52 Weeks, 52 Moments in Music: WEEK EIGHT

Week 8: What A Day That Was
Music has the magical ability to link with personal experiences and be burned into your psyche forever. Musical deja vu is a beautiful thing and for me, it is something that I always try to explore. What is it about certain songs that make them stick with you through life? How do songs, albums or even snippets of lyrics cling to people, their memories and experiences in life. Through this project, which I will update on a weekly basis, I hope to explore the musical moments that have stuck with me over the years and get to the essence of what makes them memorable. It’s a chance to explore my old (and new) favorites and hopefully shed a new light on what makes them so unique. 52 weeks, 52 moments in music that shaped who I am today.

Talking Heads

Album: Stop Making Sense

1984

Sire Records


The band in Heaven, they play my favorite song.

They play it once again, play it all night long.

-“Heaven”


1984 was a good year for music. The Smiths recorded its album debut, Prince unleashed Purple Rain, Bruce made a splash with Born in the U.S.A., The Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime was released, as was Zen Arcade from Hüsker Dü, and Let it Be by The Replacements, to name a few. Then there was the Stop Making Sense soundtrack.


One month before I was born, Jonathan Demme’s concert film, “Stop Making Sense” was released. Its soundtrack, released the same year, was one of a handful of records my parents so wisely schooled my sister and me with. It was played at home, in the car; through headphones and speakers, and eventually out of the shoddy mono speakers of my household’s vintage Sony Trinitron when I finally saw the actual film.


For the record, the Stop Making Sense soundtrack was my gateway to Talking Heads’ music and to the film. But really, one couldn’t ask for a better introduction.


What else can be said about Stop Making Sense that hasn’t already been written before. It’s one of the most beloved concert films and albums of all times. It captures the Heads in its prime, serving as a retrospective of sorts of the band’s musical evolution up to that point. It’s one of the greatest albums of all time, taken from one of the greatest films of all time.


Need one more bold statement? How about this: Talking Heads is the greatest American rock and roll band. Don’t you think?


Think about Heads’ transformation from stripped down, quirky new-wave punk outfit (as seen on ‘77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food) to the experimental, genre bending band it ceaselessly morphed into (from Fear of Music onwards). At only eight studio albums released, the band’s discography is concise, but one could say that the players said what they wanted to say, played what they wanted to play and then cleared the stage, ahead, ultimately paving the way for equally rewarding solo careers from each band member.


The music has influenced so many of its contemporaries and future acts, and “Stop Making Sense” the film changed the way filmmakers and viewers viewed the concert film genre–one will notice early on that the audience is hardly seen during the film and the stage is bare-boned, going against the flashy trends of bigger bands of the time.


David Byrne is one of rock’s true geniuses. An ambitious, almost mad visionary who has never slowed down in his quest to change how we experience music, which he’s long seen as platform best suited for all of the senses, not simply the ears.


Heads’ rhythm section is one of the great collaborations in music, with Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (real-life married couple) bringing an almost mathematically calculated sense of timing to the band. The bass line in the band’s mega hit, “Once in a Lifetime” alone is one of the great moments in musical rhythm. One bass line, played in repetition like a metronome, but capable of bringing the groove.


Keyboardist and rhythm guitar player, Jerry Harrison, had already come out of the equally influential Modern Lovers outfit before joining Byrne and gang, adding the final essential piece to the band.


Production wiz, and possibly the only other musician at the time with the brains and visions to keep up with Byrne, Brian Eno, would later play a key role in the band’s progression. And the backing musicians on Stop Making Sense, most of them spawns from George Clinton’s funk factory, managed the remarkable feat of taking beloved songs and not only shedding brand new light on them but at times improving on them (the non-Heads track, “What a Day That Was,” originally drawn from an obscure Byrne solo effort, being the perfect example).


I currently have three copies of Stop Making Sense on CD: one “borrowed” early on from my parents, another expanded Special Edition version bought later, and yet another rescued from a garbage bin my college roommate had put together, the latter thus becoming a permanent fixture in my car’s glove compartment. I own its LP and have long dreamed of pulling off the film’s signature “Big Suit” for Halloween. The film is the one DVD I own which I watch on a monthly basis and it has traveled with me to Spain and here in Taiwan.


It’s hard to pick a favorite track on the album, or in Heads’ catalogue for that matter.


The aforementioned “What A Day That Was” is pretty terrific. But so is “Making Flippy Floppy,” “Heaven,” “Crosseyed and Painless,” “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” and of course the album’s tried and true mission statement of an anthem, “Burning Down the House.” When Byrne shouts to the seen but not seen audience at the end of “Life During Wartime,” “Does anyone have any questions?” The answer is always an unanimous: no, no we don’t.


I remember not really understanding what Stop Making Sense was all about when I first heard the album. Having not seen the film yet and being only slightly familiar with Talking Heads, made the experience all the better. For me, like my introduction to Paul Simon’s Graceland, the music just sounded great and it pulled me in.


The African percussion was flawless, bringing on the dance grooves. The rhythm guitar was tight and polished, and Parliament-Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell’s sparingly executed synthesizer notes sounded futuristic in a surprisingly interesting way. As a budding drumming growing up, the tom-tom fills on “Burning Down the House” inspired many a table/chest drumming fits. Once I finally had a drum kit of my own I often reenacted these moments, much to the neighbors’ dismay.


Really, what else can be said about Stop Making Sense. I’ve listened to this album over a hundred times and it only improves with age. The world is a better place because of this film, this album and Talking Heads contribution to music. When you realize how much is going on within each song–the sonic complexities, nuances and how much of the attention to detail was undoubtedly calculated down to every individual note and beat–reverence is the only proper response. Rock/dance/funk/pop nirvana.


Does anyone have any questions?

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Album Review: A Woman a Man Walked By


Album Review: A Woman a Man Walked By
PJ Harvey and John Parish
Island Records

If Polly Jean Harvey ever wanted to avoid the often inevitable record company ‘Best Of’ compilation album, A Woman a Man Walked By (released tomorrow) would suffice as a nice little retrospective of her music thus far. While the record features all new material, and technically exists as the second collaboration LP with musician and longtime producer John Parish, Walked By manages to sum up an exciting career, spanning almost two decades. 

To take care of some of the technicalities behind this record it should be noted that A Woman a Man Walked By is the musical love child of both Harvey and Parish–the former writing all lyrics and taking care of the vocals, with the latter writing and performing the music. Parish has been a longtime friend and musical partner, having produced and played on three of Harvey’s past studio albums, as well as a prior collaboration project, 1996’s Dance Hall at Louse Point. Here it’s as if Harvey was able to focus solely on her writing and vocal stylings (a similar collaboration worked wonders last year for David Byrne and Brian Eno).

The result of this recent partnership is a genre-bending album from Harvey’s past and present. From the heavy alternative blues rock of Dry and To Bring You My Love, to the atmospheric folk tunes from 2007’s bizarre concept departure, White Chalk, Harvey skips from one familiar sound to the next with the confidence of an artist summing up her artistic existence, while also bringing to the forefront a bevy of some of her best songs to date.

Is the album as ambitious as White Chalk or as prolific as Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea? No. Does it showcase her abilities as a raging blues guitar banshee? Not quite. Where A Woman a Man Walked By succeeds is in is Harvey’s knack for writing haunting alt-rock songs and her full-fledged vocals, which casually shift from grunge to ethereal folk.

On the rip-roaring opener, “Black Hearted Love,” a welcomed heavy rock song that is worlds apart from White Chalk’s exercise in cryptic piano lullabies, Harvey aptly sings, “I’d like to take you to a place I know.” It’s as if she’s asking us if we’re ready to embark on whatever lies ahead. The short answer to this instant classic–yes.

On “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen” Parish’s acoustic guitar riffs pick up where Jimmy Page left off on Zeppelin III’s “Friends,” while Harvey croons about an ill-fated game of hide and seek.

“Leaving California,” The Soldiers,” “April” are the record’s three unofficial continuations from White Chalk, relying heavily on Harvey’s newfound love of soothing child like piano/organ riffs and falsettos. The latter of the trio features one of the most chilling musical ascents of any song Harvey has ever recorded behind a sparse drum march and a Hammond B3 Organ tuned to ‘haunting.’  

The album’s title track–a two-part anti-love song (?) culminating with a rather jarring but beautiful instrumental piece–pays homage to Harvey’s gritty punk past circa Dry, and may be the only song to ever feature the lines “he had chicken liver heart made of chicken liver parts / liver little parts” followed by “I want his fucking ass.” Sung with the same razor sharp virtuosic pipes that once established Harvey as badass singer songwriter she’s evolved from, this is one of the album’s highlights. one that definitely grows on the ears after its initial lyrical shock and awe.

A Woman a Man Walked By’s most surprising tracks also couldn’t be farther apart in nature. “Pig Will Not” might be the record’s most forgettable track, although its screeching guitar/vocal distortion will appease the fans of past songs like To Bring You My Love’s “Long Snake Moan.” At the other end of Harvey’s spectrum is the record’s closer, “Cracks in the Canvas,” an atmospheric two-minute spoken word exercise that would feel right at home in a David Lynch film, most likely sung by a perfect ‘10’ blonde with a This Mortal Coilesque, dream-pop voice. At the end she leaves us with:

I’m looking for an answer
Me and a million others
Disbelievers
Desserted lovers
Dear God, you’d better not let me down this time
Cracks in the canvas
Look like roads that never end

It could be that A Woman a Man Walked By is yet another side project/segue to Polly Jean’s next musical direction, similarly to her last collaboration with Parish, which followed the extremely successful To Bring You My Love. Perhaps it’s simply just a pet project of the two that had been long overdue. Whatever the album’s goal might be is trivial. The ten songs that fill this album channel an unprecedented career from one of finer musicians working today. For Harvey fans this may ultimately serve as a bridge to her future endeavors. For anyone just jumping into her music it just might be the perfect catalyst for a an appreciation of Harvey’s music.  

The Wait Is Finally Over


It has been 27 years since Brian Eno and David Byrne released their first collaboration project, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The album, a hodgepodge of recorded worldly beats and dance grooves, seemed at first like a more polarizing extension of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, but was really the lovechild of two musical geniuses. Flash-forward to 2008 and Eno and Byrne have unleashed their follow up collaboration record, Everything that Happens Will Happen Today.

The beauty of Everything that Happens is that even the casual listener, with no prior knowledge of Eno and Byrne’s history, can appreciate the album for what it is at its core – a collection of up-tempo tunes supporting socially charged lyrics about life. For music geeks the album serves as much more.
Eno and Byrne first teamed up with Talking Heads second LP, More Songs About Buildings and Food, the beginning of the band’s brilliant three record, genre-bending stint that included its follow-up Fear of Music and the aforementioned masterpiece, Remain in Light. Eno has always gone way beyond merely the title of producer. In many cases he becomes a member of the band and serves as not only an influence but also a master of deconstructing tired sounds and channeling in the new. His work on the trio of Heads records remain its finest and paved the way for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a challenging album that continued Eno and Byrne’s quest to bridge the gap between global and popular music.
Since Ghosts was released Eno and Byrne have both benefited from prosperous solo careers–Eno as the go-to producer for giants like U2 and most recently Coldplay, and Byrne releasing a handful fairly successful post Talking Heads solo projects as well as the occasional film score (his work for Bernardo Bertulucci’s The Last Emperor is breathtaking). Still while both remain household names one could argue, especially when talking about Byrne, that neither has topped their work together in the early 80s. That is until now.
During a preliminary listen Everything that Happens appears to be more tuned into Talking Heads’ early records, rather than continuing the sounds on Ghosts. Gone are the global rhythms and sampled vocals, instead we get a straightforward pop album with the Eno/Byrne touch.
ImageAccording to interviews with both artists Eno took the reigns on the majority of the music and overall sound for Everything that Happens, while Byrne focused on the lyrics. The two collaborated by phone and email, with Eno sending samples to Byrne and vice versa. Still the album never feels like a distant project between the two.
Eno and Byrne jumpstart the album with “Home” the first of many breezy tracks with bleak messages. When Byrne sings, “Heaven knows- what keeps mankind alive” and later in the chorus, “Home- where my world is breaking in two” over an upbeat tempo and dreamy guitar and synth melodies Eno and Byrne present the framework for the entire album–while things appear to be okay, there is a darker side brewing. While this album could be viewed as political (undoubtedly commenting on the current state of the world) Eno and Byrne go beyond by questioning what is happening to the human race as a whole.
“I Feel My Stuff,” one of the album’s sole dark tracks in which the dreary sound actually pairs up with the lyrical gloom, feels like a lost track from David Bowie/Eno’s 1995 urban concept album, Outside 1. On the disco turned upside down track “Strange Overtones” Byrne sings, “This groove is out of fashion /These beats are 20 years old,” and while much of the album borrows from the sounds of past projects from both artists the tracks bizarre blend of 70s soul dance grooves and gospel vocals still manages to feel fresh.
Besides being a completely addictive record, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is also proof that both these artists still play at the top of their game when together. Some collaborations just plain work and the Eno/Byrne duo appear to be an unstoppable force.
If there is one fault on this album (and this coming from an extremely nitpicky point of view) it’s that Eno’s signature ethereal vocals are completely underused (he’s credited as backing vocals for only a handful of tracks) with Byrne taking the lead on all tracks. Both artists have radically unique pipes and while Byrne’s vocals during this outing have never sounded better it would have been nice to get a couple Eno tracks to mix things up. Still when it’s all said and done Eno’s compositions manage to make up for his vocal absence, not to mention his lack of creativity on past solo projects and Coldplay’s most recent album of which he produced.
David Byrne is currently starting a world tour supporting the new album that will also encompass and the entire Byrne/Eno back catalogue. While Eno has given no signs of joining his friend on the road (to be fair he’s been busy producing U2’s upcoming album) the idea of seeing Byrne take on a collection of songs like this is enough to send shivers down this writer’s spine. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is currently available as a purchasable download or a free stream exclusively from davidbyrne.com and following the current Radiohead internet trend, the album will soon be available in hard deluxe CD and LP formats. It could be that fans will have to wait another quarter century for another collaboration like this but until then we’ll have this brilliant record to tide us over.
 

The European Canon is Here


During 1975 David Bowie’s body weight lingered between a frightening 80 and 90 pounds, rivaling that of even the lightest of jockeys. It is said that his diet consisted of milk, the occasional indulgence of plain vanilla ice cream, and the finest cocaine a decadent life in Los Angeles could bestow. His life had become a haze of paranoia fueled by a heavy dependency on drugs (he also dabbled in amphetamines) and an unhealthy fascination with the occult. 

While The Thin White Duke (his self-appointed title/persona at the time) was on the brink of a serious physical and mental breakdown he was also about to embark on arguably his most innovative and bizarre creative periods in not only his career but in rock and roll history. 

Much has been written about Bowie’s many reptilian musical transformations over the years but few rock historians have meticulously examined the musician’s late 1970s flight to Western Europe.

As far as rock and roll books go Bowie in Berlin: A New Career in a New Town is about as good as it gets. It is a comprehensive look at Bowie’s experimental escapades in and around the once divided city that strays away from the clichés of the modern rock biography. The book is the newest edition to a budding series of tomes from Jaw Bone Press chronicling notable musical periods–the first documented Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes period with The Band. Author Thomas Jerome Seabrook is hardly the first author to tackle Bowie but rather than put out a biographical retelling of the artist’s various incarnations over the years the author takes on his most curious and often misunderstood era. 

Prior to Bowie’s mid-70s stint of drugs and debauchery the artist had already changed the face of rock and roll on more than one occasion. He brought androgyny to the forefront of popular music, helped jumpstart glam rock, and coined the term plastic soul by blending his former sounds with the likes of Philly R&B and Soul, first with Diamond Dogs and more successfully with Young Americans. He even made his first foray into acting via the possibly biographical role as an alien in the cult sci-fi film, The Man Who Fell To Earth. He managed to do all this before the age of 30.

At a time when Bowie seemed to have the world at his fingertips–international stardom, high selling pop records, critical acclaim–the artist moved in a completely unexpected direction both musically and personally.

Seeing a need for a major life change Bowie headed for Western Europe, first to Switzerland and eventually Berlin to clean up his act. In one of Bowie’s many career acts of kindness he also coaxed ex-Stooges frontman Iggy Pop into joining him. Pop himself had established a far more severe drug dependency than Bowie and was also in dire need of a career jumpstart (prior to Berlin Bowie had already pushed Lou Reed to start his solo career when he produced Reed’s Transformer).

Most music fans (or at least Bowie fans) are familiar with Bowie’s unofficial “Berlin Trilogy” of albums–1977s Low, and “Heroes”, and 1979s Lodger–recorded with Brian Eno during the late 70s. Few may be realize that besides recording three radically different art rock albums Bowie co-wrote and produced two Iggy Pop solo albums (the grim proto punk of The Idiot and a return to Stooges form in Lust for Life), starred in a film, organized a couple European tours and even managed to narrate an audio version of HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Prokofiev”Sergei Prokofiev’s HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_and_the_Wolf”Peter and the Wolf, you know, for the kids. A busy two years and an extraordinary close to a career high decade. In many ways both Pop records, primarily The Idiot, served as testing grounds for Bowie’s vision of where his own music was headed and are as much, if not more, Bowie’s records than they are Pop’s (for the research of the book Seabrook discovered that most of the music for The Idiot was written by Bowie with Pop merely stepping in for his signature impromptu lyrical flowing).

ImageThere are those who dismiss Bowie for his glamorous showmanship and over the top publicity stunts (to be fair the stage elements of the glam rock movement aren’t for everyone). What’s most fascinating about Bowie’s late 70s projects is that he traded the glamour for artistic acclaim and a chance to give listeners a glimpse of the future of music.

Gone were the elaborate costumes and fluorescent hairdos. The disco sounds were replaced by slow building instrumental symphonies and rhythmically complex fragments of songs drenched in production experimentation. Even Bowie’s lyrics, which once wove tales of cosmonauts and paid homage to musical idols, now took on a starker realism with references to new age art and social politics–mainly the division in Eastern Europe brought on in the shadow of the Berlin wall and the Iron Curtain.

In his book Seabrook draws a number of comparison to contemporary musicians holding Bowie’s Berlin period in the highest of regards. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor often cites Bowie’s Low and later Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) as inspirations for his electronic noise compositions. It’s also hard to deny the comparison made by Seabrook between Bowie’s experiments and that of Radiohead. 

Both changed the face of rock with pinnacle albums and decided to follow the newfound success with radically polarizing ventures into experimental art rock. The fact that Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac were recorded and released back to back in a short period of time only furthers this argument when looking at Bowie’s ’77 release of both Low and “Heroes”. One could go even farther to argue that Bowie’s less adorned/misunderstood trilogy conclusion, Lodger in 1979, was received with the same “so-so” feelings as Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief

It’s easy to overlook how influential and fascinating Bowie’s 70s decade must have seemed to music fans at the time. Very few musicians or bands can accomplish as much as Bowie did in a single decade, let alone continue to shed his musical skin along the way. Seabrook’s retelling of Bowie’s European period also serves as a reminder to what has become of Bowie since Berlin.

As the years went on the space between album releases grew and the quality of music diminished, especially in the 80s. Many say the artist’s last true masterpiece was 1980s Scary Monsters, which at the time must have sounded like a promising start to a new decade (it as shortly followed by another, more profound wave of mega stardom with the ultra poppy Let’s Dance).

In the 90s Bowie reunited with Brian Eno for the fan favorite 1.Outside, the first of what was proposed to be another Bowie/Eno trilogy of concept albums. Instead he followed with a string of decent but not spectacular modern sign of the time records. It should be noted that Bowie is currently in his longest stretch without a major record release with 2003s Reality being his last contribution. While rumors continue to fly about a new record or the leak of formally unreleased material, Bowie future remains a mystery.

It could be that Bowie has officially jumped the shark in terms of releasing monumental records but it’s important to remember how much of driving force Bowie once was. Ten albums plus countless side projects in ten years is a feat few musicians even dream about now and days but Bowie managed to pull it of during the 70s with a number of the records being christened masterpieces. And who knows, perhaps the Thin White Duke still has a couple more musical visions left in him. 


Viva El Eno


An anxious nation can officially be put to rest. This past week Coldplay, planet Earth’s favorite big emotional sound troupe, officially announced some details regarding its “highly” anticipated fourth studio album. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is a mouthful of a record title especially when compared to 2005s oh so subtle, X&Y. The album is set for a mid June release with tracks ranging from the spooky sounding “Cemeteries of London,” the mysterious “Lost!” and the possibly philosophy riddled “Glass of Water.” Half full or half empty Mr. Martin?

I admittedly found Coldplay’s first two endeavors–2000s “Parachutes” and 2004s titanic release “A Rush of Blood to the Head”–to be rather enjoyable. Sure tracks like “Yellow” and “Clocks” were almost too catchy and quickly became poison to the ears after radio stations continued to spin the record raw but both albums as a whole were pretty solid. If you were to put all the mega stardom and celebrity buzz over babies named after pieces or produce aside Coldplay have always done pure unadulterated pop music well.

I suppose what eventually turned me off was the band’s popularity explosion immediately following Rush. When the eagerly awaited X&Y was finally unveiled in 2005 not only did the mediocre third act sound like merely more of the same or an entire album set out to emulate a blockbuster like “Clocks” but its unnecessary media buzz was more of a buzz kill.

So why even write about Coldplay? Why devote an entire column to some recent tidbits about the band’s upcoming fourth album? The answer is simple: Eno.

Comparisons have always been made between Coldplay and groups like Radiohead or U2. While a more appropriate Coldplay link would be to Brit pop acts like The Stone Roses or Oasis, Chris Martin’s bleak but fairly uninspired lyrics always seem to bunch the band into the former group. On Viva la Vida… (seriously what’s with the title? What about Frida Kahlo interests Mr. Martin?) ambient sound pioneer Brian Eno stepped in as producer a move that not only raises the album’s intrigue from blah to BLAH? but also brings the band closer to U2s career path.

ImageEno was at one point (and, quite frankly, still is) the producer to work with. During the 1970s and 80s he overlooked some of the greatest albums ever made by some music’s finest acts. Bowie’s avant-garde Berlin Trilogy, a handful of Talking Heads’ masterpieces, Devo’s premiere record, and of course U2s unadulterated run of album greats starting with 1984s The Unforgettable Fire and ending with 1993s overlooked Zooropa, all received that Eno touch. 

One would hope that Coldplay’s decision to take on Eno as a producer shows that the band is ready for a change. Eno has always been a master of taking an artist or band and helping them find a new direction. Case in point, U2s Achtung Baby(1991). Undoubtedly Bono and company’s most sophisticated and musically interesting record to date, the album helped the band enter their second decade with a new slate to work on. He even helped the band accomplish this same feat entering the new millennium with the fresh and highly popular, All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

People often say that Eno is the go-to man for acquiring that worldly sound. African drums, bizarre instrumentation, and layered rhythms seem to be his forte. While this is partially true (he did help David Byrne channel his inner Afro-pop demons during Talking Heads magnificent album progression in the early 1980s) Eno is more attuned to helping musicians take that next big step from mass appreciation to critical appreciation. In the case of U2 he helped the band find both.

In many ways Viva la Vida will be a test to see if Coldplay can propel itself from merely soft pop rock stardom to a band willing to take risks no matter what the costs are. They could make and remake the some album rooted in “Clocks”esque anthems for another ten years and they would no doubt still sell millions of records and continue to fill arenas. The ultimate question though is how will they ultimately be viewed by future music fans and critics writing their columns for the best acts of the early millennium? Where will Coldplay fit in rock and roll history?

According to a press release of the new album on Coldplay’s website:

“The sights, sounds and flavours of Latin America and Spain have definitely been infused into this album…No maracas or castanets, but a vibrancy and colourfulness that owes much to the atmospheres of Buenos Aires and Barcelona. The effect is subtle but important.”

There you have it. Subtle but important. The question now is can singer/songwriter Chris Martin shed his unnecessary knack for depressing lyrics (you’re married to Gwyneth Paltrow, you probably have more money than the Queen and you get to tour the world playing recycled keyboard licks, why such a glum disposition sir?)? Will this spicy new direction work for the band? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

I was talking to a very good friend of mine about the band. Unlike myself he has always stood by all things Coldplay. WhenX&Y’s single “Fix You” was leaked on the internet its play count on his iTunes library stretched into the 1000s (to be fair he used to leave the emotional ballad on a repeat loop at night. Nothing like a little cushy Brit pop to lull you to sleep). His argument has always been Coldplay’s music sounds good and it’s consistent. Shouldn’t interesting music steer clear of consistency? Aren’t the ones who take risks the true greats?

For this column I went and revisited X&Y on his recommendation just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Sure enough I didn’t miss anything. That said, I’m still interested to see what this new album has in store for the band if anything because they are a hard super-force to ignore. Plus as a fan of Eno there is a spark of hope that maybe Coldplay was just testing the waters with their first couple albums. Who knows, with Viva la Vida maybe the band followed the oh-so-wise Monty Python motto, ‘and now for something completely different.’

Album Review: Low, David Bowie


Low (1977)
David Bowie
Virgin Records

A Futuristic Sound and Vision

David Bowie has always been somewhat of a chameleon in the rock and roll arena. He single-handedly jumpstarted the glam rock scene of the 1970’s, paving the roads for other artists like Mott the Hoople, Iggy Pop and T-Rex, to name a few–and since then has moved from genre to genre, style to style with the comfort and ease of an artist determined to challenge himself and the world of music.

Low was the first of three albums known as the Berlin Trilogy (the others being 1977s Heroes and 1979s Lodger) that Bowie recorded in Berlin with ex-Roxy Music member/ambient soundscape connoisseur Brian Eno.

Following his brilliant but short 1976 album Station to Station, an album that was in many ways a spawn of his growing addiction to cocaine, Bowie moved to Cold War-riddled Germany to work and tour with friend Iggy Pop. The result of his time there was a trio of albums that, while stepping away from the more mainstream and conventional David Bowie, remain some of the artists finest to date.

With Low Bowie strays away from the pop-friendly songs of previous successes such as 1975s Young Americans or the unprecedented and most well-known The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. The album is harshly divided between futuristic, avant-garde synth rock tracks that are reminiscent of early German techno/Kraut Rock groups such as Neu! or Kraftwerk, and dense, often completely instrumental compositions that reflect Eno’s prior ambient records such as Another Green World.

The first half of Low features Bowie experimenting with the radio friendly rock of his past. Tracks like the album’s one surprising pop hit “Sound and Vision” or the cool, stripped down jazz/rock cut “Always Crashing in the Same Car” are catchy but at the same time require an avid listener due to bizarre vocal distortion and unusual instrumentation.

Lyrics fade on the radically different second half, which relies on five heavy, often depressing yet curiously beautiful instrumental compositions that include the doleful epic “Warszawa” (which may be Bowie’s symphonic opus about Poland’s anguish plagued capital) and the mysterious and lethargic, but utterly breathtaking closer “Subterraneans.”

While Low is without a doubt the most inaccessible and challenging album of the Berlin Trilogy and possibly out of Bowie’s entire catalogue, it still stands at the meridian of this versatile artist’s musical gamut. It paved the way for Bowie’s future reptilian style shifts, influenced artists like Trent Reznor who claims Low was partially responsible for his Downward Spiral album and to this day remains one of the finest ventures into experimental rock out there.