Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Thirty years ago if you would have walked into any record store you might have seen a certain album called LOW gathering dust on the new release racks. You might have been struck by the striking cover photo and taken an open copy into a listening booth. Dropping the needle on random spots you would have heard something remarkably different and daring; from the deliberately chopping short splintered songs on the first side to the long instrumentals on side two. It would have been unlike anything else you had ever heard and thirty years after its release LOW remains a unique and audacious creation.
David Bowie released LOW just after his birthday in January of 1977. Initial reactions to the album were lukewarm to say the least. Critics were pretty condemning and fans were perplexed. After initial solid sales it quickly fell off the charts and became one of Bowie's poorest selling albums.
It soon became apparent that LOW was something remarkable and within just a few years its effects began to be felt in a wide variety of artistic fields. Bands like Joy Division among a slew of others would take it's chilly sound to more extreme levels. Pretty much the entire post punk movement was built on LOW.
The creation of LOW remains a misunderstood one. Often credited as being recorded completely in Berlin with Brian Eno in the producer's chair, LOW was actually recorded in France with Tony Visconti producing. Visconti remains one of the seventies most unheralded visionaries and he is deserving of major credit for LOW'S revolutionary sound. More mysterious is the album's connection to Nicolas Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH.
Much of LOW'S side two was originally written for THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH's soundtrack but Roeg had never intended to use Bowie as composer. What exactly was recorded for the soundtrack and just how it sounded is debatable. A mysterious bootleg appeared in the seventies called THE VISITOR which purportedly claimed to be the original recordings but it is now said to be locked in the private vault of a certain Thomas Jerome Newton.
While Brian Eno did not produce LOW his contributions are immeasurable. He shared Bowie's love for the music of bands ranging from NEU!, CAN, POPOL VUH and KRAFTWERK and LOW helped turn an entire generation on to these remarkable German groups.
It remains an album that has spiritually affected many people, including myself and as Brian Eno said an album, 'that many people built an entire career from'.
The thing that we know of as 'the album' is slipping away from us, it is becoming something unrecognizable. LOW is a perfect reminder of just how powerful two sides and less than forty minutes of music can be. I have many albums I love but LOW is the one I would reach for to put on the turntable if I knew the world was coming to an end. Our downloaded culture needs reminding of its spiritually charged grooves more than ever and throughout this year I will be paying tribute to it.