Living as a Bowie fan wasn't easy in the seventies and it isn't easy now. The man's ever-changing styles and sounds often left me in the dust. Though the jumps from "Ziggy Stardust" to "Aladdin Sane" and "Pinups" to "Diamond Dogs" weren't so difficult, it was the jump from "Diamond Dogs" to 1974's "David Live" that shred my first nerve.
Years later, what left me cold and heartbroken--plastic soul live versions replete with studio overdubs and gloss--goes down without incident. "David Live" isn't for everyone. It's barely for Bowie fans, especially coming off of a largely underrated gem like "Diamond Dogs," a record most don't realize, finds Bowie playing all the guitar parts. But I've grown to appreciate "David Live," certainly more than I did back then.
Then came "Young Americans," and more faux soul. I didn't like it then. I don't like it much now. Ironically, it gave Bowie his first U.S. #1 with "Fame."
What followed in 1976, was then and is now, what I feel is Bowie's finest hour. "Station To Station" not only took Bowie's entire career so far--the pop crooner, the glam star, the rocker, and the slick soul man--and shaped it into one perfect union, it also planted the seeds for what is arguably, Bowie's most revered set of music, the Berlin Trilogy beginning with 1977's "Low," and continuing with 1978's "Heroes" and 1979's "Lodger," 3 LPs featuring sounds and treatment by Brian Eno.
Hugo Wilcken's account of Bowie during these times, specifically the recording of "Low," is brilliant. If you have any interest in Bowie or this period of his career, I strongly suggest reading "33 1/3." Low." There's nothing I can say here that will be better.
I will offer this. Hearing "Low" for the first time, just a year after hearing what is not only my favorite Bowie album, but one of my favorites of all time, was the hardest leap of all. My initial thoughts, as much as I can recall, were shock and confusion. Songs barely two minutes long, one whole side of instrumental ambient sounds, and some flat and fuzzy production, "Low" was the opposite of "Station To Station," a record containing only 6 songs, most of which were 5 and 6 minutes, and featuring a big, bold sound. At least I thought "Low" was the opposite.
35 years later and many articles, including one in this month's issue of Mojo, as well as Hugo Wilcken's book, all shed some light on what I think I probably already knew. "Low" is a masterwork, best taken whole. Reading and listening all these years, I now hear "Low" as the natural follow-up to "Station To Station."
Looks like David Bowie might be retired for good. No more comebacks or "greatest hits" tours for him. As a longtime fan, it's easier for me to say, he went out on a high note. The recent trilogy, "Hours," "Heathen," and "Reality" stand up for me even more than the Berlin Trilogy. This is mostly because I never latched on to "Lodger." For casual Bowie fans, both trilogies will never be as easy to swallow as "Changes" or "Let's Dance," but I do think "Low" is worth everyone's time.