Thoughts and music of double J x

Lodger: David Bowie

1979_lodger_us_cvr_fix_800sqOriginally released May 18th 1979, on the label RCA Lodger is the thirteenth studio album by David Bowie. The last of the Berlin Trilogy, it was recorded in Switzerland and New York City with collaborator Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti. Unlike Bowie’s previous albums, Lodger contained no instrumentals and a somewhat more pop-oriented style while experimenting with elements of world music and recording techniques inspired by Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards. The album was not, by Bowie’s standards, a major commercial success. Indifferently received by critics on its initial release, it is now widely considered to be among Bowie’s most underrated albums. It was accompanied by several singles, including the UK Top 10 hit “Boys Keep Swinging.

bb3234538132427cde4c62a5bb313e59Originally to be titled either Planned Accidents or Despite Straight Lines, Lodger was largely recorded between legs of David Bowie’s 1978 world tour and featured the same musicians, along with Brian Eno. Experiments on the album included using old tunes played backwards, employing identical chord sequences for different songs and having the musicians play unfamiliar instruments (as on “Boys Keep Swinging”). Lead guitar was played not by Robert Fripp, as on “Heroes”, but by Fripp’s future King Crimson band member, Adrian Belew, whom Bowie had “poached” while the guitarist was touring with Frank Zappa. Much of Belew’s work on the album was composited from multiple takes played against backing tracks of which he had no prior knowledge, not even the key.

djThough missing the songs/instrumentals split that characterised Low and “Heroes“, Lodger has been interpreted as dividing roughly into two major themes, that of travel (primarily side one) and critiques of Western civilisation (primarily side two). The final track on “Heroes”, “The Secret Life of Arabia“, anticipated the mock-exotic feel of Lodger’s travel songs. “African Night Flight” was a tribute to the music and culture of the veld, inspired by a trip to Kenya that he took with his then-small son Zowie; its musical textures have been cited as presaging the popularity of world music, Bowie considering it a forerunner of the sounds developed by Brian Eno and David Byrne for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). “Move On” was lyrically Bowie’s ode to his own wanderlust, sonically his earlier classic “All the Young Dudes” played backwards. “Yassassin” was an unlikely reggae song with a Turkish flavour. “Red Sails” was inspired in part by the music of German band Neu!, sharing Neu!’s distinctive “motorik” drum beat; for Bowie, it combined “a German new music feel” with “a contemporary English mercenary-cum-swashbuckling Errol Flynn” to produce “a lovely cross-reference of cultures”.

Eno felt that the trilogy had “petered out” by Lodger, and Belew also observed Eno’s and Bowie’s working relationship closing down: “They didn’t quarrel or anything uncivilised like that; they just didn’t seem to have the spark that I imagine they might have had during the “Heroes” album.” An early plan to continue the basic pattern of the previous records with one side of songs and the other instrumentals was dropped, Bowie instead adding lyrics that foreshadowed the more worldly concerns of his next album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).

david-bowie-lodger-gatefold-insideBowie collaborated with English pop artist Derek Boshier on the cover design. The original gatefold album sleeve featured a full-length shot of Bowie by photographer Brian Duffy as an accident victim, heavily made up with an apparently broken nose. For effect, the image was deliberately of low resolution, taken with a Polaroid SX-70 type camera. The inside of the gatefold included pictures of Che Guevara’s corpse, Andrea Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ and Bowie being readied for the cover photo. These images were not reproduced in the Rykodisc CD reissue in 1991.

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