I Have Not Been to Oxford Town


I Have Not Been to Oxford Town.
I Have Not Been to Oxford Town (rehearsal, fragment, 1995).
I Have Not Been to Oxford Town (first live performance, 1995).
I Have Not Been to Oxford Town (live, 1995).
I Have Not Been to Oxford Town (live, 1996).

It began as “Trio,” a rhythm track that Brian Eno, Carlos Alomar and the drummer Joey Baron worked up at the Hit Factory on 17 January 1995, one of the last days of the Outside sessions. Waiting around for Bowie, they knocked a song together to kill time. This was a recurring theme: Tony Visconti and Mick Ronson, waiting for Bowie in Trident Studios during Man Who Sold the World; Alomar, Andy Newmark, Willie Weeks, David Sanborn and Mike Garson waiting in Sigma Sound during Young Americans. It’s likely a tactic, Bowie running his studio sessions like a psychology lab. Delay the appearance of the lead actor, let the supporting players work something out of his absence.

Two days later, Bowie heard “Trio” for the first time. He sat down, started writing, asked for another playback, said he’d need five tracks set aside for his vocals. As Eno wrote in his diary, “then he went into the vocal booth and sang the most obscure thing imaginable—long spaces, little incomplete lines. He unfolded the whole thing in reverse, keeping us in suspense for the main song. Within half an hour he’d substantially finished what may be the most infectious song we’ve ever written together, currently called ‘Toll the Bell.’

There was a simple G major harmonic structure to work with: the verses held on G, with a descending turnaround through F and A minor; the refrain just shifted between G and its IV chord, C major; the bridge finally introduced the dominant (V) chord, a D major. As per Eno’s account, Bowie seems to have sewed together a vocal out of rhythms (one likely starting point was using the F-Am turnaround to underpin the two-note backing vocal melody: “all’s…well“), auditioning meters, playing with vowel alignments and consonance: e.g., my attorney seems sincere, with the little internal rhyme of “ney” and “seem” and the four consecutive “ess” sounds. There’s a severity to his verse phrasings, with their short vowels and Bowie’s curt appraisal of each syllable, letting some pass, haranguing others (Baby Grace is the victimm). And it’s countered by the almost jovial lightness in the chorus, one long dancing line of melody, with its easy phrases and rich rhymes: take “toll the bell,” both a consonant rhyme and onomatopoeiac (& the tolling’s echoed by the “all’s well” hook two bars later).

The fact that Bowie came up with the lyric (and top melody?) in a half-hour is witness to his creative strength at the time. Working at a steady pace since Buddha of Suburbia, gaining the confidence and insight to abandon most of one idea (the Leon suites) in favor of, at the relatively last minute, new, improvised material, it’s as if Bowie had physically willed himself back into an earlier state of creativity. It couldn’t, and it didn’t, last for long. But it produced “I Have Not Been to Oxford Town,” which is a marvel, the best song Bowie wrote in the Nineties.


As a rhythm guitarist, I do my stuff knowing a lead guitarist will come in. So I stay away from certain frequencies, concentrate on making a sturdy frame.

Carlos Alomar, 1995.

It’s all just paint, right?

Nile Rodgers, on making recordings.

“Oxford Town” isn’t the end of Carlos Alomar’s work with Bowie: he would play on the subsequent Outside tour and he’ll turn up to take two last bows in the early 2000s. But “Oxford Town” is his finale, his last great accompaniment.

Reeves Gabrels is in the mix as well: he’s likely playing the distorted, seething line, mixed left, that lingers throughout the first verse and chorus like a bad conscience. Alomar’s first unmistakably heard* in the second pre-chorus, playing a little dancing line, mixed center, that jabs against the verse melody, and then, gathering confidence, he starts conniving against the beat in the main chorus. There’s the nervy arpeggios in the bridge and then, when the verse returns, Alomar stays on, riffing, converting Gabrels in the process (or is it another Alomar track? Whoever’s responsible, the distorted guitar stops sulking and begins dancing as well).

And the coda is a last duet, Bowie and arguably his finest collaborator. By the last forty seconds of the track, there are at least three Alomar guitar dubs, talking to each other, making filigrees around the sturdy, constant melody that Bowie sings. Alomar, either on his Parker Fly or, even more fitting, his classic Alembic Maverick, plays bright, hook-filled lines, mainly keeping to the top three strings. The last few seconds of “Oxford Town” are Alomar alone, a sideman having taken the spotlight by force, hooked into a riff that seems like it will never end until it drops dead.


There’s a ghost in “Oxford Town,” too. Bowie’s vocal echoes someone who he’d never acknowledged before: David Byrne (compare Bowie’s “lord, get me out of here” to Byrne’s phrasing on lines like “wasting precious time” in “Found a Job”).

Bowie and Byrne had kept to separate worlds, with Eno as their only nexus point (edit: “DJ” is allegedly Bowie imitating Byrne, as per a Talking Heads bio—see comments). But as Outside was supposed to be an American album, Leon Blank an alleged American suspect, this gave Bowie a way to use Byrne, particularly his vocal on “Once In a Lifetime,” as a thread in his backdrop. And Bowie and Byrne’s takes on America were fundamentally similar. Byrne was born in Scotland, grew up in Ontario before winding up in Maryland. For him, America would always be a foreign country, especially the vast heartland that he spied from airplanes or bus windows (“I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to,” he’d later sing.) This alienation gave him a way to appreciate “native” American artifacts as works of art: he transcribed game shows and acted them out, and in the late Seventies, he became fascinated by radio broadcasts of evangelical preachers.

Like “Oxford Town,” “Once in a Lifetime” had started as a rhythm track, anchored on Tina Weymouth’s alternating three-note bassline. What Bowie mainly took from “Lifetime” was Byrne’s patter in the verses, a chant-like phrasing Byrne himself had taken from evangelical radio**: You may find yourself! in another part of the world! Hectoring repetition, mainly keeping to one note (“you may find yourself”), balanced with elated, upward-tugging, rhyme-heavy phrases (“behind the wheel of a large automobile!“) You can hear Byrne in Bowie’s last verse, the repetition and rhythmic variations as”Leon” confesses/denies his crimes, sounding as if the words are ripping out of him. If I had not ripped the fabric…if I had not met Ramona…

There’s also a similarity in the two songs’ refrains, which offer a way out from the claustrophobia of their verses. In “Once in a Lifetime,” the exit’s through water: whether metaphor (the aridity of materialist America in the verse met by the communist bounty of water) or religion (Christian baptism, the Islamic ideal of submission to God) or just signalling the freer, more rhythmically dense music (Byrne was referencing Fela Kuti’s “Water Get No Enemy”) that the Heads had started playing.

In “Oxford Town,” the escape is through sound: tolling bells, collective hums, chants (and after all, only sound can escape a prison cell). But who’s in the cell, anyhow? Time for Leon Blank to speak.


Manager: I should like to know if anyone has ever heard of a character who gets right out of his part and perorates and speechifies as you do. Have you ever heard of a case? I haven’t.

Father: You have never met such a case, sir, because authors, as a rule, hide the labor of their creations…Imagine such a misfortune as I have described to you: to be born of an author’s fantasy, and be denied life by him; and then answer me if these characters left alive, and yet without life, weren’t right in doing what they did do and are doing now to persuade him to give them their stage life.

Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Act III.

Outside was the first time “in 20 years” (or so he told Billboard) that Bowie had played characters. It was different from Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke, where he’d gone too deep into the characters, tailored their costumes too tightly to his “real” self, he said. On Outside, Bowie would play a more traditional narrator/author role.

But the characters couldn’t even attain the depth of cartoons. Those that had the most signs of life were those that had something akin to Bowie: the alternate-life suburban dreamer in Algeria Touchshriek and the all-conquering artistic ego in Ramona Stone. The nebulous narrator figures, the Artist and Minotaur, were just Bowie “doing the police in different voices.” The rest were press-ganged from movies that Bowie liked: Baby Grace was Bowie imitating David Lynch’s Laura Palmer, while Nathan Adler was a private-eye mingle: Rick Deckard, Philip Marlowe (more Elliott Gould than Bogart), Gary Oldman’s Jack Grimaldi.

This left Leon Blank, accused killer. Leon began as Bowie riffing on Tricky (with a bit of Jean-Michel Basquiat thrown in) but the character was reactive, passive, only seen through the eyes of others. Then Bowie, dashing out the lyric that became “Oxford Town,” finally gave Leon a monologue. The character took on life, began pushing back against its erstwhile creator.

“Oxford Town” is a condemned man’s song, some last words from a jailhouse, which had been a favorite scenario of Bowie’s youth (see “Bars of the County Jail” and “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud”). The first verses find Leon pacing his cell, giving a sketch of his confinement: the food’s foul, the bedsheets are decent, his attorney means well, the priest seems willing to listen. The cold, slightly hectoring tone that Bowie uses makes Leon’s report seem like a man ticking off a list before he goes on a trip.

Then there’s a bridge, and Leon stops reading his lines and starts talking to his author:

This is your shadow on my wall…
This is what I could have been.

I have not been to Oxford Town isn’t just an alibi, it’s a criticism. Bowie failed to give his creations life, stuck them in ridiculous situations, gave them nothing to feed on. Leon kicks against the cheap story that he was folded into: If I had not met Ramona (who was Ramona anyhow?)….If I had not ripped the fabric. “Oxford Town” is a condemned man’s retort: yes, look at the blankets and the priest you gave me—they’re just cheap props. What did you really give me? Nothing. Here, this is what I could have been.

On stage in Paris a year later, Bowie gave one possible ending. Someone threw a white scarf on stage and Bowie, with his old mime’s instincts, played with the scarf, twining it around his neck, making a sling with it for his arm. Then he strung it into a noose, and, while singing the end choruses, aped hanging himself.


[Outside] is only symbolically anguished. I think we are in for a very good time when we get to the next millennium.

Bowie, press conference, 1995.

There would be no sequel albums to Outside, no 2. Inside or 3. Afrikaans or A Night in Oxford Town. No more clues or red herrings or murder revelations or narratives. No grand concert with Eno to mark the millennium in Vienna. No more work (ever?) with Eno. Outside was, arguably, a failure. The album that came out of the implosion of the Leon project was hard to digest: even its die-hard fans may admit it’s overlong and oddly sequenced.

Still, perhaps this unwieldy apparatus, this compilation of role-playing games and Verbasized cut-up lyrics, of computer-generated portraits and vocoded voices, Minotaur paintings and barely-readable “diaries,” was what Bowie needed to finally work on a grand scale again. It’s as if a man who’d once been able to fly now needed some great jerry-rigged dirigible to get him off the ground. But he was still flying. If this was the price paid to get “Oxford Town” and “Hearts Filthy Lesson,“The Motel” and “Thru’ These Architects Eyes” and “Hallo Spaceboy,” well, it wasn’t that dear a price.

In Bowie’s promotional interviews for Outside, he kept saying that his millennial obsessions, the blood and mayhem and piercings and scarifications of the Nineties art world and pop culture, were a purging. We needed to burn the dross and relics of the old century to clear a way for the new one, which would be a calmer time. It didn’t quite turn out that way. The Nineties can now seem like a soap bubble, a playtime in which a world that could have gone anywhere scared itself with trifles and serial killer stories and “art murders.” Despite the murdered girl at the heart of it, Outside generally sounds optimistic, open. It was of its time: the Nineties sometimes felt like they were the gangway to the future we’d imagined, certainly not the future we got.

All’s well. A town crier’s words, after all. Let the old century die, move on. Bowie did: he went on tour to promote Outside, fell in love with his band, made his next record a tribute to them. Pay off Nathan Adler, write him out of the series. Toll the bell, strike the set, say goodbye, baby, and amen.

Recorded 17-20 January (poss. overdubs in February) 1995, Hit Factory, NYC. Covered as “I Have Not Been to Paradise” by Zoe Poledouris on the Starship Troopers soundtrack in 1996.

* I’m thinking that Alomar also plays the sliding hook that begins in the first verse, but it could’ve been Gabrels.

**Byrne was taping broadcasts of these preachers around 1979-1980 for what later became My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Top: Andreas Freund, “Staten Island Ferry,” 1995; Jean-Baptiste Mondino, back cover of David Byrne, 1994; Ian McKellen, Alison Prior, Margaret Drabble and John Fortune rehearse Six Characters in Search of an Author, ADC Theatre, Cambridge, 1959; “Oxford Town” lyrics (in theory); Bowie/Leon.

71 Responses to I Have Not Been to Oxford Town

  1. A wonderful way to say goodbye to the Outside saga. Just one thing, though: aren’t Bowie’s vocals on DJ also a stab at David Byrne?

    • Okay! Yes! I knew I wasn’t making this up. From the Talking Heads biography This Must Be The Place, page 157:

      “The day after the robbery, David Byrne had lunch with David Bowie. Bowie had just recorded a song with Eno that he tried to sing like David Byrne. David found this flattering, but when he heard the cut he didn’t get the vocal resemblance. Ten years later, David Byrne sang the song, called “D.J.”, at a club in Manhattan called Harrah’s while Bowie sat in the audience.”

      • col1234 says:

        that’s a great find. I still don’t really hear that much of Byrne in “DJ,” though, but it’s worth mentioning.

        [edit]: no, there *is* a lot of Byrne in “DJ.” The perils of doing too many of these songs is that you utterly forget the older ones.

      • s.t. says:

        Wow, I had never noticed it before, but DJ definitely resembles Byrne’s twitchy delivery on songs like Not In Love and With Our Love. I also think David was channeling “Buildings & Food” era Byrne on his version of Pablo Picasso.

      • postpunkmonk says:

        I guess you can always teach an old dog new tricks. Now, for the life of me, after having read this, I can’t hear anything except Byrne; at least in the first verse!

  2. Ian McDuffie says:

    Lovely curtain-call on Outside. You raise a good point that isn’t often pointed out when you describe the album as generally optimistic. Despite all the darkness and murder, life still comes out on top. In that way, its just as of its time (as opposed to dated) as any of the apocalyptic 70s albums were. But in that case it really wasn’t clear if the world would continue, sometimes. In 1995 the future was certain- doomsaying became a novelty. And that’s where Outside sits.

    Now, to avoid writing twelve billion words about the song itself, ill just leave it with ‘the best single that never was’.

  3. audiophd says:

    Beautiful entry. Outside remains the most significant work by Bowie since his 70’s heyday. Time will tell if history is as kind (from Bowie fans, anyway) to ‘The Next Day’.

  4. humanizingthevacuum says:


    • Asylums with doors open wide says:

      i got a portrait on the wall… he’s a serial killer (Iggy singing Death in Vegas’s “Aisha”). What happened in Oxford Town?
      Do ya remember Poe’s rue Morgue (sung by the Maiden with Di’anno in 1981).

  5. Mr Tagomi says:

    As usual I now have a fresh perspective on a Bowie song. Whether I’ll become convinced that this is his best 90s song is another matter. I’ve always rated it as “quite good”.

  6. twinkle-twinkle says:

    A rather wonderful summation. Although I enjoy most of the albums flaws – barely-readable ‘diaries’ and cartoon characters etc – I think removing them, the scaffolding, at the end would have allowed the songs to be even more ambiguous and intriguing.

    I’m rather glad the proposed ‘Ziggy’ movie was shelved because they thought it would have pinned everything down, shown up any narrative weaknesses, and we would have lost the ability to enjoy it with our own imaginings.

    I can see your reasoning for ‘Oxford Town’ being his best 90’s song, I always loved it and you have helped me enjoy it even more, but ‘The Motel’ still gets my vote, with or without ‘as everybody d-o-o-o…’, lol. It is great live, isn’t it?

    Oh – and David Byrne gets another nod on, ‘Boss of Me’, but I know most people will have spotted that.

    • postpunkmonk says:

      I always felt that the proposed “Ziggy” movie was just a red-herring to deny the producers of “Velvet Goldmine” the rights to the material without seeming small, or petulant. Especially in the light of the effete slap in the face to Bowie for the temerity of making Let’s Dance” that was Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi PPM. Yes, you’re probably right. Although, the idea of a ‘Ziggy’ movie must have been discussed at some time, it would be hard not to consider it. You know, I never got round to seeing ‘V Goldmine’, not even on TV. Mmm… Probably because I don’t have a TV, heh-heh! Sometimes the obvious is NOT there in front of ones eyes.

  7. gcreptile says:

    Thanks for this wonderful last entry on this album. However, I can’t quite share the enthusiasm. I think the song is very, very solid, it just misses a stroke of genius. The melody is a little… harmless… along with ‘Baby Grace is the victim, she was 14 years of age…’ a requiem as well as hidden ridicule. I previously wrote that Oxford Town, on the Outside CD, begins a different album. The explanation for that might be that through this song, Bowie admitted the failure of ‘Leon’ which yielded the first tracks of the album, and then proceeded to offer the remains scattered and badly sequenced.
    Your explanations really give the song life. Maybe I’ll re-evaluate the song. And thanks for connecting Bowie to Byrne and Fela Kuti. This is relevant to my interests… Also, Bowie met Eno after Eno more or less ‘left Bowie for Byrne’. Maybe Bowie didn’t want to play world music as much as Eno wanted him to (and got Talking Heads to do). Well, there was African Night Flight and Yassassin, but that’s it…
    Anyway, thanks for your work and creativity. Outside is one of the albums that stayed with me, maybe not because of its quality alone, but because of its context within Bowie’s work. I thank you very much for adding a few pieces of the puzzle.

  8. twinkle-twinkle says:

    I’ve just been playing DJ to see which lines sound most Byrne-ish and it became easier counting the lines which sounded not like Byrne. I think the very start sounds most like our ‘Talking Head’, and Bowie also inverts the ‘Heads’ song, ‘Found a Job’, with the line, ‘lost my job’.

  9. Cansorian says:

    Excellent closing write up for a truly wonderful album. Sorry to see it go.

    I always thought “Outside” had pockets of greatness on it, but it wasn’t until the lost decade of no new Bowie material that I came to fully appreciate it. That’s when I went back and reexamined some of the albums that passed me by a bit. This is the one that I kept coming back to. I think the fact that it’s not easy to digest is what kept me intrigued.

    Stripping away the less structured material and whittling the album down to 12 “songs” doesn’t make it any better. It just makes it shorter. I don’t mind spending some time listening to a work of art; luckily my old age has cured my ADHD.

    It has taken me a long time to appreciate all the less catchy material but I’m glad I put the effort in. I know I’m in the minority here, but I think “Outside” is perfect the way that it is.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      That’s actually the real upside of Bowie’s decade-long absence: We finally got the opportunity to catch up on a lot of the more recent stuff which we may originally have given a pass, or that we may just not have really gotten into the first time around. I think the main problem is that so many people bring a lot of what I like to call “the baggage of expectation” with them whenever Bowie releases a new album, holding the more mature new work up to the standard of his earlier, more youthful classics such as Hunky Dory, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Low, “Heroes, Scary Monsters, etc., etc., as opposed to accepting the new work on its own terms. We can’t expect the artist’s new stuff to work for us the same way as the same individual’s earlier stuff did for us in our own youthful heyday, any more than we can expect George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels to make the first-wave, old-school fanboys feel the way they did back in the summer of ’77. (Yeah, sure, The Phantom Menace was profoundly flawed, and Attack Of The Clones had its share of awkward bumps…but that’s kind of beside the point! All I can say is I’ll take Revenge Of The Sith over Return Of The Jedi eight days a week!)

      Wow. Am I capable of radical digression or what?? So where was I…?

      The point is…(assuming I even had one to begin with, ha ha)…is that so much of the way we look at and evaluate the worth of our favorite music and movies is rendered extremely subjective by personal circumstance. If a musician’s or filmmaker’s later work somehow fails to strike the same chord within us, that’s not necessarily because the new work is inferior (although admittedly that’s sometimes the case), it’s just that we are quite often in a different place in our lives from our adolescent selves, and don’t necessarily relate to it on the same level. Like I said, quite often it’s a subjective thing. Yeah, more often than not it is because the artist has somehow lost the edge (or “lost the demon,” as the line from Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s Performance goes). Admittedly, Bowie himself gave us considerable cause for worry back in the ’80s (particularly around Tonight). But starting with Outside, I think Bowie definitely got back in “The Zone,” and I think it’s great that people are starting to take another look at everything he’s done since that time, particularly in the ten-year gap between the last two albums.

      And yeah, as a 39-year-old going on 40, I can definitely attest to the fact of old age being the ultimate cure for a short attention span! 😉

  10. MC says:

    Great, illuminating post on a song I’ve always loved – not sure if it’s DB’s best of the 90’s, but it’s one of them, and definitely ranks with Architect as the best track on Outside. Sheer madness that it wasn’t a single, though I think the art-funk sound (all hail Alomar!) probably might have sounded dated in the mid-90’s to some misguided folks at Virgin. Remember, Talking Heads were pretty far off the cultural radar then. (Kudos, btw, for the photo grab from the David Byrne album, for me one of the most underrated of the period, and a worthy successor to his work with the Heads.)

    For me as well, this is the Bowie-Eno collaboration that most clearly bears Eno’s songwriting stamp. The soaring chorus reminds me of early works like Needle In The Camel’s Eye and later songs like the Byrne-Eno track Life Is Long, though the anecdote about its creation suggests that the melody is Bowie’s alone. There’s that theory scuppered, maybe. 🙂

  11. Diamond Duke says:

    I definitely agree: This is one of the highlights of Outside. Personally I like The Motel and Strangers When We Meet perhaps a tad more (I definitely agree with twinkle-twinkle regarding the former), but as I’m fond of saying it’s the great David Bowie hit single that never was! Kudos to Carlos Alomar for his effortlessly cool fretwork.

    And Chris, you’re not the only one to observe the connection with earlier numbers like Bars Of The County Jail and Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud. It definitely is in a little-recognized Bowie tradition of “prisoner’s lament” numbers! I was so gratified when you actually pointed that out. Great minds think alike, no? (Hardy-har-har!)

  12. Diamond Duke says:

    Anyway, to sum up this experience for me…

    OUTSIDE (My #5 Favorite David Bowie Album!):
    The songs are listed in order of personal preference

    01. Strangers When We Meet
    02. The Motel
    03. I Have Not Been To Oxford Town
    04. The Hearts Filthy Lesson
    05. Thru’ These Architects Eyes
    06. Outside
    07. Hallo Spaceboy
    08. The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
    09. A Small Plot Of Land
    10. Get Real (bonus track)
    11. I’m Deranged
    12. No Control
    13. We Prick You
    14. Nothing To Be Desired (bonus track)
    15. Wishful Beginnings
    16. Segue: Algeria Touchshriek
    17. Segue: Ramona A. Stone/I Am With Name
    18. Segue: Baby Grace (A Horrid Cassette)
    19. Segue: Nathan Adler (#1)
    20. Segue: Nathan Adler (#2)
    21. Leon Takes Us Outside

    OK Riot/I’d Rather Be Chrome (from the Leon sessions)

    Has anybody else seen this…? (Chris, if this ends up being technically problematic somehow, please feel free to delete)

    • I just had a thought: what if 1. Outside is like Bowie’s White Album? It seems like everyone agrees that it’s too long, but (segues and maybe Wishful Beginnings aside) there doesn’t seem to be much of a common consensus as to which tracks should have been snipped. My least favourite tracks are The Motel, I Have Not Been To Oxford Town and No Control, and I’ve heard some very strong cases made for all three of them. Outside’s weakness may not be its length so much as its sonic inconsistency (or eclecticism, to use a less judgmental term).

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Zoiks!! Anthony – your least favourites are ‘Motel’ and those others? I think the wide range of likes and dislikes here, and often a well reasoned arguments for the various choices, suggests Bowie is doing something right most of the time and we, as individuals, can’t always appreciate everything. Some tracks will just ring our bell more than others.

        I actually like the album as it is and would love even more aural assault from the full(er) outtakes and/or remixes. What I meant earlier was that maybe we didn’t need the story pointed out so clearly up front, or the linking sections, for it to work.

        My thoughts weren’t to do with album length, or some tracks being less interesting. And taking the talky bits out now would not allow us to hear it afresh – we know it has some kind of murder narrative.

        If ‘Outside’ had been released almost blank, we would have had to give it form and ‘finish’ the artwork, rather than us following the very rough story as was given. It’s a place we can never get to now. Look at how we have all bounced around with TND because it appeared so quickly and with relatively little explanation of the content.

        At the end of the day, time will decide how important an album is. Yet somehow first impressions have a lot of truth to them. We don’t have to think about how infectious ‘Ziggy’ is, it just grabs you immediately. ‘Outside’ will probably always be for the geeks – in a good way – and ‘Lodger’ I feel will forever be the interesting and ‘much underrated’ third of a wonderful trilogy.

  13. Anonymous Bosch says:

    I’m surprised at the love for this one. Yeah, it’s easy-to-digest, compared to the rest of ‘Outside’, and the musicians are doing their thing well, but the melody is shockingly-weak, annoyingly-simple and repeats far more than the motif deserves. The descending four note motif of the chorus sounds like a kid tinkling on a piano rather than a hook.

    Compare it to the long flowing melody lines of overlooked tracks like ‘Up Against It’, ‘Seven’ and ‘Goodbye Mr. Ed’, and it just doesn’t sound very interesting. This wouldn’t even rate in my Top 20 Bowie tracks of the 90’s.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      Thanks to Alomar, though, the hook is monstrous. “Strangers When We Meet” and “No Control” are my keepers, but “Oxford Town” is the toe tapper.

  14. Ofer says:

    A wonderful entry for a song that helps me explain to myself why I think TND is vastly superior to outside. When I first heard this album, I had only known one song in advance, Spaceboy – which I loved and made me expect a later-day-masterpiece. Instead I found the outside journey kind of tiresome – it was very repetitive, heavy and seemed filled with self-importance. Yeah, sure, it was also interesting and had some lovely songs, but only this one really stuck out – it was a breath of fresh air amidst self-proclaimed artworks. What it has and the album lacks is a sense of playfulness, of tasteful irony, maybe sense of humor is the phrase I’m looking for – which, as I may have said in an earlier comment, is seminal to every truly great bowie work (perhaps every great work of art) . Even at his most apocalyptic, he is only great when he adds that twist of irony – that actually makes the cruel elements much cruller and more touching. Only then does he find the tone that works perfectly – and TND has consistently found that tone, which for me means at least 4-5 of his songs on that album belong with his best material. But this, I guess. Will have to wait for next year’s entries.

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      I agree with your comments about irony and the ‘artiness’. If he’d underplayed the artiness it would have been better – and we would still have noticed.

      ‘TND’ is beautifully constructed with everything it needs and no more. But sometimes everything AND the kitchen sink is fun too, and ‘Outside’ was a big experimental shaking off of cobwebs and has a very important part to play in his journey.

      • Ofer says:

        I agree with you completely – TND is way more up my alley, but i can see why some would find it lacking with ambition, somthing which Outside could never be accused of.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Many thanks, Ofer.

        I’m truly enjoying the wide range of thoughts from everyone, even if some extreme likes and dislikes do still baffle me. It’s all strange fascination I guess.

  15. Ofer says:

    Also, a note on the byrne thing – the entire Lodger album seems to be influenced by talking heads. Evan disregarding the experimenting with world music, the lyrics on a song like Boys Keep Swinging seem to imitate the childlike, deadpan observational writing that byrne has made a career of.

  16. Jeremy says:

    You are right – Oxford..is one of Bowie’s best tracks of the 90’s and yes Alomar is Bowie’s greatest ever collaborator. Outside is flawed brilliance and for that I’m grateful – that Bowie took those risks and mostly succeeded.

    Great write up as usual.

  17. Momus says:

    1. At the beginning of each session, Mr. Eno presented each of the musicians with a “flash card.” “Each card would determine their character,” Mr. Bowie said, “for at least the beginning of the improvisation. Things like: ‘You are a disgruntled ex-member of the Clash and are wanting to set up a competitive band.’ ” One of Mr. Bowie’s own flash cards was more direct: “Mine said I was a soothsayer or town crier.” NEW YORK TIMES

    2. A town crier, or bellman, is an officer of the court who makes public pronouncements as required by the court. The crier can also be used to make public announcements in the streets. Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat. They carry a handbell to attract people’s attention, as they shout the words “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” before making their announcements. The word “Oyez” means “hear ye,” which is a call for silence and attention. In Medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the townspeople. WIKIPEDIA

    3. Bowie once described Ziggy as “an information bureau with red hair”. Ziggy was a town crier announcing the imminent end of the world. The “young dudes” then carried this news, and even the TV newsmen wept as they relayed it onscreen.

    4. “My country is in the depths of lethargy and very apathetic, there is very little happening. There’s no action in my country. This is quite a challenge to come over to a country like this where for me the most important thing is that the music is a communicative blanket media… I’d say it’s the most honest media that you have over here. Whether it’s a bit late because of the process of making a record and reproducing it. Whether it’s late or not doesn’t matter because it’s honest.” BOWIE, INTERVIEW MAGAZINE, 1973

    5. “This is the time, and this is the record of the time,” sang Laurie Anderson in From The Air, her song about a plane crash (this is the disastrous event, and this is the black box recording of it).

    6. The town crier in I Have Not Been To Oxford Town is both declaiming and disclaiming. He is both inside the news and outside, reporting it. He reports the murder of Baby Grace, and reports that he himself is implicated, then offers his alibi: “I have not been to Oxford Town”. The town crier often called the hours of the night, and offered a reassuring “2 o’clock and all’s well”, before running through the recent news headlines. In the case, since Bowie is both news carrier and news maker, declaimer and disclaimer, his “all’s well” serves to reassure the sleepy populace and himself. Don’t worry, all that’s happening here is that the 20th century is dying, peacefully.

    7. It’s a funny — or at least ironic — situation. A town crier has committed a crime. He tells world he didn’t do it, couldn’t have done it. But then he begins to admit suspicious flashback memories: he ripped the fabric, time stood still, he met Ramona… A declaimed disclaimer becomes, little by little, a public confession. And then the camera zooms out and we see he’s in prison. A bunk, two sheets, priests, a lawyer, foul food, and the crier crying to anyone who will listen about what could have been. He was outside, and now he’s inside, banged up. He was the storyteller, and now he’s the story.

    8. What a great pop song!

  18. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    Hi Chris. Perhaps you can help clear something up? You claim the original working title for this song was ” Trio”, built up from a rhythm track by Eno, Carlos Alomar and Joey Baron.
    On You Tube there is a 4 minute track called ‘Trieste’ credited to Bowie and Eno. In the accompanying comments, nobody seems to know exactly which sessions it hails from, with some speculation that it’s a fake, and others that it was recorded in 1997. It sounds like the slow, moody and ambient style which the two explored on Low and Heroes. Are you familiar with this track and its ‘true origins?

    • col1234 says:

      I’m pretty sure that’s a fake and I won’t be covering it as a separate entry. Pegg doesn’t grant it canonical status, and it’s also gone by the very dubious title “Lodger 1” on bootlegs at times (it also sounds like someone trying to do a “Heroes”-era DB instrumental in the ’90s).. I’ll say with 99% certainty that it has utterly nothing to do with the “Trio” that became “Oxford Town”

      There’s a chance it’s from Earthling or hours, but doubt it.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Well, thanks for clearing that up. Now I have to make a confession: Despite Outside (still) being my favourite post-Scary Monsters Bowie album, the truth is I didn’t even like it when it was first released. Ironically, I spent the 80s wishing Bowie would stop pandering to his new mainstream audience and go back to making artful music again, and when he did, it was all a bit much for me at first. I just heard all that jarring, atonal music, and those crazy segues and thought; ” what the hell is this?”
        I Have Not Been To Oxford Town was one of the few songs I “got” straight away, Hallo Spaceboy was another. Then a couple of days after buying the new album my wife and I took a holiday in the US and the UK, where I was lucky enough to catch the Outside tour at Wembley Arena’. Hearing the songs performed live made the whole album suddenly click for me. I really think Oxford Town should have been a single. Probably even the lead-off one. It’s just so jaunty and sing-along. Hearts Filthy Lesson is a great song and all, but commercial it aint.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Talking of wives… Wading through the days email collection and finding these great contributions I couldn’t help but read some of them out to my partner. “They need to get out more… and meet women,” was her response. Surprise, surprise, her suggestion didn’t include me, heh-heh! Well, I did have the evening meal to prepare.

        I find I keep humming ‘Mr Apollo’ by the ‘Bonzos’, does that count?

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi SPS,

        I understand your thinking about the lead off single of ‘Outside’, but for me as listener and the 2 or 3(?) UK DJ’s who played ‘Hearts Filthy Lesson’ with an excited punch to the air, it had the same effect on us as ‘WAWN’. It was probably meant to divide. Still, I never imaged it would be almost another 20yrs before the rest of the world would catch up the man’s mature work.

        I hope he’s pleased with himself and 2013 so far.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Funny you should mention the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah (dada) band Twinkle. One of the first singles I bought as a little ún in England before emigrating to Oz was “I’m the Urban Spaceman” in 1968, (my first infatuation with songs about inner space astronauts?) It was produced by one Paul McCartney,working under the pseudonym of Apollo .C. Vermouth.
        The B-Side was a very strange little track called “In The Canyons Of Your Mind” with a sample lyric which read; “cross the mountains of your chest, I will stick a Union Jack”, and “In the wardrobe of my soul, in the section labelled shirts”, before degenerating into a series of very loud burps. I think I was set on a path towards loving strange and eclectic music from a very early age, hee-hee!

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Hi again SPS,

        I see you had good taste even as a young ‘un. I don’t know if you’ve picked up my posting on ‘The Supermen’. I rediscovered an old tape recently which included the ‘Bonzos’ ‘Mr Apollo’, and I was struck by how it had aspects of the ‘sound’ of some of ‘TMWSTW’ album. Or is it just me? We know how Bowie likes his comedy.

        And of course Neil Innes of the ‘Bonzos’ did the music for ‘The Rutles’, which Bowie loved so much he made it the pre-gig and interval music for the ‘Stage’ tour, (along with chunks of ‘The Idiot’). And then Oasis were later forced to give co-writing credits to Innes on ‘Whatever’, because it was too close to ‘How Sweet To Be An Idiot’. Funny how Noel Gallagher seems to have usurped Tony Visconti as Bowie’s voice on earth recently.

        Anyway, let me know what you think about my thoughts on Mr Apollo.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Well, I just listened to Mr. Apollo, and I’m sorry, but I’m not really hearing that TMWSTW sound on there,(incidentally, that’s my all-time favourite album, with Hunky Dory a strong challenger.)
        For a more overt similarity, check out “You’re Not Alone” by Amon Duul ii, from their Hijack album, which lifts lyrics from “All The Madmen” and “After All’ about as blatantly as Bowie himself did from the Velvets on “Little Toy Soldier”.
        Speaking of Neil Innes, I’m also a huge fan of the Rutles (both the film, and the album, A Hard Day’s Rut.) Neil also performs a pretty funny acoustic version of “Urban Spaceman” on Monty Python live at the Hollywood Bowl.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Glad it’s a fave album anyway. I didn’t want to be too specific, I wanted to see if you heard what I can. I thought the guitar ‘crunch’ and various motifs sounded quite Ronno-esque. And the ‘follow, Mr Apollo…’ had more than a hint of ‘Zane, zane, zane…’ Never mind, it will still be my brave Apollo, lol. Till tomorrow, or whenever.

      • col1234 says:

        “Mr Apollo” is DB’s “Big Brother.” Pegg noticed it; I mentioned it in my entry; it’s pretty obvious when you listen to the two songs together

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        You’ve written so much Chris, and I’ve arrived so late, lol. Yeah, I had noticed the ‘Big Brother’ link too, but as I’ve just said to SPS, I can’t help hearing Ronno in the guitar parts and the ghost of bits of ‘TMWSTW’ songs in fragments of ‘Mr Apollo’ too. Hey-ho! Cheers.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        You may be right re: Apollo. I’m not at my sharpest today, as I had a bit of a head clash playing soccer last night. Copped a rather nasty whack on the bridge of my nose. Much claret did flow. Anyway, another album where I can hear distinct echoes of TMWSTW is “Fully Qualified Survivor”, by Mike Chapman. Now sure, this may not come as a surprise I hear you say, seeing as how it hails from 1970, and features one Michael Ronson on guitar. But it’s almost as if Ronno used this album to practice all the licks and riffs he would eventually go on to play on Bowie’s album a few months later.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Re: Nose – Double ouch!! That sounds painful, I hope you are feeling better and no permanent damage done. You’ve just reminded why I keep away from sports – that and the fact I was always s***. The closest I came to being a lover of sport was watching a black and white TV and cheering for Mohammed Ali, lol.

        Don’t worry about the ‘Bonzos’. My friends at The Flat Earth Society had me convinced.They are usually spot on with things like that. I’ll give my other ‘gems'(?) a more thorough testing, or just leave them gathering dreamy moon-dust in the canyon’s of my mind. They’ve been happy and restful this long, why disturb them, heh-heh!

        I’d forgotten about the Chapman link. Many of my books still in boxes after a move and some not read for some time. Thanks to this site and Internet I’m refreshing ye olde memory banks.

        When I first heard the recently rebroadcast Bowie ’79 radio show on the BBC, I lived in a place with bad evening radio reception. Back then I ended up standing on a chair, leaning against a wall, with my ear pressed against the hissing mono radio trying to make out what was being played, heh-heh! Kids today…etc, lol. The Internet – a gift and a curse.

        Oh yeah – I came home late last night to news of a new Bowie video and a long list of words from db. Very interesting. Not sure I want TND tainted by a video, but…

        Again, I hope you are on the mend, take care.

  19. s.t. says:

    A nice pop moment in Bowie’s later career. I agree wholeheartedly about the Talking Heads link (although I can also hear Patti Smith in that bridge).

    Still, I think this song falls short of greatness. The narrative of Outside was intended to be incoherent: a postmodern deconstruction of linear storytelling. Yet ironically the album was often criticized for being tied down by its narrative elements. Most people blame the segue pieces for giving this impression, but I think some blame should also fall on this song, particularly the opening lyrics: “Baby Grace is the Victim, She was 14 years of age…”. The other Outside songs with explicit references to the art-murder story (most prominently Hearts Filthy Lesson) are oblique enough to contribute to the fractured vibe that Bowie seems to have been going for.

    In contrast, this seems to the casual listener like a perfect example of forced exposition in song. I always found this line in particular to be awkward and unimaginative, and it probably led a lot of people to think that Bowie was trying to make a conventional concept album, one with a hokey “murder mystery” theme. “Ziggy played guitar” it ain’t. Even something a bit more vague would have worked better, something like “Say a prayer for the victim, that aesthetic casualty.” If it was a bit more general in its approach, I think Oxford Town would be more readily embraced as a great pop song.

    As mentioned in the previous post, it was “Architects Eyes” that ripped the fabric of the Outside narrative, offering the viewpoint of its creator. Here, Leon mentions his ripping the fabric of time, but that deed just seems too snugly tucked into the story.

    So, great pop tune, but I think it was a missed opportunity for something transcendent.

    • twinkle-twinkle says:

      Hi S.T. – “…Aesthetic casualte-e-e!”? Yup, I can just hear it. I truly love your suggested lyric change and the reasoning behind it – the ‘incoherent postmodern deconstruction’ and ‘forced exposition’ etc. I too find the opening line a tad ear catching in the wrong way. Great thread – just don’t tell my missus I said so, lol.

      • s.t. says:

        Thanks twinkle, glad you like it. But really anything would have been better than that original line!

        I mostly think Bowie can do no wrong with his lyrics, especially when he’s having fun. Even at his crudest and tackiest (“Time, it flexes like a whore,” or “C’mon here woo woo and Kiss it for me”) I’m totally sold. Yet here, and some entries yet to come, I would have sent some recommendations for revision.

        The prospect of writing Bowie’s lyrics for him gets me thinking of the songwriting contest for What’s Really Happening. It would be interesting to see what variations contributors here could come up with.

        A possibility for a future post?

    • Roman says:

      Agree s.t.

      That line, ““Baby Grace is the Victim, She was 14 years of age…” removes the song from anywhere near greatness for me. It could’ve been a killer single too if it weren’t for that lyric.

  20. Maj says:

    Ha! Another of my Outside favourites.
    Great entry, Chris. Fascinating to read how Bowie pretty much put it together in half an hour. And “All’s well. 20th century dies.” … great lyrics.

    Great spotting (hearing) with Byrne. I always thought some of this song reminded me of something but couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly. I don’t really listen to Talking Heads much (apart from a few songs) but I have Byrne’s solo Grown Backwards and back when I bought it I listened to it a lot. So now I know what/who Bowie reminded me of on this song.

    There’s something about these Outside songs (the proper ones) – they’re all really weird (except for Strangers) but at the same time they’re all really…catchy almost. And Oxford is not an exception. I honestly don’t have a favourite here. Strangers is one of my favourite Bowie songs ever but it’s a different breed to the rest of the (proper 🙂 ) Outside songs, and I pretty much just like all them all equally. Love them. So I don’t know if I would particularly single out Oxford but reading this entry I suppose all in all this song *could* be the best on the album? You certainly reasoned it well, Chris. 🙂

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I’d never really thought about “this is your shadow on my wall” before reading this article, but I think the interpretation here is probably spot-on. And I have added it to my mental list of great DB lines.

    • s.t. says:

      I think of “Grown Backwards” as Byrne’s own “Heathen.” Released a few years apart, both albums seem to declare: “Okay, I admit that I’m getting old, but damned if I’m not aging gracefully.” Both embrace a slightly skewed approach to heartfelt emoting, with Byrne’s being a bit more detached and Bowie’s a bit more playful. And both, for one reason or another, tend to be tied to the political climate of the time (the songs of Heathen were written before the 9/11 attacks, but people made the association).

      I used to prefer Grown Backwards over Heathen, but now I appreciate both pretty much equally.

  21. I put “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town” in the “Stay” category. It has a memorable hook, but do you sing it to yourself like the superior tracks from these albums: “Golden Years” or “Thru’ These Architects Eyes?” Of course not. Thus it’s a strong song, unbreakable bones, but lacking in melodic muscle.

    • col1234 says:

      I sing “oxford town” all the time; in fact, was humming it this morning while making breakfast.

    • humanizingthevacuum says:

      I sing “Stay” all the time — even once at karaoke, where it mysteriously appeared as an option.

      • I’ve seen quite a few tracks from Never Let Me Down show up on karaoke machines. The mind reels.

      • twinkle-twinkle says:

        Re: NLMD & karaoke!?!

        The Messiah works in mysterious ways, his wonders to disseminate, lol.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        “Oxford Town” has always evoked for me the image of the drunken occupants of a mediaeval tavern singing a drinking song, knocking tankards of ale together. It sort of ruins the song for me, to be honest.

      • s.t. says:

        Not Bowie-related, but I was shocked to find “In the Court of the Crimson King,” complete with tinny robotic solos, available at a karaoke place. Naturally, we had to give it a go.

    • Rob Thomas says:

      I have very little love for ‘Oxford Town’ (sounds like a Blur reject) but ‘Stay’?! (we’re talking about STS, right?)- it’s simply a masterpiece. 🙂

  22. Anonymous says:

    David Byrne’s influence is all over Lodger – to the detriment of that album – and Scary Monsters.
    After “Heroes” Bowie’s latest creative efforts were outstripped by the likes of Talking Heads, Wire (154), etc.

  23. Steve M. says:

    Good article as usual, but, although this song was one of my favorites off the excellent “Outside,” dubbing this song Bowie’s best of the Nineties is a rather bold claim. Then again, picking Bowie’s one best song of any decade is a fool’s errand, unless perhaps if you’re analyzing the 60s or the 80s. (Even that could be tough, on second thought, though…)

    More importantly, however, you might want to make an addition to this article referencing/analyzing the similarities between “I Have Not Been to Oxford Town” and the Rave-Ups’ song “Positively Lost Me”, which was used in the soundtrack for the 1986 film “Pretty in Pink”.

    “Positively Lost Me” seems to me to be the primary influence for this song. While I think the Talking Heads connection is there (by way of the Rave-Ups), “Positively Lost Me” seems to be the missing link.

    Listen to the song here:

    PS – Never commented before, but I applaud your efforts on this blog, and especially the amount of time and work you put into it.

    • Steve M. says:

      That said, Bowie takes the song in a different direction, and I enjoy both very much!

      Keep up the good work on your blog!

  24. S David says:

    I would suggest that the author of the blog is too close to the material.

    Outside was the 3rd Bowie album I ever listened to, and it took my brain for a walk. Imagine a 19 year old in the modern age being blown away by this album that you mostly regard as an old man going for broke in his waning years.

    Outside is anything but a failure. If red herrings, dips into occasionally pretentious half-characters and cut up lyrics are what it takes to make something truly unique then so be it. To this day, there is not a single album that sounds like Outside, and I give that as the highest compliment. When it soars, it soars and when it ebbs, it still flowers a grand, incomparable atmosphere.

    If Station to Station is regarded as his peak moment because it’s seen as Bowie transcending all influence to create something solely his own, perhaps you need to readjust the criteria for Outside, in which he inarguably does the same.

    • S David says:

      I think the problem is that when viewed in part and method, it seems shallower and more simple. Instead of comparing the characters to the Thin White Duke and ZIggy Stardust, which offered more explicit personalities, the characters in Outside thrive off the power of suggestion. Outside works because of what the abstracted lines suggest in the mind of the listener. It’s an intentionally nebulous album, not a poorer execution of something already done, as the is the conclusion the author seems to weave his narrative towards.

    • col1234 says:

      a few things

      1) the author of this blog didn’t hear this album until the late 90s and then barely listened to it until he wrote about it. say what you’d like about me but being “too close to the material” is rather a stretch

      2) in re: 19 yr olds hearing this for the first time; see “hearts filthy lesson” entry. i have nothing but sympathy & strength for kids who found DB via this album; think they’ve been shortchanged by trad. Db criticism. and er, did you miss where i said this was a great song?

      3) think “inarguably” is maybe not the word to use here

  25. Greg says:

    I quite like this album too, S David, in fact I love it, but I almost completely disagree with you on it being “intentionally nebulous.” In fact, I think what keeps this Outside from being just shy of a masterpiece (lyrically, anyway) is its specificity. Unlike Ziggy and Diamond Dogs, Bowie seems to have constructed a fairly detailed narrative for Outside, and more’s the pity. The segues – though perhaps interesting once, rather like Revolution 9 – strike me as exposition, as does the unfortunate “Baby Grace Is the Victim etc” here. Concept albums (and stage musicals, for that matter) always seem silly in description, and only work in execution. If the narrative isn’t going to be well-executed and detailed, it’s best left as mere suggestion, a la Ziggy, Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane. In those three instances, Bowie’s infamous lack of patience paid off handsomely — they were left as a collection of wonderful songs with the slightest hint of some deeper connection. They played on our minds.

    With Outside, Bowie couldn’t quite let go of his narrative yet wasn’t fully able to finish it. The result was fish nor foul. Don’t get me wrong – I love this album, and think it one of his best, but only as a collection of songs, not in any conceptual way. Yes, I delete those hideous segues entirely from my iPod (though I quite love Wishful Beginnings, especially what Chris has so rightly called the Satan’s Cackle).

    Also, I must say I disagree with Momus’ explanation of this song. Their are two characters here — “Leon,” pleading his case, and the “Town Crier” serving as a greek chorus answering him. “I have not been to Oxford Town,” he says. Forget it, they reply, all’s well, pay the cops, you’re guilty, case solved.

    All of which is to say, this song’s only stumble is the too-specific opening about Baby Grace. Also, I have to say, I disagree with Chris’ notion that the song somehow encompasses Bowie as author – I think it’s a fairly straightforward “I didn’t do it,” “Yes you did” bit of narrative — the book of the musical that never happened.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I think this is spot on. The specificity drags it down just a little bit.

      He should have split the album into “1.” and “2.”. That would have been the lion’s share of the mooted trilogy.

      I recently got the double LP issue of the album, and it really underlines how it works much better broken up.

  26. TisAPity says:

    After listening to most of the Outside album’s material a number of times, i’m personally left with an interesting impression. There’s a lot of very interesting imagery/ideas in the makeup of this album, the palette per say has interesting colors and worlds deep underneath, but the end product is just not realized well enough at all for me to consider it top class art, top class Bowie.

    It kind of reminds me of the Star Wars prequels, there were some good core ideas here and there, but the actual execution of it all was horrid and embarassing (much less so in Outside’s case but still).

    For starters, i’m amazed that Eno was involved in this yet the electronic textures of the album sound both dated and not sophisticated enough. Having recently listened to two of the most critically acclaimed art-rock albums of the 90’s (Loveless and Ok Computer), i can compare those sonic worlds to Outside’s and not only do they not sound dated at all, they inject the album’s aesthetic with incredible personality and depth. It’s awesome to simply listen to the textures of those albums and get lost in the sounds’ characteristics. Outside doesn’t pull it off in this department for me.

    The second big gripe i have is that the songs sometimes feel sorta basic to me in that they don’t feel like they have much breathing space and thus they sound more “poppy” and less artsy than they could.

    I guess those are my two biggest gripes with the good material that there definitely is in Outside. The sonic world is not top class enough to truly create a breathtaking identity and world, and the structure of the songs themselves could have been more theatrical, expressionistic (i can’t think of the right word), and both these gripes kinda go hand in hand.

    I’m Deranged, The Voyeur of Utter Destruction, The Motel, I Have Not Been to Oxford Town, Hallo Spaceboy, The Heart’s Filthy Lesson, they’re all interesting enough to be great if molded correctly imo, but they don’t quite get there most of the time, which is why sometimes i am more impressed by other Artist’s covers of these songs sometimes because they dress them differently and perhaps more akin to what i describe.

    I guess i also have a problem with Bowie’s vocal deliveries throughout in that they could have been dramatically more varied the way they are throughout Heroes, Lodger, and Scary Monsters for example. You get some hints of histrionics sometimes in songs like Voyeur and Motel but it’s not enough. Too Monotone.

    And also the Mike Garson Piano, it’s used to liberally i think and thus loses power in it being so ubiquitous. It’s supposed to provide a sense of the surreal and even horror i would imagine but it often doesn’t really provide anything truly incredible.

    It’s a 5 or 6 out of 10 effort that could have been an 8 and above if well thoughtout. I mean imagine Bowie pulling of Noir/Gothic/Surreal/Avant-Garde/Electronica off with the same midas touch he once had..

    Oh wait… he did so with Blackstar 🙂

  27. W. White says:

    While “Oxford Town” is a good song, I think it suffers from what Eno referred to as Bowie’s mainstreaming of Outside. Frankly, to me it just seems similar to “Miracle Goodnight” and like something that could have been on Black Tie White Noise (better than all the other songs on that album but still similar).

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