The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)

hell

The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty).
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (alternate mix).
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (rehearsal, 1995).
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (The White Room, 1995).
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (Taratata, 1995).
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (Karel, 1996).
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (live, 1996).
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (live, 50th Birthday Concert, 1997).
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (live, 1997).

Given one of the most ungainly titles in the Bowie catalog, “The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)” also got a tough sequencing—the only song on Outside to be bracketed between character segues (“Algeria Touchshriek” and “I Am With Name”). So “Voyeur” can often be overlooked, especially by those wearied of the album by track 11, as it can seem superfluous, tilling in the same grim field as “The Motel,” “Small Plot of Land” and “Wishful Beginnings.

“Voyeur,” which Bowie wrote with Brian Eno and apparently cut in the latter Outside sessions, is the last of the Scott Walker-haunted pieces on the record (see the High Scott phrasing of “as the sooohber Philistine“) and it’s the last song in this survey which could have fit into the original Leon. That said, “Voyeur” also feels transitional, open. With its subtle devotion to rhythm (see Joey Baron’s tom fills, holding ground against buzzing insurgencies of electronic percussion) and the density and flash of its production—it has the feel of being a few Eno loops that flowered into something colossal—“Voyeur” points towards Earthling as much as “Hallo Spaceboy” does.

Said to be the perspective of Bowie’s nebulous Artist/Minotaur figure (see “Wishful Beginnings”), the lyric references various Bowie hobbyhorses of the time: body art, scarification, possibly consensual torture (“the screw….is a tightening atrocity…the research has pierced all extremes of my sex“). The chorus hook, “turn and turn again,” is a pre-millennial blues, suggesting that all this angst and bloody tribalism is just a reiteration, weak echoes of patterns from centuries before. The chorus line’s also a Dylan call-back (see “Percy’s Song”) while the song’s last line, “call it a day,” sings back to the coda of “Bewlay Brothers.”

As a performance it’s a group devotion to sudden movements–the “O Superman” vocal loops, Bowie’s stage magician phrasing in the first verses, Mike Garson’s inflictions on the treble keys of his piano, a propulsive bassline by Erdal Kizilcay and the song’s climactic, jarring key change, followed by a new, eerie Bowie top melody and the sudden incursion of Reeves Gabrels, whose guitar first obscures [edit: his own] twin-tracked arpeggios and then lays the track to waste over its closing minute. It’s the sonic parallel to an implied brutality in the title: Harry Truman’s declaration to Japan, in July 1945, that the alternative to its unconditional surrender “is prompt and utter destruction.” The A-bombs fell two weeks later.

Recorded ca. January-February 1995, Hit Factory, NYC. Bowie enjoyed playing “Voyeur” live, and many of its recorded performances are the match of the studio take. Performed on the Outside tour, The White Room (Channel 4) on 14 December 1995, Taratata (France) on 26 January 1996 (but possibly recorded on 10 December 1995), Karel (Dutch TV) on 29 January 1996 and during the Earthling tour, including Bowie’s 50th Anniversary concert. A live version from Rio, 2 November 1997, is on liveandwell.com.

Top: Dr. Gull makes a house call, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, From Hell (Vol. 7, April 1995).

41 Responses to The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)

  1. Diamond Duke says:

    Definitely one of the highlights of Outside. Bowie’s vocal – particularly has shriek of “I shake!” – is theatrical and chilling, while the musical performance is propulsive and the onrush carries a threat of impending cataclysm. An easy track to overlook, and definitely one that rewards repeated listening.

    Also, it’s funny how in spite of having worked with both Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew in the late ’70s, the one Bowie track which bears the strongest resemblance to ’80s King Crimson should be one on which neither plays! (In particular, see Thela Hun Ginjeet from Discipline…)

    • stuartgardner says:

      You’re right that I can’t think of a Bowie track nearer in sound to ’80s King Crimson, and good call on the similarity to Thela Hun Ginjeet (an anagram for “heat in the jungle”).
      Are you the reader who commented elsewhere about being present when David Byrne invited Belew to their first sessions together, which led to a series of adventures for Belew eventually including membership in Fripp’s band?

    • stuartgardner says:

      DiamondDuke, I stumbled across that post by the fellow present when Byrne invited Belew to record with him.
      MrBelm posted this under Boys Keep Swinging:
      https://bowiesongs.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/boys-keep-swinging/#comment-1730

  2. Patrick says:

    It another track where you get a group of very skilled musicians producing a decent but not very remarkable musical distraction , but the key change is very very jarring as if two previously separate songs were awkwardly grafted together before they are almost but not quite merged.

  3. CosmicJive says:

    Absolutely love this track. It’s one of the first songs I heard from Outside. Actually it was this live clip I saw way back in 96 that won me over: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXR3qrMcVY0&playnext=1&list=PLB5F6E8F1EB057582&feature=results_main . Possibly one of the best versions of this track. Such great musicianship. Excellent solo’s by Reeves and Mike. Must say I do prefer the early Outside tour live version to the others (including the studio version). I think a lot of the Outside songs sounded better on tour with the full live band.

  4. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    I love the propulsive drone, the sudden key change at the end, and the way Bowie’s chant goes from “call it a day” to “call it today’, “today” and finally just “tu-tu”, as if the onrushing sense of cataclysm has rendered him incomprehensible.

  5. s.t. says:

    Oh my Lord, I love this song. This, for me, is the pinnacle of late period Bowie. An exquisitely dramatic vocal performance and some really striking, evocative lines. My favorite version is the on the album, but the 50th birthday performance, with three drummers including Dave Grohl, is quite stunning as well.

    I can see how the structure here would eventually mutate into the positively blenderized Earthling tracks like Little Wonder, but to me it feels closer to the disjointed structures of early Roxy Music. Maybe something Eno still had in him.

    • s.t. says:

      Oh I’m sorry, that was Hallo Spaceboy with Dave Grohl. I’m getting ahead of myself. In any event, the birthday version of this was pretty good too.

  6. s.t. says:

    Also, wow, I didn’t realize that From Hell, the end-all/be-all of serial killer ruminations, came out in 1995. Talk about zeitgeist.

  7. Scott Branca says:

    I can see or hear a connection between Glenn Branca’s 4th movement of his 6th Symphony for electric guitars (Devil Choirs At The Gates Of Heaven) and the way Carlos Alomar introduces the song with these “twin-tracked arpeggios” you mentioned above. Remember that Bowie claimed many times he was a huge fan of the Man from Harrisburg. I can say also that Branca’s 9th symphony’s booklet contains the expression “watery moon”, so….
    tell me if i’m wrong & try this:

    • Scott Branca says:

      anybody agree with me??????

      • s.t. says:

        To me, the guitar intro of Voyeur sounds closer to King Crimson’s Thela Hun Ginjeet (mentioned in an earlier post), but I Iike this one a lot more than KC. Shame that Branca and Sonic Youth’s influence’s on Tin Machine really aren’t that noticeable.

  8. Scott Branca says:

    To me…, definitely one of the highlights of Bowie’s entire work!!!! just love this Song!!!!

  9. Interestingly enough, it was Alomar who played lead on the live versions of this while Gabrels handled the main ostinato, only for Alomar to switch back to rhythm during Gabrels’ climactic solo.

    • CosmicJive says:

      I thought that was strange too. So I asked Carlos who played that figure on the album and he said to me” Reeves all the way” .

  10. Jeremy says:

    Love it. It’s what Bowie is all about really.

  11. James says:

    You can hear Earthling in the energy of this song.

    • BenJ says:

      Reeves Gabrels has said that Earthling came out of the vibe of the Outside tour. Bowie also got Gail Ann Dorsey from that tour.

  12. Yeah, this is an excellent Bowie track- and it seems lots of us think so judging by the wonderful and insightful comments. Totally agree with Diamond Duke and Sky-Possessing Spider’s comments! Such brilliant melodrama in this track.

  13. Patrick says:

    The individual tracks on this album are certainly often more palatable without the tedious spoken segues I vaguely remember put me off the original album.

  14. Momus says:

    Plus points about this song: The key change is very audacious, and works very well. The African feel of the beginning is also good. The alternative (unreleased) mix is crisp, with more Garson, which is definitely a good thing. The “Dick Whittington” reference (“turn again Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London”) gives a nice British pantomime feel. And there’s an overall spirit of adventure.

    Minus points about this song: It’s just too derivative of Scott Walker, especially the descending “research” line. The lyrics are a bit pretentious overall. The exotic African feel soon gets swamped by arena rock clutter; compare and contrast with African Night Flight, which stays tight, dry, strange and original all the way through. This track can’t quite decide whether it’s Walker or Bowie, 70s or 90s, avant or populist. It wants to have its cake and eat it, or (to employ a less linear, more Gothic-Dramatic-Hyper-Cyclical metaphor) it wants to self-eviscerate in an art gallery, croak spectacularly, and yet somehow live to take a bow in a major rock venue.

    • s.t. says:

      You’d really say it’s derivative of Scott? They had been mutually influencing each other since the 70’s, and by Outside, David’s “Walker-voice” was part and parcel of the Bowie repertoire, like the earlier Lennon-voice or Newley-voice. To me, this is a quintessential Bowie track, whereas Heat sounds like an overt homage to Scott.

    • I dunno, the fact that it can’t decide whether it wants to be one or the other is what makes the track work for me. Who else would think to graft “arena rock clutter” onto a King Crimson/Scott Walker homage?

  15. Maj says:

    I rarely listen to this track but not because I don’t think it’s quite good but more because of its sequencing, just as Chris mentioned.

    I actually like this one a lot and as soon as I post this I’ll add it to my iPod so that a more frequent listen is ensured. Lyrics aside, the rhythm works for me, so do Bowie’s deranged vocals.

    Kinda feel like I discovered a treasure here. It’s interesting how set in your ways you can become with an album after a couple of listens and from then on you’ll keep skipping the same songs for the next decade. The upside to this of course is that once you forget to skip, you can get a very pleasant surprise.

    • s.t. says:

      Mp3s and playlists revolutionized the way I approach albums, perhaps most significantly with Outside. I stripped away all of the distraction tracks and found a solid hour of very strong songs. Now I can appreciate the album as it was originally released, but it took quite a while of absorbing the music on my own terms.

  16. gcreptile says:

    Nice song, full of ideas, it just barely misses greatness. Maybe Bowie’s voice has got something to do with it.

  17. Jeremy says:

    Mp3’s and mix CDs are a great way to construct your own version of an album – agreed. But when are “they” going to re-release all the albums from Black Tie onwards on vinyl? I’d love to hear Outside on vinyl. I have Earthling on vinyl and the drum and bass sounds on that record are deep and wide on wax. Outside would sound awesome!

    • sorry, the comment below was meant to be a direct reply to you, but i bungled it up a bit. there is an outside vinyl though- see below!

    • s.t. says:

      You know, I’ve never able to confirm the assertion that music sounds better on vinyl. I used to collect and listen to records when I was a teen, but they were bought used and of questionable quality, and were played on an ancient system with dreadful sound. It wasn’t too bad a setup for Misfits EPs that were recorded on the cheap anyway, but I was happy to repurchase my Bowie albums on CD because of the comparably cleaner and fuller sound.

      Maybe some day I’ll finally get the true vinyl experience…

      • Patrick says:

        Ah..some wouldn’t believe the agonising a certain generation had had over trying to get the “perfect” sound without breaking the bank. Of course “separates” were far superior to the stacked single hi fi unit the masses acquired…….cont page 94.
        So you want the “true Vinyl Experience”?

      • Jeremy says:

        To fully appreciate vinyl you need a quality system, otherwise CDs are the way to go….

  18. there’s a single LP version of outside that was released in 1995 and was reissued just a few months ago…it’s the only pressing of it that exists:

    http://www.musiconvinyl.com/releases/Bowie,_David/Excerpts_From_Outside

    sadly as it’s single LP, it drops a few of the songs for space constraints (it’s missing ‘strangers when we meet,’ ‘no control,’ and ‘thru’ these architect’s eyes’) and makes some short edits to ‘the motel’ and ‘leon takes us outside’ but it’s passable. the new pressing is flawless, sounds perfect. get that & the ‘strangers when we meet’ 7” (also an edit) and that covers 85% of the album…

  19. Mr Tagomi says:

    Chris’ suggestion of how an Outside double LP would have been laid out was interesting, and threw a whole new perspective on the album.

    I personally think it would have been far more digestible as four separate statements.

    It’s exhausting as a single CD. You just can’t take it all in.

    • Jeremy says:

      Maybe Bowie should have done what Julian Cope has been doing lately – dividing up his albums into two half hour discs, to avoid “psychic strain”

      • s.t. says:

        I’m all about avoiding psychic strain with albums. Really, 40 minutes should be the absolute maximum running time. If you’ve got extra material, save it for an EP…

      • Patrick says:

        A debate perhaps to be had about quality vs quantity and the increasing need these days to fill discs etc with Extras, editor’s cuts, deleted scenes, remixes, retakes, live versions, etc. While we might obsessively want to hear everything produced by a particular artist like DB, sometimes things were left off the original release for good reasons! But how a lovely track like “God bless the Girl” got left off only for the Japan market and some forgettable dross/filler makes the final cut does make me wonder.

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