Capping off the “Berlin trilogy” is Lodger, another contender for Bowie’s most underrated album. I’ve forever thought of it as lesser than “Heroes” and Low, and in a way it kind of is. Those two albums had this big story behind them, some myth about Bowie, but Pitchfork was absolutely right when they called this the first “just a collection of good songs by David Bowie”, because that’s exactly what it is. A bunch of cool songs. There’s still a lot of experimentation and interesting sounds, but it’s kinda cool to just have some songs without too much necessary background knowledge.
I like how even though these three albums are thought of as a set, they’re very different from one another. Actually, I feel like Lodger gets back to a little of the robotic feel of Low, but in a more “machines v. humans” context. Obviously that’s not the theme lyrically, but musically, I love how much it feels like a renegade robot on the run. I’m always wondering how much and what parts are Eno, and what’s Bowie or someone else, but I’m not the one to try to figure that out.
African Night Flight is chaotic and wild but it’s restrained noise. Bowie sounds crazed, jumping nimbly from each word to a hypnotizing chorus chanted by background singers. It’s a wild ride. It’s pushed forward by a couple of repeated piano chords that sound like death knells, and around it pecking like rabid birds are all these wild squiggles and bells and whatnot. I used to not be into it, but I can dig it now.
Like, this album is wild even when it doesn’t seem wild. Move On is partly All the Young Dude’s played backwards.
I love this kind of stuff, and it’s blowing my mind. This album is full of that kind of thing, from band members switching instruments to create that unsteady effect (Boys Keep Swinging) to even having two songs with the same structure and chord sequence (Fantastic Voyage and Boys Keep Swinging, two songs that couldn’t sound more different [okay maybe they could sound more different, but they’re still totally different]). So neat, and it makes this album even more interesting and creative for me.
There’s lots of playing with grooves and foreign feelings, like how Bowie played a Japanese instrument in Moss Garden, Yassassin for example holds down a very fun reggae beat but has strings and a synth line that sound straight out of the Middle East.
I’ve also read a lot about how these albums are so influenced by krautrock, but at least to my ears, this is the most krautrock-influenced of all three albums. If I had to point fingers, I’d argue strongly that Red Sails, Look Back in Anger and Boys Keep Swinging are some of his most krautrock-driven songs. I love the drums on those songs.
There’s a lot on this album that ended up being super influential. The best song on the album for me, D.J., is supposed to be a Talking Heads impression, but all I can hear is the exact sound that gave birth to James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Bowie’s gone HAM on his vocals all over this album, pick out any track and listen as Bowie unravels his voice to the barest of threads. He’s all over the place, like he’s upped the punk factor way up. D.J. is my favorite example of that though, he’s run so ragged but it just accentuates the rawness. Repetition has a lopsided feeling going on, and it’s a lot more Talking Heads than D.J. sounds to me. Now if we’re talking about Talking Heads though, even though it was written years before in the form of Iggy Pop’s Sister Midnight, Red Money finally comes out on Bowie’s own album. Now that is Talking Heads.
It’s been said before what a knack Bowie has for picking out talent, and he’s done it again with Adrian Belew, the replacement for Fripp. His guitar parts are so different, frantic and all over the place, like a charged engine or battery that just explodes. I love the way it sounds here, like throwing a guitar in a room and just listening to it clang.
This album was so misunderstood when it came out, but it’s finally had its legacy restored and gone down as one of Bowie’s most creative albums. As it should.