March Book Review

Mar 09, 2016 · Daniel Coffey

Each book in Continuum?s 33 1/3 series presents a focused, microscopic look at one album in an artist?s career. Given the recent untimely demise of recording artist David Bowie, it?s apt to highlight this interesting series by looking at its contribution to the knowledge of his recorded output.

Low is not one of Bowie?s most obscure albums, but it?s far from one of his most well-known or beloved releases. Released in 1977, at the height of Bowie?s bout with cocaine addiction and psychosis, the album shows a remarkable amount of disaffectedness and emotional distance for someone who was known as an energetic, at times histrionic, singer.

The author of this short volume begins by placing the genesis of Low in a temporal context. Bowie had just completed two major milestones: releasing his 1976 album Station to Station and starring in the Nicolas Roeg movie The Man Who Fell to Earth. The book picks up in the aftermath of these two events, where Bowie, who had tried and failed to submit a musical score to the aforementioned film, sets about trying to write a new album to succeed Station to Station. Along the way, the audience is treated to Bowie?s peculiar process for creating this very strange (for his oeuvre or anyone else?s) album, which included help from the then down-on-his-luck Iggy Pop, and noted musical producer / creative catalyst Brian Eno.

After a detailed description of the events that led up to the making of Low, author Hugo Wilcken takes us song by song through the album, discussing and analyzing each track, from the extremely short songs that comprise side one (referring to the original LP format) to the longer, atmospheric instrumentals on side two. Wilcken handily explicates the songs with lyrics, and explains, using quotes from almost everyone involved in the recording process, how and why the songs came to sound like they do.

Despite the caveat that Wilcken throws around terms like ?autistic? and ?schizophrenic? with no real medical or psychological basis, the book provides a very concise and knowledgeable view into the making of this album and the creative mind of one of the late 20th Century?s greatest pop musicians during one of his harder-to-fathom periods.

Wilcken, H. (2013).?Low / Hugo Wilcken.?(33 1/3). New York, N.Y. ; London: Bloomsbury.