Jeremy Gluck (Barracudas) : my top 10 favourite albums : number 2
Low – David Bowie
(For number 3 in Jeremy Gluck’s top 10 albums please go here)
In 1978 I moved into a former squat off the Cally Road in Islington. Back then, of course, before Islington became The People’s Chelsea infested with upwardly mobile trainee Blairites, it had the charm much of London still did then, a kind of grubby post-war malaise evidenced in our road by half of it sinking one day into a long-forgotten submerged bomb crater. In the room I shared with my girlfriend of the time was a pile of LP’s leaning against the wall, including Bowie’s still relatively new (not that it ever ages) “Low”. Now, I knew my Burroughs and already dug his rock’n’roll suicidal stuff from “The Man Who Sold The World” through “Aladdin Sane”, but nothing (or perhaps only nothing) could have prepared me for “Low”. Very few ‘electronic’ albums matter. “Suicide”, supremely, and of course Kraftwerk’s masterworks, along with many by their German Krautrock brethren.
The thing that fascinates me about “Low” is that, although it actually is not an electronic album, but a rock’n’roll one, it is morphed by Bowie’s cocaine magick psychosis at the time into one. It sounds and feels more futuristic and electronic than half or more ‘electronic’ albums ever do. How? Few artists can suspend normal laws of artistic time and space, but Bowie did it on “Low”: like vintage switchboard operators on acid he and henchman supreme Brian Eno randomly (lyrically and musically) reinvented ten or twenty years of popular music, plugging this and that in here and there without let or hindrance until it assumed some kind of shape and then, quaking, RCA released it, convinced their golden goose had just laid a golden vague bound to confound (though, to be fair, a few years before they had released Lou Reed’s wall of unsound “Metal Machine Music”…on their classical label. And that takes moxie!) “Low” is now acknowledged as a classic, its instrumental and inscrutable second side (figure it out LOL) implacably defiant.
It’s been said that nobody but a star of the magnitude Bowie had become by the release of “Low” could have even gotten it released. The thing is, nobody else could have made it except Bowie. And so paradox plays its hand. “Low” is Bowie’s black hole: once you get into it, you’ll never get out. Or want to.