OK Riot/ I’d Rather Be Chrome

cruelty in art

OK Riot/I’d Rather Be Chrome.
I’d Rather Be Chrome (different edit, with “Nathan Adler” dialogue).

The main problem with the Eighties was the Eighties. One of the first things [Eno and I] talked about when we got back together again…was the fact that both of us really hated the Eighties. It was such a nebulous, commerce-oriented period that we both felt invalidated. Brian went off to Malaysia for quite a long time and I went off to bed for a lot of that period.

David Bowie, interview by Seconds, August/September 1995.

I’m an atheist and the concept of god for me is all part of what I call the last illusion. The last illusion is that someone knows what’s going on.

Brian Eno, unpublished interview for New Route, 1992.

One Man Goes to the Wedding

On the first Saturday of June 1992, in the “American” church of Florence, Brian Eno was at the wedding of a man who he hadn’t seen in thirteen years. He was taken by how Bowie and Iman’s wedding seemed intended for a studio audience; it was a spectacle funded by Hello! magazine. So Eno turned correspondent. In the words of his biographer David Sheppard, Eno “spent time observing the body movements of Bowie and Iman as they worked the floor, creating a typically whimsical illustrative diagram in his notebook.” A month later, Eno, in London, gave a lecture called Perfume, Defence and David Bowie’s Wedding.

At the reception, Bowie mentioned to Eno that he’d written some instrumental pieces for the wedding, some of which eventually appeared on Black Tie White Noise. The groom commandeered the DJ’s system to play Eno some tapes (the other guests must have been delighted). Eno was intrigued: Bowie seemed to have awoken from a long slumber. “We were suddenly on the same course again,” Bowie later said. They agreed, tentatively, to work together.

There have been very few occasions where I feel there’s somebody who actually meets my requirements, that I feel is either intellectually or aesthetically aware of what I’m doing as Brian. He knows what I’m doing. No other fucker that I’ve worked with actually has a clue half the time…Brian is incredibly selfish, which I very much admire about him.

Bowie, interview by Moon Zappa, RayGun, 1995.

A year and a half passed. Eno was a beehive, producing and making a half-dozen albums, among other activities (lectures, exhibits, a new daughter). Bowie made Buddha of Suburbia. The latter convinced Eno that Bowie was serious about experimentation again—he even sent a letter of praise. Bowie and Eno occasionally mailed each other “mini-manifestos about what we would and wouldn’t do in the studio, so that at least when we went in we’d have a set of concepts that would enable us to avoid all the things we find boring and bland in popular music,” Bowie recalled to Interview.

So the album began as a negative: Eno and Bowie defining what they would not make, in the hopes of finding spaces left open. Eno, to Musician, said that “a big ‘won’t” in this case was, we don’t want to make another record of a bunch of songs. That just is not an interesting thing to do at the moment. There’s got to be a bigger landscape in play than that.”

But as they started work in early spring 1994, the pair, despite their revolutionary communiqués, fell back on tried methods. In particular, those of their last project, Lodger, whose random-at-gunpoint methodology—Eno using Oblique Strategies cards on the session musicians; making the band change chords whenever he pointed to a new one on a chalkboard—would also be the guiding force of Outside. For Bowie, it was 1980 again. “It was almost as though no time had been wedged in, like we were carrying on from the third album together.

Lodger had been released without much fuss, while Bowie and Eno would make far greater claims on Outside‘s behalf. The more “avant garde” cast of players on Outside also meant a receptive environment for Eno’s art pranks in the studio (well, except for Erdal Kizilcay, see below). But Bowie and Eno began already boxed in, spending much of their time trying to upend their and their public’s expectations. It was a seemingly impossible task. There was now an established method to make a “Bowie/Eno” album, and the two of them were dutifully following it.

dhshark

How would you describe your part in the music history?

Interfering. Mischief maker.

Bowie, interview by Stockholm TV, 1996.

At times they accepted the futility of being “new” again, and used their past as raw material. Bowie had been a experimental nostalgist on Buddha, after all. He had lived long enough, he’d made enough music, that he could call up his past as if it was a set of songs on a jukebox, and use a taste of some old edition of Bowie to season a track. And Eno had become a brand (he would give lectures to both the EC and Tony Blair on “cultural issues” in the mid-Nineties) and had started playing with brand identities. His work with U2 on Achtung Baby and Zooropa had used “Bowie and Eno in Berlin” as a genre, exploiting the images and the textures that the period invoked.*

Outside would be aptly named. While the album featured some of Bowie’s finest songs of his later years, they were hard to discern. The bizarre quasi-narrative that Bowie created to frame the record was a ruse, just David Lynchian window-dressing, but it also was a crazy quilt of Bowie’s various obsessions—Arthurian legend, Gnosticism, Aleister Crowley, etc.—a stream of associations flooding into the work, as if a dam had burst. Outside was defined by, and consumed with, interpretation and perception. It seemed to be nothing but a frame, a frame that housed smaller frames and circus-house mirrors. Its underlying tension (it’s Bowie’s most claustrophobic album, which is saying something) came from the collision of the public image of “Eno and Bowie” and the pair’s thwarted desires to erase themselves. So Bowie called himself an author, creating a set of characters in a narrative that intentionally made no sense, while Eno wrote a set of science fiction scenarios and made a group of rock musicians act them out.

Over 1994 and 1995, with the specter of Scott Walker’s impending new album looming over the mixing sessions (Bowie was convinced Walker would show him up, and arguably, with Tilt, Walker did—we’ll get to this on “The Motel”), Bowie and Eno kept upping the ante of their project, raising each other’s pretensions with each new interview.

So an album that had started as a radical experiment, a few weeks of identity games, art therapy and anti-jam sessions, wound up marketed as a hyper-text non-linear narrative, the first in an intended five-album series. Bowie and Eno would put out an album to commemorate each remaining year of the millennium; the later records might continue the Nathan Adler non-storyline that Bowie devised for Outside or he might devise other characters.** “It’ll be the Nicholas Nickelby of rock by the time it’s finished,” he told Moon Zappa. The series would distill the remaining days of the 20th Century, flatten and preserve the years as if they were dried flowers in the pages of a book. And the scheme would culminate, Bowie said, in a grand concert in 1999, possibly held at a Viennese opera house, possibly at the Salzburg Festival, possibly directed by Robert Wilson, possibly six or eight hours long (“pack a sandwich!” Bowie said in a few interviews). Then the world would end.

Two Men Go to the Asylum

see the shark how red his fins are

I’m a creature of eclecticism, aren’t I? I think I like complications. I like things that tend to be endless puzzles…I like thickly textured things.

Bowie, press conference for the European Outside tour, 1995.

None of this happened (well, maybe the world ended, and we weren’t told). Outside had the same fate as other Bowie projects, especially Diamond Dogs: grand inaugural claims, a compromised first product, a tour, which led to new interests, with Bowie then visibly growing uninterested in the old project, which he soon discarded. So all that exists of the colossal millennial dream of Bowie and Eno’s collective imagination is a 74-minute album, a few B-sides, a piece of fiction Bowie wrote for Q magazine that was recycled as liner notes and, marginally, a few music videos.

Could they really have pulled it off? I can’t imagine so, and I can’t imagine Bowie and Eno wanted to. Outside is just the ticket stub from a conceptual art project that Bowie and Eno carried out in the press during 1995 and 1996. Much like Bowie’s detective story, the millennial project was mainly left to the reader or listener’s imagination, where it would fare better than if Bowie and Eno had been on stage for eight hours in Vienna. The sheer amount of information Bowie said he was processing, his apparent attempt to collocate seemingly every thought he’d had in the Nineties, made any attempt to turn his public effusions into art a Sisyphean task.

But go back to 1994. Bowie and Eno began by crossing off what they wouldn’t do. What were the positive inputs? (“We were looking for grist for the mill,” Bowie said.) For Bowie, there were a host of ideas he was playing with, which we’ll get into in future entries. These included: his fascination with the growing appeal of piercing and tattooing, how that reflected a growing “tribalism” and how it was a domestic version of the extremities of the body artists, who trafficked in mutilation and death as performance art (something that had intrigued Bowie since the Seventies, see “Joe the Lion”); the collapse of cultural “narratives,” usurped by an ever-broadening chaotic stream of information; his love of Twin Peaks. And his sense that the West, in the Nineties, was entering into a period of cultural binging and purging, a shedding of skins before the millennium, with a taste for violent sex and stylish murder—hence the popularity of serial killer movies and TV shows, the paranoia of everything from Oliver Stone’s JFK to The X-Files. Bowie predicted that the 2000s would be a calmer, more reflective period, which perhaps it was for him.

out of sight

Eno shared another of Bowie’s hobbyhorses: “outsider” art. Again, this wasn’t anything new: Eno’s work in the Seventies with the Portsmouth Sinfonia, a symphony of players who’d never touched their instruments before, had been a variation of this. But in early 1994, the two of them, in their first act as collaborators, went to an artist’s asylum in Vienna. This was the Maria Gugging Psychiatric Clinic, whose therapy included housing mentally ill patients with artistic ambitions in one wing, where they were allowed to paint the walls, couches and even trees.

Bowie spent two days sketching the artists, while Eno recorded their conversations. For Bowie and Eno, these were the true late Twentieth Century artists: people making art without any knowledge of contemporary styles and tastes, directly channeling their internal temperaments onto canvases or walls, working seemingly without ambition or influence. They were artists who, in some cases, literally did not know who they were, and as such were inspirational. “We felt an exhilaration watching them work,” Bowie said.

Six Men Play Games

mereenfant

It occurred to me that this raw material was, in its own chaotic and perilous way, as much a part of their work as the songs that would finally grow out of it.

Eno, on his work with James.

Another template Eno used for the first sessions was what he’d done with the Mancunian band James in the summer of 1993. Over six weeks at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios, Eno set up a split-screen creative process. During the day, James recorded their official major-label album, Laid, whose title track would become a worldwide hit single. Then late at night, in a second studio, Eno pushed the band to make what he called a “shadow album,” where James would improvise without being given any sense of direction. Their lead singer Tim Booth, towards the end of the sessions, would add first-take vocals to a set of tracks that Eno chose and quickly mixed.*

Now the goal was to do nothing but a “shadow album,” a dark mirror of a commercial album Bowie never made. Eno crafted an immersive role-playing group improvisation. He brought his Oblique Strategies cards out, but he also devised characters for all musicians and engineers to play, giving them names, tastes, habits and back stories, all of which they weren’t to share with the other players (see here).

There was some resistance to this from Erdal Kizilcay, who was in the position of Carlos Alomar on Lodger-–a professional musician and longtime Bowie collaborator who resented the antics of Eno who, in Kizilcay’s words, “couldn’t play four bars.” But Gabrels and Mike Garson were inspired by the games (Bowie: “With Garson, for example, we could just say: “Mike, be yourself,” and it’s so nutty that there was no need to set parameters“), while the drummer, Sterling Campbell, was a strong and supple enough player that he gave any random, bizarre improvisation some needed heft.

[Eno and I] had an idea that we wanted to create some kind of situation that never really happened, but film it as though it had happened, document an event which never took place.

Bowie, press conference, 1995.

So the sextet (Eno mainly keeping to the control booth) started recording in March 1994, working for about three weeks in Mountain Studios. Gabrels came to Switzerland a week early to reconnect with Bowie, who he hadn’t seen since the Black Tie sessions. Gabrels thought he would be doing some preliminary writing with Bowie as well, but Bowie was more interested in having long conversations, and allegedly had prepared nothing for the sessions. On the official first day of recording, an overall-clad Bowie greeted the players and handed them tools—paintbrushes, wallpaper hangers, carpets, canvases. Before playing anything, they would first redecorate the studio. Each player would get a corner of their own: Bowie turned his into an atelier, painting and sketching the players for days before he sang a note.

Eno ran the sessions like a man trying to break children of bad habits. He disrupted the jams whenever he thought they were growing conventional, using “strategies designed to stop the thing from becoming over-coherent.” What happens when four musicians come together in a room and jam? They always start playing the blues, Eno said. Eno was a dedicated enemy of the blues. So he had everyone wear headphones, through which he would pipe in samples of clocks, words looped from French radio broadcasts and songs from Motown tapes, all while the musicians played.

dhdisc

I see no way we can go back, philosophically, to a world of absolutes. Which I feel very comfortable with and I always have done….I think seeing the problems that historians themselves have with revisionism of history it seems almost nonsensical for the layman to even bother to try and analyze history any more in a straight narrative way. In a way history almost ceases to exist—possibly we can’t really entertain the idea of a future in the same way. Which may be not a bad thing.

Bowie, interview with Ian Penman, Esquire, 1995.

The peak moment came, Bowie said, on 12 March 1994 (or 20 March, according to another interview). The band improvised for three and a half hours while Bowie, with pages of random-generated lines spread out across a table before him, channeled a series of characters. He tried out a new accent, a new perspective, every few minutes, reading stray lines from various sheets, tumbling out words. Out of this “blindingly orgiastic” (Bowie’s later effusion) session came the core of what would be Outside—some of the music, and most of all the origin of the various characters Bowie would devise for the album’s narrative, like the detective Nathan Adler and the victim Baby Grace Blue. The work soon became known as Leon, after one of Bowie’s characters.

According to Bowie and Garson, anywhere from 22 to 35 hours of material came out these sessions. It’s unclear how far along the sequencing and editing of Leon went, but the avant-garde wing of the group, Gabrels and Eno (and possibly Garson), pushed for some version of the sessions to be released quickly. (Gabrels said the final Leon was around four hours in length.) Eno proposed putting a two- or three-CD album out without a name, like Bowie’s “Pallas Athena” single. Gabrels said one model could be Prince’s Black Album (or his later-to-come Crystal Ball): a quasi-bootleg, an artillery barrage of music, offered without explanation.

Instead, the Leon moment passed. Bowie kept working on the tapes, calling back Gabrels to Switzerland every other month throughout 1994. Perhaps today Bowie would’ve just seeded the complete Leon sessions on a torrent, but in 1994 he needed a record label again. And he found himself with a set of tapes that, while filled with ominous moods and brilliant moments, were commercially unreleasable. As with Tin Machine II, Bowie spent a year trying to get a label interested in his tapes, and in early 1995 he went back in the studio and recorded a set of more “palatable” songs (almost half of the final album, including his revised “Strangers When We Meet”) to sweeten the pot.

So Leon became Outside. In his 1995 diary, Eno complained that Bowie had cluttered up the songs too much. Gabrels would also publicly regret what he considered an unfortunate compromise of one of Bowie’s most radical works. “It would have been a very serious musical statement (and maybe pissed off more people than Tin Machine),” he recalled on his website a decade later. “Gary Oldman and I used to commiserate on how your best stuff….your most real and honest work seems to be what ends up on the cutting room floor. Uh huh.”

And One Gumshoe Gets Shod

92dam

Happily (or not), we have some evidence to examine Eno and Gabrels’ claims. Some of the Leon tapes leaked in 2003 (Gabrels speculated they were stolen from Westlake Studios, where they were mixed in late 1994) and have been scattered across the Internet ever since, existing in fragments. The two best assessments of Leon are at the Illustrated DB Discography site, which lists the contents of the complete 70-minute leaked Leon tape, and a sequencing by the blog Russman’s Records. Russman proposes, and I agree, that at some point Leon appeared to have been sequenced as a two-part work. The first group was a series of discrete songs, while the second was a 22-minute suite, allegedly called “Inside.”(This may be what Gabrels once referred to as an “operatic” work that was part of Leon.) The first section of the suite, “I Am With Name,” was hived off to become a track on the official Outside, as we’ll see.

[Update: After hearing the Leon tape, I can instead say that Leon (at least one proposed disc of it) was actually three suites, of roughly 20 to 28 minutes in length apiece. Annotations on the “Leon Takes Us Outside” suite here, “The Enemy Is Fragile” suite here and “I Am With Name” here.]

“OK Riot/I’d Rather Be Chrome,” the centerpiece of the “Leon Takes Us Outside” suite, is a fairly coherent song by the standards of Leon. Bowie sings it in the “Forties gumshoe” voice of Nathan Adler, who would be the narrator of Outside, and it opens like the first scene of an SF noir film. It was the night of an OK riot. (The ancestor of Adler’s voice was one of Bowie’s vocal guises that briefly appears on “Sweet Thing”: if you wannit, BOISE.”) Adler recalls Ramona A. Stone: she swanned along the street, with her wavy hair and her research greens. Bowie later said that Adler represented, for him, a dying piece of the 20th Century, a small figure of resistance to the millennial tide. Adler was a man who’d once existed in a recognizable narrative structure (in this case, a detective serial) and who was trying to solve a crime using his old methods, which no longer applied to the chaotic environment of Oxford Town in 1999.

Still, this was a perspective Bowie offered long after Adler first appeared on Leon. After a minute of the “OK riot” sequence, Bowie in his Adler voice, moves into a chorus in which he seems to be calling out for mechanical conversion, singing  in a sharp, barking voice. I’d rather be CHROME! Than stay here at HOME! Gabrels, in the second verse, plays a riff that calls back to Television’s “Glory,” while Garson’s piano slowly increases in tempo, becoming a series of spikes. Campbell, constantly shifting his patterns throughout, at one point plays something akin to a reggae “one drop” pattern (hitting bass and snare on the third beat of each measure); he keeps the group at their labors like a man supervising a prison gang.

Adler mutters in disgust, as the sketch he tried to fill in starts to flake away. Leon, can ya hear? An urban tribe appears on the street in the distance: “they’re black and white and LOUD!” Applause. The song disintegrates: Gabrels plays solemn arpeggios, Garson plays frenetic chords, as if he’s following a metronome whose pace a prankster keeps jacking up. Then there’s a jump cut into…

Recorded May-November 1994, Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Westside Studios, London. Unreleased.

* The early Nineties is when the “Berlin” Bowie albums were canonized (and became an influence for a new generation—viz. Trent Reznor, allegedly listening to Low daily). While the albums had been indifferently reviewed and had sold relatively poorly, the release of the trilogy on CD by Ryko, in summer 1991, kicked off their rehabilitation. By decade’s end Low had supplanted Ziggy Stardust as the “top classic” Bowie album in critics’ lists.

** Though the later records are simply rumors, consensus has it that the second one was to be called either 2. Inside or 2. Contamination. That the third was to be titled 3. Afrikaans is an unconfirmed bit of apocrypha.

*** This record, called Wah-Wah, would be a sore point for the band. Booth wanted to rerecord some of his vocals and there were arguments as to what to do with the album (release it as a bonus disc to Laid or, as happened, put it out as an ill-received sequel record in 1994).

Sources: I am greatly indebted to the magnificent Bassman’s David Bowie Page, which has transcriptions seemingly of every major interview Bowie gave in 1995. Also, thanks to Ian McDuffie for some help with Leon.

Top to bottom: Damien Hirst, Away From the Flock, 1994 (in the Saatchi Gallery, London); Two Similar Swimming Forms in Endless Motion (Broken), 1993; The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991;  Out of Sight, Out of Mind, 1991; Mother and Child Divided, 1993; Philip (The Twelve Disciples), 1994; She Wanted to Find the Most Perfect Form of Flying, 1992.

42 Responses to OK Riot/ I’d Rather Be Chrome

  1. david says:

    This is point I’ve been waiting for since you started this blog-Bowie at his most uncompromising, arty and oblique-although reading the entry, I see that he sabotaged himself. Wonderful post, incredible album.
    I remember being awed and speechless by the sheer scope and ambition of the album the first time I heard it. Even more so than his recent comeback if memory serves.

    I would love to see the making of this album compiled as a single book, because for me it is a fascinating artistic odyssey.

    • BenJ says:

      Yeah, I’ve been waiting for this point too (although I discovered the blog much later than you did.) If the Bowie of the 70s – the man responsible for Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs as well as the Berlin Trilogy – went into hiding or hibernation sometime in the early 80s, Outside would seem to be when he came back.

      The process used in making this album was maddening, of course. Having read Eno’s instructions to the band, I have to imagine that the musicians spent a lot of time pretending to listen to him. At the same time, there’s a lot here to justify my love of Eno as well as Bowie.

  2. humanizingthevacuum says:

    James’ Wah Wah is some crazy shit.

  3. postpunkmonk says:

    Well, I recall being completely bored and seriously let down by “Outside.” Not a charge you can levy against the still-astonishing “Tilt.” I just listened to “Outside” for the first time in years I was startled by how mediocre it sounded to me. In other words, the songs I liked weren’t as strong as I remembered [even in context], and the annoying 60% of it wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered [apart from the segues]. But the conceit of the [non] narrative structure was a good 15 years past its sell-by-date. Had it appeared in 1981 this album may have turned some heads. It ended up being yet another example of creeping Millennial dread by people who should have known better.

    As I have read about the making of “Outside” over the years [particularly in Eno’s “A Year With Swollen Appendices”] I am struck by how the making of this album was far more interesting than the resulting artifact itself. In retrospect, I can only be thankful that Bowie quickly moved on from the event and regained his footing on “Earthling.”

  4. fantailfan says:

    Apropos of nothing, the imminent release of The Next Day made me do it. Yes, I bought (used) the four Bowie albums I did not already own (excluding Tin Machine): Black Tie White Noise, Outside, Earthling, and Reality. You can take credit, too.

    • postpunkmonk says:

      fantailfan – The pleasure of hearing more earthbound but successful songwriting on “Hours” made me finally buy “Let’s Dance” through “Never Let Me Down.” At a certain point, I guess a Bowie fan wants to understand the whole picture.

      • fantailfan says:

        Like Dylan, you still don’t get the whole picture even when you think you have all the parts. Bowie’s released material feels like one of those puzzles that has missing pieces (deliberately) and pieces that don’t fit anywhere (also deliberately). Even the *cough* found fragments *cough* from Outside and ‘Toy’ – those are the pieces that don’t fit.

  5. Mr Tagomi says:

    I listened to it on CD the other night and realised I hadn’t heard the segues in years. I cherry-picked with I ripped the cd. They’re more interesting and striking than I remembered.

    I think there’s an album’s worth of excellent material within the sprawl of Outside. I just wish it wasn’t so murky. Maybe murky is not the right word, but the songs just don’t breathe somehow, apart from Hallo Spaceboy. For me, anyway.

    I’ve only heard OK Riot and I’d rather be Chrome out of sequence (as it were) before, so I’m looking forward to hearing them in the context discovered by Russman.

  6. timspeaker says:

    What an incredible piece of art Outside is. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Outside project to me is that there is so much “meat left on the bone” so to speak – apparently there is an ocean of unreleased raw material left in the vaults.

    As with most of Bowie’s strongest work, Outside reveals it’s true depth through repeated listening. Muddy? Yes. Dense? Absolutely. But the layers reveal fresh surprises at every turn. This is a truly unique artistic statement in the Bowie catalogue—a puzzle with pieces out of place, upside down and backwards, with many significant pieces missing—and unfortunately I don’t think that we will ever receive some of the absent pieces in the forms of Inside and Contamination.

    Of course if the past week has taught us anything, all bets are off in the world of Bowie, where what we thought we knew we apparently did not. I hope one to day to gain more pieces from the vault.

  7. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    Chris, to your knowledge are The Nathan Adler diaries in their entirety available anywhere to read? Barring that, do you have a link to an abbreviated version? I seem to remember reading bits and pieces of the narrative (such as it is ) back in the day, looking for clues much like the gumshoe Nathan Adler himself.
    Further to your reference to “the popularity of serial killer movies (in the 90s)”, don’t forget that this was also the decade that the stylized violence of Quentin Tarantino came to prominence, with such films as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.

  8. Mike F says:

    Another great entry from Chris. I’m glad we finally made it Outside. Nothing from Tin Machine to Buddha really did much for me.

    Even though the participants and the technique were a continuation of Berlin, I associate Outside more with Diamond Dogs. On both albums, Bowie let his imagination run wild and there is a sense that anything could happen. The Berlin stuff seems more controlled and focused.

    The entire Nathan Adler story is a bunch of convoluted nonsense but it doesn’t bother me in the least. What matters is that Bowie commits to the material and he delivers it like he means it. I think he needs to have characters to channel his emotions through. He is uncomfortable singing about his own feelings but having characters and some kind of storyline freed him emotionally to do some of his best singing ever on Outside.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when Bowie can’t get a major label to release an experimental rock album. Although I would probably love the Leon album, Outside is still wonderfully experimental and pretty uncompromising.

    “OK Riot / I’d Rather Be Chrome” is simple but quite good. Bowie’s voice is almost unrecognizable. The music gains power and gets more unhinged as it goes. It makes me want to hear more of the Leon album.

  9. Mother says:

    Superb piece & beautifully crafted as per usual. not my favorite period in Bowie history but interesting track this having never heard it before. This an album i listened to a lot at the time although weighed down by a fairly preposterous non-storyline.

  10. Momus says:

    This is a very interesting period we’re getting into. I’d like to make explicit the point Chris makes implicitly with his use of Damien Hirst images: this was a time when — perhaps for the first time ever — British visual art was leading the world, with the generation known as the YBAs (Young British Artists) throwing the best parties, setting the cultural agenda, defining the tone of the decade, altering the cultural geography of London (there was a shift to the East of the city), and generally taking over from the rock stars as role models for youthful experimentation, excess, daring, and ambition. Bowie naturally wanted in, and was soon spin-painting with Hirst, interviewing Emin, and referring to Mark Quinn and others in his videos.

    This should have given his work a jolt of caffeine, but I personally don’t find the Outside outtakes terribly interesting. The glimpses in Chrome of Tom Waits and Suicide only confirm that they do this kind of thing better (and have more convincing American accents). I do like the Outside album, though, and I think it confirms that there’s a sweet spot midway between avant-garde self-indulgence and commercial songwriting chops which Bowie (and Eno for that matter) both hit at various points in their careers, sometimes together.

  11. Brendan O'Lear says:

    Good call on Television’s “Glory”. And the line ‘beauty is only deep skin’ is similar to the point being discussed on Strangers When We Meet about ‘heal head over’.
    I’d read a little about the making of Leon, but only a little. From what I had read, I’d often wondered why Carlos Alomar agreed to come along. I couldn’t see him agreeing to painting the studio walls for free. I hadn’t realised that he only got involved at a later date and wasn’t there at the conception.

  12. The Pataphysical Hunt says:

    I really like this kind of stuff; the main thing in music is… the process (that’s my point of view).

    • Maj says:

      When I used to play a musical instrument I’d play a lot of stuff I wouldn’t listen to at home but I definitely enjoyed playing it. I can imagine co-creating Outside would be a thrilling experience for me.

      But as a listener I don’t give a crap if the musicians had fun creating an unlistenable album – not saying Outside is the case, just a general observation. So while I get you, and as a music fan I can find information abt an album’s creation interesting, in the end the process doesn’t really matter to me.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        Dissonance and fragmentation are fine in moderation, but I don’t think a whole album of it is a good idea.

        So I think the outtakes are interesting as a snapshot of the creative process, and tantalising in the places where you can hear the basis of a good song.

        But I feel that the process is not interesting if the end result is not successful.

        In the case of Outside it’s a qualified success, I suppose.

        I waver on it a bit.

      • The Pataphysical Me says:

        I mean process in the way Deleuze/ Guattari have written about it; Fripp/ Eno’ s “No pusyfooting” or the impros of King Crimson when playing live in 72/ 74 for example are some kind of that stuff; also what Miles Davis did in the 70’s…. we’re far away from pop tunes or Jazz Rock, there’s no pattern & it’s not completely free even with Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz”… used to listen to each other (the Harmolodic conception of music); process don’t mean chaos or absolute disorder & it appeals me & what i’m looking for when listening to music. In the case of the Outside’s outtakes… the idea was to re-work what was first recorded. I find that Pop tunes are boring because of the “ritournelle”… kind of closed material; i mean all is said & it seems to me that it’s not the case with Outside; i find it very rich of details & the best way you can feel it is to listen it with headphones.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      Interesting. This is a new idea for me. Must do some reading up on it.

  13. Maj says:

    A great write-up Chris, also thanks for the Tumblr stuff!

    Reading abt James made me realise it would have been great if Bowie did Outside as songs only album (except the songs on Outside are not necessarily commercial, apart from Strangers) and then (or before) did the whole demented symphony thing with Eno. The project ended up being halfway and neither this or that but while for me one of DB’s strengths is combining normal with weird, musically (to put it simply), here it didn’t end up being harmonious.

    “I’d rather be CHROME! Than stay here at HOME!” is a very Iggy Pop lyric, isn’t it. I’d Rather Be Chrome is a great title, phrase anyway. A post-apocalyptic version of “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.”
    Yeah, the song is not bad, do I miss it on Outside? Not particularly. Would I replace a few segues with this? Probably.

    But as someone here a few comments above wrote, even if completely crazy and not just a little pretentious, the intention of the whole grand project sure was fascinating.

    Just a note. I have a problem with Eno, because having created this whole “let’s change it up, no cohesion, play characters, don’t you dare playing an instrument you actually can play” kind of thing, he actually created his own conventional way of doing things. Also, is playing a cacophonous sequence of tones “better” than playing a cohesive melody? I can play a cacophonous sequence of notes on any musical instrument but I can only play a more complex cohesive melody on a frickin recorder (I love recorders though). Now, this is a matter of taste and it’s more of a philosophical problem, so I’ll end this here.😉

  14. diamond dog says:

    Ive had the out takes for a very long time and like russman had them sat on my hard drive (quite fitting ..unlistenable becomes unlistened ..or am i confusing myself) anyway following the sequence on the russman blog i can at least make something that runs with some sense of what could have been.
    Im going to give the official album its first listen in many years ….will my feeling of overriding nausea of reading the q magazine articles at the time have left me? Will i let Leon take me outside or should i give him the ddor in his face?

  15. diamond dog says:

    that should be door……its all very fishy

  16. Mike says:

    I love David Bowie. I love Tom Waits. But I don’t love David Bowie trying to be Tom Waits.

    • col1234 says:

      the last (and best) appearance of the Bowie “Waits” voice (to date–who knows, it might show up on The Next Day) is his remake of Liza Jane, on Toy

      • s.t. says:

        Perhaps there’s a dash of Tom, but more than anything else, I hear Chrome—the old San Fran “industrial” band—in this song. Cheap synths like Suicide, but with distorted vocals and a rockier twist.

      • s.t. says:

        Here’s a good reference song:

  17. gcreptile says:

    So, Outside…. It’s the first Bowie album I remember experiencing in its time. I was 13 when it came out, and I’ll tell more at a later point, but for me, Outside recalls my youth and so, the Nineties. And it’s all so very Nineties, the industrial, the cyberpunk, fear of the millenium. The more I read about the whole idea of what Outside should have been, the more I regard it as a colossal failure.
    The irony is, that this failure succeeded at what it ‘really’ tried to do: restore Bowie’s street credibility. That was probably just Plan B, but it succeeded at making Bowie somewhat hip again. Earthling and the cooperation with Nine Inch Nails did the rest. This whole complicated non-linear-meta-narrative, the idea that there is some elemental colossal truth behind all of it, the idea that there really IS something you need hours and hours to understand although in reality there isn’t, this is all very appealing to fanboys. Remember the X-Files? Twin Peaks was a good call, by the way. And Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile is a successor of Outside.
    Then again, Plan A was to revolutionize music as we know it and to cram Bowie’s brain cosmos onto a few CD’s. And in the end, it’s rather conventional.
    I’ve gotten a little tired of Eno’s “shtick”. Was it in the Scott Walker documentary, when Eno said that music has never developed further since, of course citing himself, Talking Heads..? Eno himself didn’t develop either . His advantage in the 80’s was that he didn’t sound like the 80’s, but that changed at some point. His 90’s albums sound VERY 90’s, Nerve Net, The Shutov Assembly…. And listen to Lux (2012). It’s just a slightly updated version of Music for Airports. I do agree with him and Bowie however, that the 80’s were rather terrible for music. The progressive musical culture that was jump-started by ‘Rubber Soul’ and the Dylan albums of that time died some time around 1981/82, somewhere between Under Pressure and Cat People. Ironically I used ot like the 80s, and my love for synth pop got me into Bowie initially, but today I much prefer the 70s.
    Oh, and the actual song/s discussed here. It’s my favorite piece of the Outtakes (as far as I know them). I really like it. It could have fit on Outside which does have a lot of redeeming qualities, but from today’s point of view, it might, in spite of the pretension, actually be less than the sum of its parts.
    Yes, Tilt is probably more impressive than Outside.

    • postpunkmonk says:

      gcreptile – Welcome to the 80s Haters Club. The Late Seventies [’77-’82] works like a fiend for me. I am 49. I grew up with the music of the Seventies, and until then, I didn’t like what I’d heard. I rank 1983 as the first year of the 80s, where the decade began manifesting its traits for the world to see. I’m interested in hearing how someone younger processed Bowie’s moves in the 90s without the baggage older fans carried along. Even his last albums have risen in my esteem in the decade since their issue given further wisdom and the benefit of hindsight.

      Good point on Eno. He lost his native advantage at precisely the point you indicated. Maybe hanging around U2 took its toll?

      • gcreptile says:

        Your timing is precise as well. 1983 is the year Madonna released Holiday. And in my opinion, Eno’s last great work as a main artist is ‘The Pearl’ (1984) + the Prophecy Theme of the Dune Soundtrack, also 1984. And when did Eno start collaborating with U2? 1984!

      • Maj says:

        Hanging out with U2 would kill anyone’s creativity. I honestly don’t know how Lou Reed’s managed to stay cool in my eyes once I learned the reformed VU toured with U2.
        My issue really is with Bono, than the band itself. I went to a catholic high school and while the school was pretty cool (can’t complain abt much) the priest who taught us RE was a huge Bono fan and would read from his autobiography at RE classes. And that just completely killed U2 for me, for life probably.
        Btw, the priest left the church a few years later, got married & has a family now. He probably wanted to have 80 kids, just like good ol’ Bono.

        Sigh. I hate seeing all the 80’s hate but I’m not gonna get into that here. In retrospect, being born in 1987, I have the luck I can cherry-pick stuff from the whole 20th century and find something great in every decade…and that includes the 80’s. Maybe if I had to live through it all & the bad music that I can ignore now, I’d think differently…………..

        There’s one 80’s song that I really hate though & sadly it refuses to die…The Final Countdown. Makes me crawl out of my skin. Sadly it still gets played frequently on Czech, non-current hits types of radios. Still. UGH..

      • gcreptile says:

        Just something I want to add… I don’t hate the Eighties. Some good things survived them, The Joshua Tree, for example. But something about most of the music of that time is a bit hollow. Endless radio play (until today!) probably killed them as well, as Maj points out. Many people say music used to better, and the scientific reason for that is that only the good stuff is being remembered. The crap that topped the charts in the 70s is forgotten, the classics remain (that’s what makes them classics, it’s a bit circular). I would say that the counterculture of the 60s and 70s won the test of time, while the 80s counterculture was too weak to break through, so we’re left with the chart hits and they’re usually not interesting enough to last.

      • postpunkmonk says:

        gcreptile – Then I guess it’s my cross to bear, since I definitely remember all of the crap that topped the charts in the 70s! Having lived through the 70s [I only heard top 40 until 1978!] it’s a wonder that I ever enjoyed music at all.

  18. humanizingthevacuum says:

    I find decade disdain a curious thing. Technology shapes decades, not the other way around. I suppose I dislike nineties rock most but hip-hop and R&B were at their peak.

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I’d rather gouge out my ear drums with an ice-pick than have to listen to hip-hop. Or Bono for that matter….

  19. Diamond Duke says:

    I’ve heard a handful of Outside/Leon outtakes on YouTube before, but for some reason or other I hadn’t stumbled upon this particular one yet! Truth be told, I actually like this better than something like Ramona A. Stone/I Am With Name (which evokes a fair amount of menace, but kind of wears out its welcome after a while). As far as I’m concerned, this should have gotten an official release – at least as a B-side. Wonderfully atmospheric, with a coolly decrepit, smoky future-shock noir vibe about it – and I really like Bowie’s “Tom Waits voice” (or Waits-meets-Iggy, perhaps?). Terrific playing from the rest of the band as well!

    I have to say right now that Outside is my fifth favorite David Bowie album ever. And my top four are, in order: Aladdin Sane, Scary Monsters, The Man Who Sold The World and Diamond Dogs. Obviously, my favorite side of Bowie is his darker, harder-edged, future-gothic, psychodramatic side. And I particularly love when Mike Garson is on hand to lend his own avant-jazz touches to the brew. I suppose some might cry “heresy!” at my ranking Outside higher than Hunky Dory, Ziggy or the Berlin records, but then again Outside was the first actual Bowie album (on CD) that I ever bought, and your first record by any artist that becomes one of your favorites is always important. (This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always the best album. …And Justice For All and Gold Against The Soul aren’t necessarily the all-time greatest albums by Metallica and Manic Street Preachers, but they were the albums that first got me into them, and as such they’re my personal favorites.)

    • Diamond Duke says:

      I notice I omitted a word in my entry above: I meant to say that “Outside is my fifth favorite David Bowie album ever.” If col1234 would be so kind as to make that correction… (But even if you don’t, that’s fine. I think most people would probably assume that’s what I meant, anyway! :D)

      Anyway, I forgot to mention: As always, Chris has given us yet another highly thorough and informative write-up. Keep up the good work, man!😉 As so many others have previously stated, this is a period I’ve been patiently waiting a good long time for this blog to arrive at, and it’s so gratifying to see the goods being delivered at last! Looking forward to The Hearts Filthy Lesson and The Motel

  20. Mike F says:

    On hearing this for the second time, I am starting to love it.

    Quiz: Which songwriting approach is more interesting for this subject matter?

    A: “It was the night of an OK riot.”

    B: “Getting my facts from a Benetton ad
    I’m lookin’ thru African eyes
    Lit by the glare of an L.A. fire
    I’ve got a face, not just my race, Bang”

  21. Remco says:

    As much as I like Outside I never actually heard these outtakes before. Thanks for the link, I’m listening to them right now. I’m pretty sure I prefer the compromised Outside album to Leon but it’s not bad at all. Wonderfully weird, exciting stuff.
    Fabulous post as always, I really was looking forward to this period in this blog and you do not disappoint.

  22. StoweTheLion says:

    Holy cow you did some digging for this entry, thanks so much.

    I find it interesting that with the Sotherby’s thing going on, I’ve learnt he collected a lot of art in the 90s. It’s really reflected in the music of Outside. It sounds like one of those 21st century paintings, where the paint is layered so thickly that textures form like 10cm from the canvas, with lots to look at of interest, but only brief glimpses of something you can instantly understand.

    But at the same time, there are some really human moments – due to DB’s vocal and lyrics. I go back to a lot of songs because they make me feel something.

    Without Outside, Bowie’s catalogue would be missing an art experiement.

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