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Low is the eleventh studio album by British musician David Bowie, co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti.[1] Widely regarded as one of Bowie's most influential releases, Low was the first of the "Berlin Trilogy", a series of collaborations with Brian Eno (though the album was mainly recorded in France and only mixed in West Berlin). The experimental, avant-garde style would be further explored on "Heroes" and Lodger. The album's working title was New Music Night and Day.[2]

ContentsEdit

 [hide*1 Background

Background[edit]Edit

The genesis of Low lies in both the foundations laid by Bowie's previous album Station to Station, and music he intended for the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth. When Bowie presented his material for the film to Nicolas Roeg, the director decided that it would not be suitable. Roeg preferred a more folksy sound, although John Phillips (the chosen composer for the soundtrack) described Bowie's contributions as "haunting and beautiful".[3] Elements from these pieces were incorporated into Low instead. The album's cover, like Station to Station, is a still from the movie: the photographic image, under the album's title, formed a deliberate pun on the phrase "low profile".[4]

Music[edit]Edit

The album was co-produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, with contributions from Brian Eno.[1] As a recovering cocaine addict, Bowie's songwriting on Lowtended to deal with difficult issues: "There's oodles of pain in the Low album. That was my first attempt to kick cocaine, so that was an awful lot of pain. And I moved to Berlin to do it. I moved out of the coke center of the world [i.e.Los Angeles, where Station to Station was recorded] into the smack center of the world. Thankfully, I didn't have a feeling for smack, so it wasn't a threat."[5] Visconti contended that the title was partly a reference to Bowie's "low" moods during the album's writing and recording.[6]

Side one of the album contained short, direct song-fragments; side two comprised longer, mostly instrumental tracks. On these tracks help was lent by ex-Roxy Music keyboardist and conceptualist Brian Eno, who brought along his EMS 'suitcase' AKS synthesiser (Bowie was later given this particular synthesiser as a birthday present after a friend obtained it in an auction).[7] Often incorrectly given credit asLow's producer,[8] Eno was responsible for a good deal of the direction and composition of the second side of the album and wrote the theme and instrumentation for "Warszawa" while Bowie was in Paris attending court hearings against his former manager. Eno in turn was helped by producer Tony Visconti's four-year-old son who sat next to Eno playing A, B, C in a constant loop at the studio piano. This phrase became the "Warszawa" theme. On Bowie's return Eno played him the work which impressed Bowie who then composed the vaguely Eastern European-sounding lyrics.[9]

Although the music was influenced by German bands such as Kraftwerk and Neu!,[2][8] Low has been acclaimed for its originality and is considered ahead of its time, not least for its cavernous treated drum sound created by producer Visconti using an Eventide Harmonizer.[4][10] On the release of Low, Visconti received phone calls from other producers asking how he had made this unique sound, but would not give up the information, instead asking each producer how they thought it had been done.[10]

Reception[edit]Edit

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic [11]
BBC Online (favourable)[12]
Robert Christgau B+[13]
The New York Times (favourable)[14]
Q [15]
Rolling Stone (mixed) 1977[16]
Rolling Stone  2001[17]
Spin (9/10)[18]
Stylus Magazine (favourable)[19]
Virgin Encyclopedia [20]

Critical reaction to Low was divided among music critics upon its release. In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ rating,[13] indicating "a good record, at least one of whose sides can be played with lasting interest and the other of which includes at least one enjoyable cut".[21] Christgau viewed "side one's seven "fragments"... almost as powerful as the 'overlong' tracks on Station to Station", but noted "the movie music on side two" as "so far from hypnotic" and characterised by "banality".[13] Rolling Stone writer John Milward noted that "Bowie lacks the self-assured humour to pull off his avant-garde aspirations" and found the album's second side weaker than its first, stating "Side one, where Bowie works within more conventional rock trappings, is superior to side two's experiments simply because a band forces discipline into Bowie's writing and performance".[16] Los Angeles Timeswriter Robert Hilburn shared a similar sentiment and stated "For 12 minutes, this is Bowie's most striking and satisfying album since Ziggy. But the remaining 26 minutes, including all of Side 2, deal with a spacy art rock style that is simply beyond mass pop sensibilities for it to build much enthusiasm".[22]

In contrast, Billboard called the album's second side "the most adventurous and a stark contrast to the few distorted hard rock cuts on side one" and wrote thatLow "emphasizes Bowie's serious writing efforts which only time can tell will appeal to the people who have watched him go through various musical phases".[23] John Rockwell of The New York Times wrote that "There are hardly any vocals, and what there are mostly mindless doggerel heard from afar. And the instrumentals are strange and spacey. Nevertheless, the whole thing strikes this listener as remarkably, alluringly beautiful".[14] Rockwell described its sound as "a strange crossbreed of Roxy Music, Eno's own solo albums, Talking Heads and an Indonesian gamelan. Yet it still is recognizably a David Bowie album", and concluded that "once Mr. Bowie's fans overcome their initial shock at his latest change in direction, they may realize that he's made one of the finest disks of his career".[14] The album was a commercial success, peaking at number two on the UK Albums Chart and number 11 on the US Billboard Pop Albums chart. "Sound and Vision" and "Be My Wife" were released as singles; the former reached number three on the UK Singles Chart.

Low has risen to the top of many critics' "best album" lists. It was rated the No. 1 album of the 1970s by Pitchfork Media.[24] In 2000 Q placed it at number 14 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.[25] In 2003, the album was ranked number 249 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[26] In a retrospective review, The Rolling Stone Album Guide gives Low a 5 out of 5 star rating and states "it's the music of an overstimulated mind in an exhausted body [...] sashays through some serious emotional wreckage".[27]

Adaptations[edit]Edit

Nick Lowe humorously "retaliated" against the name of the album by naming his 1977 EP Bowi. Before finally adopting the name Joy Division, the band played under the name of Warsaw as reference to the song "Warszawa" on Low.[28] Philip Glass based his 1992 classical composition Low Symphony on Low, with Bowie and Eno both influencing the work.[29]

Track listing[edit]Edit

All lyrics written by David Bowie; all music composed by David Bowie except where noted.

Side one
  1. "Speed of Life" – 2:46
  2. "Breaking Glass" (Bowie, Dennis DavisGeorge Murray) – 1:52
  3. "What in the World" – 2:23
  4. "Sound and Vision" – 3:05
  5. "Always Crashing in the Same Car" – 3:33
  6. "Be My Wife" – 2:58
  7. "A New Career in a New Town" – 2:53
Side two
  1. "Warszawa" (Bowie, Brian Eno) – 6:23
  2. "Art Decade" – 3:46
  3. "Weeping Wall" – 3:28
  4. "Subterraneans" – 5:39

Reissues[edit]Edit

The album has been released three times on CD, the first between 1984 and 1985 by RCA Records, the second in 1991 by Rykodisc (with three bonus tracks on silver CD and later on AU20 Gold CD), and the third in 1999 by EMI (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks).

The Rykodisc edition of this album was released in the United Kingdom on CD, Cassette and LP in 1991 by EMI Records. The three bonus tracks were added to the end of side two of the LP and cassette editions so not to spoil the original running order.

CD: Rykodisc / RCD 10142 (US)[edit]Edit

  1. "Some Are" (previously unreleased) – 3:24
  2. "All Saints" (previously unreleased) – 3:25
  3. "Sound and Vision" (1991 remix by David Richards) – 4:43
  • also released by EMI in the UK (CDP 79 7719 2)

Personnel[edit]Edit

Additional personnel[edit]Edit

Charts[edit]Edit

Peak positions[edit]Edit

Chart (1977) Position
Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart[30] 10
Austrian Albums Chart[31] 17
Canadian RPM Albums Chart[32] 56
Dutch Mega Albums Chart[33] 6
Japanese Oricon LP Chart[34] 35
New Zealand Albums Chart[35] 12
Norwegian Albums Chart[36] 10
Swedish Albums Chart[37] 12
UK Albums Chart[38] 2
US Billboard 200[39] 11

Year-end charts[edit]Edit

Chart (1977) Position
Australian Albums Chart[30] 70
Dutch Albums Chart[40] 19

Certifications[edit]Edit

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Canada (Music Canada)[41] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[42] Gold 100,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

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