"
  • Lenny Kravitz – guitar on "Buddha of Suburbia" (rock mix)


  • David Bowie – producer
  • David Richards – programmer, engineer, mixer, producer
  • Mike Ruggieri – piano recording
  • Dominik Taqua – assistant engineering
  • John Jefford, BBC – photography
  • David and Anne Hardy (Wybo Haas) – design


  1. ^ The Buddha of Suburbia was initially marketed as a soundtrack album rather than another Bowie album.[1] However, in his book The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg lists Buddha as a studio album,[2] a sentiment echoed by other biographers and latter-day reviewers.[3][4][5] Bowie's official website also includes Buddha with the rest of his discography.[6] Nevertheless, a 2016 article by the BBC presenting all of Bowie's studio albums did not include Buddha.[7]
  2. ^ Including "Changes", "Fill Your Heart" (both 1971) and "Time" (1973).[8][9]
  3. ^ O'Leary lists Bowie and Kızılçay as co-producers.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Pegg 2016, pp. 421–423.
  2. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 11–12.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Buckley 2005, pp. 421–425.
  4. ^ Trynka 2011, pp. 481–496.
  5. ^ a b Keefe, Michael (16 October 2007). "David Bowie: The Buddha of Suburbia". PopMatters. Archived from the original on 27 March 2019. Retrieved 6 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Discography". David Bowie. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  7. ^ "Bowie: Every tour and studio album". BBC. 15 January 2016. Archived from the original on 5 October 2020. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t O'Leary 2019, chap. 8.
  9. ^ a b c Thompson 2006, chap. 6.
  10. ^ a b c Trynka 2011, pp. 432–434.
  11. ^ a b c d Spitz 2009, pp. 357–359.
  12. ^ Jones 2017, pp. 377–380.
  13. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 408–409.
  14. ^ a b c d e f The Buddha of Suburbia (liner notes). David Bowie. UK: Arista. 1993. 74321 170042.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  15. ^ a b c d Ruhlmann, William. "The Buddha of Suburbia – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 17 October 2021. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Hooper, Mark (24 October 2007). "Catch of the day: Bowie's great lost album". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 October 2021. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  17. ^ a b c d e Marszalek, Julian (29 October 2018). "25 Years On: Revisiting David Bowie's Buddha Of Suburbia". The Quietus. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i Perone 2007, pp. 112–114.
  19. ^ a b Pegg 2016, p. 52.
  20. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 239.
  21. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 254.
  22. ^ a b Pegg 2016, p. 190.
  23. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 45.
  24. ^ a b Pegg 2016, p. 268.
  25. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 73.
  26. ^ a b Pegg 2016, p. 294.
  27. ^ Pegg 2016, p. 130.
  28. ^ "The Buddha Of Suburbia is 25". David Bowie Official Website. 8 November 2018. Archived from the original on 25 October 2021. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  29. ^ Sandford 1997, p. 305.
  30. ^ O'Leary 2019, Partial Discography.
  31. ^ Pegg 2016, pp. 784–785.
  32. ^ The Buddha of Suburbia (CD booklet). David Bowie. US: Virgin. 1995. 7243 8 40988 2 7.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  33. ^ The Buddha of Suburbia (CD booklet). David Bowie. UK: EMI. 2007. 50999 5 00463 2 4.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  34. ^ "Brilliant Adventure and TOY press release". David Bowie Official Website. 29 September 2021. Archived from the original on 29 September 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  35. ^ Marchese, Joe (29 September 2021). "Your Turn to Drive: Two David Bowie Boxes, Including Expanded 'Toy,' Announced". The Second Disc. Archived from the original on 30 September 2021. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  36. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Bowie, David". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  37. ^ a b Collins, Sean T. (11 December 2021). "David Bowie: Brilliant Adventure (1992–2001) Album Review". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  38. ^ a b Draper, Jason (15 November 2007). "David Bowie – The Buddha of Suburbia". Record Collector (342). Archived from the original on 29 September 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  39. ^ Christgau, Robert. "David Bowie: Consumer's Guide". Archived from the original on 27 October 2021. Retrieved 3 November 2021 – via
  40. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "David Bowie". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). New York City: Simon & Schuster. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  41. ^ Easlea, Darryl (2007). "David Bowie The Buddha of Suburbia Review". BBC Music. Archived from the original on 16 March 2021. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  42. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Brilliant Adventure (1992–2001) – David Bowie". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 6 December 2021. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  43. ^ Trynka 2011, pp. 493–494.
  44. ^ Wawzenek, Bryan (11 January 2016). "David Bowie Albums Ranked Worst to Best". Ultimate Classic Rock. Archived from the original on 3 October 2020. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  45. ^ Goble, Blake; Blackard, Cap; Levy, Pat; Phillips, Lior; Sackllah, David (8 January 2018). "Ranking: Every David Bowie Album From Worst to Best". Consequence of Sound. Archived from the original on 30 October 2020. Retrieved 7 June 2018.


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