Ranking Eno-era Bowie tracks

Dividing instrumentals from song? Folly! My readers will wonder why, say, “Blackout” deserves slightly less praise than “Always Crashing in the Same Car.” Well, it depends on the order in which you heard them. Bought in chronological order at a mall (!) record store for the 2020 equivalent of $23, David Bowie’s Visconti-Eno trilogy addressed me as simplicity itself. Each song on Low meant what it said. “You’re just a little girl with grey eyes/Never mind, say something.” “Waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” The thinness of the mix was the point; no other rock ‘n’ roller (look out!) had presented such banal fragments since fellow poseur Bob Dylan in New Morning. But these albums cleansed: listening to Low conjures censers and confessions.

Thicker, strengthened by attempts at third person characterization that unsettled Bowie, “Heroes” is both better and worse than Low. The thing sounds like Tony Visconti recorded it in a sewer pipe ringed with Christmas lights. The gayest moment in the Bowie catalog isn’t “Moonage Daydream” — it’s his “d-a-a-a-h-h-l-linnng” in “Beauty and the Beast”; the second album in this trilogy celebrates a demimonde that only Lou Reed had caught on tape but had Robert Fripp and Brian Eno as landscapers.

Blessed with a mix that turns its guitars into dead crickets on car wheels, Lodger is for inexplicable reasons the “underrated” third part of this trilogy even though it’s been underrated since Carter botched the rescue of the hostages in Iran. With their airy, brittle mixes and pungent Adrian Belew solos, “Fantastic Voyage,” “Yassasin,” and “Red Sails” evoke the spirit of the eternal flâneur, ever on the hunt for sensations.

Meh

Secret Life of Arabia
Red Money
V-2 Schneider

Sound, Solid

Warszawa
Look Back in Anger
Blackout
Red Sails
Moss Garden
What in the World
Repetition
Sense of Doubt

Good to Great

Sound and Vision
Beauty and the Beast
Heroes
Move On
Art Decade
Joe the Lion
Yassassin
Speed of Life
Fantastic Voyage
Weeping Wall
Boys Keep Swinging
Subterraneans
D.J.
Always Crashing in the Same Car
Neuköln
Be My Wife
Sons of the Silent Age
Breaking Glass

5 thoughts on “Ranking Eno-era Bowie tracks

  1. Jukebox

    Listening to the trilogy for my list, now. Low is the best, most consistent of the three. Having say this, I comprehend the desperation in “Be My Wife”, but the selling point is Bowie’s delivery, while I find the guitar work distracting. A clue: barring the barrelhouse piano intro, Albarn completely stole the rythm pattern for “For Tomorrow”!! But I already have “Stay” in the list so I don’t see the need to include its second part. Harrowing as that is, you can also dance to it. A feat.

    Besides, “Always Crashing In the Same Car” is my pick behind “Sound and Vision”. Bowie complaints like a wailing banshee there, amid the most streamlined guitar lick of the entire record. The guitar IS the melody (beautiful), while he sings like a defeated ghost. Terrific.

    “Heroes” most distinctive song (compared to Low) is the single, title track. No problem with that. Is claustrophobia as epic liberation. A conceit, really. Love “Speed of Life” but “Joe the Lion” could have been in either record, really.

    “Fantastic Voyage” should have been the single off “Lodger”. Easily. I’m not that fond of “Boys Keep Swinging”, although I could get totatly behind the lyrics. It’s his ode to punk or disco? hard to tell. It sounds like a mutant “girl group” tune from the masculine perspective. By the time I get to that in “Lodger” I half expected a Shangri-Las cover. A queer version of “Leader of the Pack”, perhaps?.

    Reply
  2. Jukebox

    Sorry I’m out of topic. But isn’t Dolly’s “My Blue Tears” McGarrigle-esque or what? Ot the sisters listened to her? The double-track harmonies! The words!

    Reply

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