Record Review: David Bowie – Lodger

Rykodisc | UC | CD | 1991 | RCD 10146

Rykodisc | UC | CD | 1991 | RCD 10146

David Bowie: Lodger US CD [1991]

  1. Fantastic Voyage
  2. African Night Flight
  3. Move On
  4. Yassassin
  5. Red Sails
  6. D.J.
  7. Look Back In Anger
  8. Boys Keep Swinging
  9. Repetition
  10. Red Money
  11. I Pray, Olé
  12. Look Back In Anger [New Version]

“Lodger” was the first current Bowie album I chanced to hear. A friend’s older brother had the cassette tape of it after its release and I listened to it on loan. I had possibly seen the videos for “D.J.” and “Look Back In Anger” prior to hearing the new album, since I definitely remember seeing those clips on a syndicated music video show, possibly “Hollywood Heartbeat.” The propulsive “Look Back In Anger” hooked me pretty hard, so I recall that was the spark that led to me borrowing the tape.

I would soon have Bowie’s two previous albums as well as his next one, which was the first that I bought on release, but this one waited for me until some time in 1981, by which time it was part of RCA’s mid-line price series. Quite frankly, for me this was the runt of his impeccable late 70s litter. I never took a quick shine to it in the way that “Low,” “Heroes” and “Scary Monsters” just immediately washed over me and worked like fiends. To this day, those three constantly vie for top Bowie album status in my skull [with “Heroes” usually getting the nod].

Maybe it was the process driven genesis of the album that had me holding it at arms length, as it were. When Eno began working with Bowie on “Low” and through “Lodger,” the end result was a perfect synthesis that didn’t sound labored. With “Lodger,” the stitches in the beast were beginning to show. While the Oblique Strategies methodologies that informed the previous two albums conspired to create a viable third mind approach to music making, this one seemed more arbitrary, with Eno seemingly dominant in the mix. That his concurrent work with Talking Heads was taking off and dazzling Eno like the bright, shiny object that it was, I somehow get the feeling that the he thought the bloom was off the rose, and Talking Heads were more malleable clay in his hands than a star like Bowie.

That said, the whiff of Talking Heads hangs over this album like a phantasm. It stands as Bowie’s only full-bore excursion into what would be called world music forms of the sort that Talking Heads would make their métier by this time. In fact, that’s what brings me to this album in such a big way currently. I enjoy reading “Pushing Ahead Of The Dame,” Chris O’Leary’s highly engaging blog on the works of David Bowie, one song at a time. I was re-reading the “Lodger” entry and one reader quoted from a book on Talking Heads that revealed that Bowie was deliberately aiming for a David Byrne delivery on the song “D.J.”

Sonnuva…!! If it were a snake it would have bit me! I listened to the song I’d been hearing for 34 years as if a veil had been sundered. Bowie was absolutely employing a Byrne-esque delivery on the tune, at least for the opening verse. And this revelation led to a renewed focus on the album for a period of a week or two since, with more plays that it probably got since it was issued. While the album’s distancing techniques still present a challenge to overcome on a few tracks, more of the cuts are resonating with me in a new and rewarding fashion than ever before.

“Fantastic Voyage” is a song that never previously had much impact on me apart from the  brilliant couplet.

“We’re learning to live with somebody’s depression,
And I don’t want to live with somebody’s depression”

But I can’t help but notice that when the song begins, it sounds like “Word On A Wing” from “Stationtostation,” which is appropriate, given that this song is also a prayer of a sort. The song transposes “Five Years” to a “Five Minutes To Midnight” scenario which was prescient of Bowie given that the real nuclear tension of the Reagan era was just around the corner.

One track on this album which was always a favorite was “African Night Flight.” The speedily “rapped” vocals heighten the percussive nature of the track, which is almost all that comprises it. The lurching afro-funk approach would reach a head on the next two albums that Eno collaborated with David Byrne with, but the trip begins here in earnest. The tense, paranoid feel of the track is accentuated when Bowie doubles on vocals for the last half of the second verse in an anguished voice an octave higher and more frantic than the trenchant baritone that typifies the rest of the “singing” here. And wasn’t “cricket menace” the best album instrumental credit ever?

“Move On” remains detached for me. The tune’s origins as “All The Young Dudes” played backwards are far too apparent, especially with the backing vocals which are articulated as if played backwards. “Yassassin” remains Bowie’s only foray into reggae, thank goodness! But the closer of “side one” stands like a colossus to me now. “Red Sails” hits a lot harder now due to the classic “Apache beat” employed by Klaus Dinger on Neu! records so loved by Bowie. Dennis Davis keeps the motorik flowing evenly save for  few instances where he employs complex fills for good contrast. Like years of listening to Simple Minds albums where all I hear now is the bass of Derek Forbes, I now only hear that compulsive beat whenever I encounter it.

“D.J.” and “Look Back In Anger” remain classic Bowie tracks from the beginning for me. I can’t believe that I never caught that Byrne vocal line before, since I was certainly hip deep in Talking Heads by 1979.  One thing comes to mind when thinking of the video. There is a shot where Bowie holds up a record with a red label at 2:18, then winks and tosses it over his shoulder. I always thought that this was perhaps a UK Gary Numan single on the red Beggars Banquet label, given the enmity that Bowie showed for his “disciple” back in the day. Not surprisingly, Numan latched onto the video tropes used in this clip like broken glass and gas masks, and rode them like a horse for another four years! Perhaps proving Bowie’s point.

“Look Back In Anger” remains my go-to track for this album. The thunderous, pent up energy it barely contains marks it as a close relative, in terms of its vibrancy, to next year’s “I Travel” by Simple Minds. Both tunes sound expansive to the point of explosion; as if they can barely be contained within the wax they’re pressed on. Artifacts from an ancient era of thrills and excitement.

Speaking of thrills and excitement, is there a better video ever made than the fearless clip for “Boys Keep Swinging?” Back in the day, this was unseen on American shores, due to the infamous drag sequences. Sure sure, America could accept random men on the street kissing Bowie, but this was too much! I only saw the video for the first time in 1983, courtesy of MV3! If the song itself was an ironic burlesque of gender roles, the video refracted this a thousandfold as if in a hall of mirrors, where the blurring of lipstick and a sneer could hit the viewer as hard as a fist to the jaw. Given that the last half of the tune was sans vocals, consisting of Adrian Belew’s berserk guitar solos that were stitched together by Eno and Visconti, perhaps necessity was the “mother of invention” for the still electric end of this video.

The kitchen sink melodrama of “Repetition” showed a rare glimpse at this time of Bowie’s compassion though it manifested itself in the most dispassionate way possible as the singer intones “don’t hit her” almost as an aside to the narrative he’s unfolding. It’s possible that the song’s brutish antagonist, Johnny, will show up years later in Bowie’s oeuvre as the subject at the center of “I’m Afraid Of Americans.”  The album closer “Red Money” was based on the original backing track for the Iggy Pop tune “Sister Midnight” from “The Idiot.” The band on this album replicate the track admirably enough. Credits for “The Idiot” are so spartan that this new version may have been remixed with minimal re-recording.

The Rykodisc edition that I have on CD contains two great bonus tracks. “I Pray Olé” is a cut that I’m shocked didn’t make it to at least the B-sides of the two UK singles from this album [“Boys Keep Swinging” and “D.J.”] as it would have slotted into the album almost as well as anything that did. Sure, it sounds a little tentative and unfinished, but that’s the nature of most of this record! Instead, album cuts accompanied those two singles. The other bonus track is a 1988 re-recording of perennial favorite “Look Back In Anger.” Recorded as a power trio with longtime guitarist Reeves Gabrels making his sideman debut on this track. It was re-recorded for a collaboration with famed Canadian dance troupe La La Human Steps, who would go onto work with Bowie for his Sound + Vision Tour a few years later. The track has been slimmed down in complexity and cracked open with Gabrel’s unrestrained solos even as Bowie stays within the parameters of the original performance.

The “Lodger” album is working better for me now than it ever has with the benefit of a fresh look, engendered by reading about the David Byrne reference, so it pays to keep one’s nose to the ground, analyzing the music in the Record Cell for some new insights that could prove fruitful. I can say that after a ten day period, I’m still not burnt out on this album as it’s having a late in the day personal renaissance not unlike the one that finally happened with Siouxsie + the Banshees’ “A Kiss In The Dreamhouse” with me a few months back. It’s good to know that even after 30+ years, the canon of core collection groups can still surprise and enlighten in ways not previously anticipated.

– 30 –

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4 Responses to Record Review: David Bowie – Lodger

  1. Echorich says:

    Ok, let me start by stating something I wrote just the other day on another blog. On any given day, Station To Station, Heroes or Lodger vie for my favorite Bowie Album. I revel in the fact that most of the time it’s Lodger that wins the steel cage death match.
    I’m kinda surprised that you didn’t see the Talking Heads connection at the time. I think one of the best things about Lodger is the world view; the attempt by The Dame to reach further than the Europe he had inhabited for so long. The album fits so snug next to Fear Of Music. The album is sort of audacious in its move away from the bubble of Low. Yes the aping of Byrne and The Heads is kind of a magical influence for Bowie. There is some great storytelling on Lodger and some even better commentary. Repetition is a classic for me and DJ and Boys Keep Swinging are enviable in the ease with which Bowie shows the New Wave just how it’s done. Lodger showed me that Bowie was still cool in 1979. He would still be cool on Scary Monsters but then it all began to fall apart four short years after Lodger became his worst selling album and my favorite.

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  2. Always enjoy your perspectives PPM, no exception here! I staunchly maintain that “Low” was half an album. One HELL of half an album. But that not ONE of those who touts it as “groundbreaking and influential” actually rushes home to put on side B. Wallowing in the tortuous tediousness of songs like “Warzawa” makes watching grass grow seem exciting by comparison.

    Heroes also contained some… let’s call it “experimental” music to be kind, so when “Lodger” came out it was a welcome relief. Still I found it bit hard to access at first. Probably because it was quite unlike anything I had heard or Bowie had done before. After a few spins on then turntable it sunk in and I began to appreciate and enjoy it. I think part of my enjoyment was knowing that THIS artist was pushing the boundaries and doing whatever he wanted.

    For some reason, “Look Back In Anger” left me feeling bad for liking it. Maybe cause by comparison, it seemed a bit pandering or overly “grabby”. Kind of like the feeling I get when the bombast of an old Who song can be heard. I guess I want to work a bit harder and not have things spoon fed to me.

    “Red Sails” is such a catchy song I always mourn the end of- it should go on and on and on… “DJ” is the consummate Bowie hit- offbeat and just hooky enough for even mainstream Rock stations here in the states to play it on heavy rotation. The popularity of “Boys Keep Swinging” is the perfect example of the tail wagging the dog with conservative, middle of the road Rock and Pop mindsets being seduced by what could be considered a bit of a gay anthem. Subversive and outright addicting.

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