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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: 33 1/3 Series - Low

Just finished reading the 33 1/3 series book on David Bowie's Low written by Hugo Wilcken. This is an album that has always gotten insane critical praise and props for being a defining moment in Bowie's career. I however have always found the album difficult to listen to. That is part of the reason I choose to read this book and have been listening to the album extensively while reading.
Low is considered the first in Bowie's Berlin album trilogy (the others being: Heroes and Lodger). Interesting fact that only Heroes was fully recorded in Berlin, parts of Low were and none of Lodger. These albums are grouped together because of their sound and the influence of Brian Eno who was a collaborator on all three.
The greatest influence on the album was the movie The Man Who Fell To Earth which Bowie starred in. Bowie was also going to make the soundtrack but never completed it due to his heavy drug use and failing marriage. However some of the tracks for Low were started as tracks for the soundtrack. I have never seen the film, but Bowie has also said that the themes (isolation, loneliness, and helplessness) of the movie overflowed into the making of Low.You can certainly feel thos things in the sound and lyrics.
The other big influences on Low you will see are Kraut-rock, synthesizer bands and Iggy Pop. The Iggy Pop album The Idiot was made just before Low and Bowie helped produce and make the album. It was really a dry run for the making of Low. In my opinion I'll take The Idiot over Low any day of the week. However after extensive listening I am now a fan of Low, in particular the first couple tracks (Speed of Life and Sound and Vision being the tops) They are all experimental and used tape loops and distorted instruments and vocals to create a cold electronic sound with lots of layers. With every listen I can focus on a different sound and hear something new or I just hear the blending of all the noise.
Tracks 6-10 lack vocals and slip off into the ambient sound that Eno is known for and I lose interest. Sure it sounds cool, but to me it really is just background music.
Well the book is a great little read and inspired me to listen to more Bowie and Eno and I at least understand the obsession that some critics have with the album.Below are a handful of tracks that inspired the making of Low.

Iggy Pop - Nightclubbing

Brian Eno - I'll Come Running

Neu! - Hallogallo

Kraftwerk - Autobahn

John Cage - Water Walk and 4'33

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