Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Friday, May 22, 2015

David Bowie - Zeit! 77-79 (2013)


EU Import

EMI is repackaging the existing versions of the Low (1977), “Heroes” (1977), Stage (1978) and Lodger (1979) CDs together in a cardboard slipcase, under the box set name of DAVID BOWIE – ZEIT! 77-79.  The three studio albums here are generally referred to as the somewhat misleading Berlin Trilogy. A more unifying theme throughout the three recordings is the presence of Mr Bowie, Mr Eno and Mr Visconti. Stage (the 1978 double live recording of the attendant tour), is included here for good measure.
Hardcore collectors may be disappointed in this set as it is more of a repackaging than a reissue, but for someone who had read a great deal about the "Berlin Trilogy" but never listened, this was an inexpensive way to easily obtain all 3 discs.  I ordered the set not long after finishing the memoir 1982 by Jian Ghomeshi, which is basically a love letter to Bowie (the book isn't that great and is readily available for one cent if you're interested).

LOW (1977)
11 tracks, 39 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #11
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #21

Striking.  A very disjunct, coherent album and by that I mean the songs are very fractured, but they work as a whole.  As this album starts off, we're hit in the face with the mood-setting instrumental Speed Of Life with all its synth pads.  An argument could be made that this was the first post-punk album, but I doubt such a debate could ever be resolved (another candidate for that designation would be the 1977 Bowie-produced Iggy Pop album, The Idiot).  I enjoy the side one of Low (tracks 1-7) even though the more traditional Be My Wife seems a little out of place.  However, I am completely fascinated by side two, particularly the haunting piece titled Warszawa.  I have no idea what Bowie, Eno, and Visconti were doing here and I'm not exactly sure I'll ever figure it out.  That doesn't keep me from trying - while I usually listen to the album in toto, I will occasionally put on some headphones and listen to tracks 8-11 a few times through at high volume.

Pitchfork Media placed it at number 1 on the website's Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. In 2000, Q placed it at number 14 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2003, the album was ranked number 249 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (it has since moved down to #251).  It was also included in the 2005 book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, where it was written that the album's "troubled atmosphere reflected its creator's own fractured mental state at the time."  I'm glad I didn't hear this album in 1977 because I would have hated it and never listened to it again.  As it turns out, I'm still discovering it more than 35 years after the fact.

"HEROES" (1977)
10 tracks, 41 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #35
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #46

Of the three albums in the "Berlin Trilogy," this was the only one wholly recorded in Berlin; the studio was located about 500 yards from the Berlin Wall.  A collaborative solo album.  It's definitely Bowie, but you can't discount the obvious contributions of Visconti, Eno, and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp (who is said to have recorded all his parts in one day).  Influenced by the Krautrock milieu in which he had situated himself, there's also an industrial sound to it.  I could go on and on about Eno's tool for creativity, Oblique Strategies, but I'll just write that I'm fascinated by that particular creative process, which was used in these recordings.

My favorite cuts are the seminal title track, Beauty And The Beast, Blackout, and what was side two (tracks 6-10).  I don't care too much for Sons Of The Silent Age.  Who am I to second guess the sequencing, but here I go: I'd move the Secret Life Of Arabia to track 6 so that the last sound on the album would be the plaintive wails of Neuk├Âln.

RCA marketed the album using the following tagline, which I think is brilliant:

STAGE (1978)
2 discs, 20 tracks, 86 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #44
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #62

To be honest, this the first time I've listened to these discs.  I was unaware of this live album until I purchased this box set.  It's an okay live album - Bowie sounds like Bowie always sounds and the band is tight.  The main problem is that the live versions are close/direct miked and don't vary much from the studio versions so I'm left wondering why bother?  The songs sound so much like the studio that producer Tony Visconti feels the need to reassure us several times in the liner notes that the album is "100% live." The songs I like on these discs are the same songs I like on the studio albums; no surprise there.  Unfortunately, not many surprises here, either.

LODGER (1979)
10 tracks, 36 minutes

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #20
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #25

Reportedly recorded as the Bowie-Eno working relationship was on the decline; there's definitely more Bowie than Eno on this one.  This is one of those albums that require multiple listenings before you can appreciate it then you can't the songs out of your head.  While there are some hooky melodies scattered throughout, it's the backing tracks that require attention, particularly the aleatoric elements and Adrian Belew's avant guitar work.  I miss the intricate instrumentals - this brief album is not in the same league as Low - but since when does Bowie repeat himself?

I like the tracks Yassassin, D.J., Look Back In Anger, and Boys Keep Swinging.  This release was an Enchanced CD in which the "bonus content" is merely an ad for Bowie's website.

Previously revisited for the blog:
The Next Day (2013)
Changesbowie (1990)
Let's Dance (1983)

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