Taking Sides: Bowie's Low

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
It's a rare record you can literally take sides over, but Low is one of them. Which is better? Side 1, which maps out a future of compact electropop, or side 2, which lets it all hang out in a haze of Eno-tronica? And - CD ownaz - how does it work as a whole?

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 10:46 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Side 2 is great but sometimes it can bore me. I think I prefer Side 2 of Heroes.

Two-Faced January (Two-Faced January), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 10:52 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

But to answer your question - side 1 is better, it's pretty untouchable.

Two-Faced January (Two-Faced January), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 10:53 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I never listen to it as a whole, despite playing it on cd. It's either one or the other. I'd dip into selected tracks on a lot of albums - but this one is different, because I'd only ever be intersted in hearing one particular set of tracks or the other.

I think I prefer side 1. On side 2, Warszawa dwarfs the other ambient tracks in terms of beauty. But the first half has a handful of short, sharp shocks which i thoroughly enjoy. After hearing those, i don't have the patience for the slower tracks. but if i'm in the mood for something less kinetic, they'll more than suffice.

this is the only bowie album i'd listen to, tbh.

weasel diesel (K1l14n), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 10:57 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

One of two records which actually did change my life. I need say no more.

Marcello Carlin, Wednesday, 15 October 2003 11:27 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Except to tell us what the other one was.

Two-Faced January (Two-Faced January), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 11:37 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

... oh I know the answer to that one, it was "The Corries - Live A Live O"

Dadaismus (Dada), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 11:45 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

The Corries interpreting sides 1 and 2 of Low I think would have changed everybody's lives.

Marcello Carlin, Wednesday, 15 October 2003 12:02 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

One side is a pop record, the other a film soundtrack. Taking sides: chalk or cheese? Then again, I suppose you could say that Sides One of Low and Heroes, put together, would be the most fantastic Bowie pop record ever made, and that Sides Two of Low and Heroes would be... a fairly average prime period Eno ambient release.

Momus (Momus), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 12:13 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I listen more to side one, but I think side 2 informs side 1. You listen to it in a slightly different way because you know what's on the other side.

The extra track they put on the re-release a few years back was really good, I forget what it's called now.

Two-Faced January (Two-Faced January), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 12:19 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I asked the qn because I finally bought a copy - god knows why I hadn't done so ages before - and was reminded what a wonderful record it was. In fact it excited me in a way very few old records do. And I was surprised how well the shift from sides 1 to 2 worked. Eno pulled the same sequencing trick on Bush of Ghosts - the switch from the uptight city head to more open but more mysterious spaces. I think it's a way better record than Heroes - both sides are splendid. But I think the possibilities of side 1 have been less mined than those of side 2, so I prefer it.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 12:23 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Side 1 is one of Bowie's best ever, but I still choose side 2, which is one of the most beautiful pieces of instrumental music ever recorded.

However, it is a hard decision to make. I am a lot more certain that I prefer side 2 over side 1 in the case of "Heroes".

Geir Hongro (GeirHong), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 12:51 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I only downloaded the first side. I plan on buying it someday though (for the second side)

Sonny A. (Keiko), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 13:14 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

"Low" is the only Bowie album I own, and probably will ever own.

peepee (peepee), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 15:48 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

on CD it feels more like a unified whole that develops over its course rather than being divided into two radically different pieces.

DV (dirtyvicar), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 16:47 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I have it on cassette and find little reason to ever listen to side 2. Side 1 is fun though.

Anthony Miccio (Anthony Miccio), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 16:53 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I downloaded it recently, having never really paid too much attention to Bowie. I like both sides equally I think. Favourite tracks are Sound and Vision and A New Career In A New Town.

dog latin, Wednesday, 15 October 2003 17:02 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I bought it a long time ago after hearing about it being radical and revolutionary and the first electronica record ever etc. and it sounded disappointingly 'organic' like an ordinary rawk record, but when I listened to it last week I was 'this is fuckin' weird, everything sounds TOTALLY artificial and sequenced'!!! What makes this even more inexplicable is that when I first bought it I was a 10-yr-old Iron Maiden fanatic, and lately I haven't been listening to anything except ghettotech and old eurodisco, and I STILL had this reaction!

dave q, Wednesday, 15 October 2003 19:33 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I pick side two, seeing as it kicks off with my two favourite Bowie tracks (even though Warszawa was an Eno track until Bowie came back to the studio and went oooooooummmmmmm). But yes, this album changed my life - it led me down the path to Kraftwerk and more, so I am eternally grateful to Mr. Bowie.

Damian (Damian), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 20:54 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Sides two of "Low" and "Heroes" put together would have been the best electronic album ever, dwarfing all of Eno's other work, including the rather decent "Another Green World"

Geir Hongro (GeirHong), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 21:26 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Geir Hongro, may I just say that you seem like a very reasonable man indeed and I am utterly baffled why some on these boards hold you up as an example of spectacular and stubborn insanity. When I come to Norway we shall roam fjords singing the rather decent melody of 'Sombre Reptiles' together.

Momus (Momus), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 23:28 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

'breaking glass'!!

i like lodger best though

also i agree with geir

geeta (geeta), Wednesday, 15 October 2003 23:40 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Low is one of my life-changing records as well. I was completely mental for the live half of Still by Joy Division and then I bought this record. I tried very hard to like it at first, and I just could not get my head around it. I let it sit on the shelf for about 6 months and then I broke it out again and it just clicked. I used to play Warszawa at top volume every morning when I got ready for high school for about a semester in 11th grade. I can only imagine what my parents must have thought, they could have had a football player and instead they got this weird kid who blasted 70's ambient from a 130 watt stereo at 6:45 in the morning.

I still listened to Still all the time, but this is when Bowie, Eno and Kraftwerk started creeping into my listening. I really lived in those records during high school. I think it is a real mistake to take sides in regards to this record. This record is about escape, the entire theme of it is that your life is a mess, and the entire record is a sequence of events. It isn't just a collection of well-sequenced tracks; it is an aural narrative.

Speed of life is the intro; it sets the mood.

Breaking Glass is the first vocal track and it starts the theme of alienation and romantic disconnection. Rather than using an ice cream parlor for milkshakes cold and long, or the dream car twenty feet long, he makes the first use of the bedroom as a symbol for isolation. The lyrics are so abstract but you know exactly the feeling he is trying to convey. Rather than using elaborate lyrics to express an idea, situations become less defined and the sound is what communicates the emotion. This definitely ties into Eno's theory that lyrics in rock music are nothing but decoration, and that the real message is timbral.

What In The World is track three and this time the mood switches from agitation to extreme euphoria. The euphoria is not a healthy, genuine happiness, but more like the upward pendulum swing of bipolar disorder. The paranoia and claustrophobia of Breaking Glass is still lurking in the background, but it is submerged in the lyrics, not the delivery. The desire is there, but somehow the connection cannot be created.

This theme would make sense because Bowie's marriage to Angela was breaking up, and he went to Berlin to kick the cocaine addiction he had picked up in LA during the Thin White Duke period of his career.
Bowie has said that at the time he was confused and internally divided, so Berlin in 1976, a divided city, was the most logical place to live.

Sound And Vision is track four and it takes the upward mood swing to its highest point. It is the closest thing this album has to a super pop hit, and even at that it fails. Again, it uses the symbol of bedroom as symbol of isolation, but it makes you wonder if this is a set of chemicals talking, or perhaps really a come down? Has this person just accepted his place? Is he coming to terms with the situation? Perhaps the character is simply found solace in art, for a brief time at least. Although the mood is relatively up, it is still very emotionally ambiguous.

Always Crashing The Same Car is the lowest point on Low. The image of tearing though a parking structure is a metaphor for reckless, perhaps even suicidal behavior. It also echoes the central image of enclosed, stifling spaces. The track title refers to repeated failures in life, in the context of the album, repeated failures at real emotional connection. The emotional pendulum has swung the other way to nearly suicidal depression. The vibe is stark and brooding, it is recognition.

Be My Wife is number six. Most people think that this is a love song, but this song has absolutely nothing to do with a healthy emotional relationship. This is the sound of desperation, of clutching at straws. This is like love as an emotional high, a means of escape. The music is up, but the lyrics and vocal delivery are that of a desperate man. No matter what the long-term consequences of his actions are, he needs deliverance at this very moment. Anything to escape.

New Career in a New Town is the final track on side one. The music suggests hopeful optimism and movement. I always think of the pistons of a train when I listen to the bassline of this song. It has no lyrics, and it introduces the next side as the second part of this person’s life. It is more ambiguous but no less emotional.

The ambient half of the album follows a more linear trajectory. It starts out with the sublime quarter note octave pulsation of Warszawa, and the mood declines from there. Although Warszawa is the more obvious cut, Art Decade is the better track. It is subtler and a bit darker. Whatever relief the protagonist found in travel and the anonymity of a new life, the magic is starting to fade. The mood continues to decline into madness by the end of Subterraneans.

Was Bowie dragging in his fears of potential madness into the end of the album? Did he use the abstract nature of the lyrics and synthetic timbres on the second half as a vehicle to express the disassociated and incommunicable nature of mental illness? Was he expressing his personal fears of being schizophrenic like the older brother who introduced him to music in the first place?

I don't know, but it does give this album an interesting perspective. This is one of the few records I can say that I have truly lived in. I am not exactly sure what that says about me, or the frame of mind I was in during the later years of my teens.

Disco Nihilist (mjt), Thursday, 16 October 2003 00:20 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Re Warszawa: I meant whole note, not quater note pulsations.

Disco Nihilist (mjt), Thursday, 16 October 2003 01:31 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Not sure if I have a favourite out of the two, they're both excellent sides on what is an exceptional album. The quality of the songs on the first side is top notch, and some of the more abstract pieces on side two such as "Warszawa" are extraordinary. I don't recall many other major artists of that period releasing albums with 50% songs, 50% studio experimentation.

steve, Thursday, 16 October 2003 02:06 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

"breaking glass" is probably my favorite song under 2 minutes ever

rob geary (rgeary), Thursday, 16 October 2003 02:42 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I suppose you could say that Sides One of Low and Heroes, put together, would be the most fantastic Bowie pop record ever made

but that record does exist ... it's called the pleasure principle!

Little Big Macher (llamasfur), Thursday, 16 October 2003 03:43 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

oh yeah, my vote goes to side one -- just for "speed of life," "sound and vision" and "breaking glass." side two's ok, but "warszawa" is the only real standout IMHO.

Little Big Macher (llamasfur), Thursday, 16 October 2003 03:45 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

side two is just a continuation of what Eno was already doing. Side ne is a totally bizzare leap gfor Bowie to make (or just a continuation of a lot of the krautrock already around, but it did manage to take that sound it put it into more of a pop format, shorter song length.) I pick side 1.


A Nairn (moretap), Thursday, 16 October 2003 04:18 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

i just remembered ... i also have a soft spot for "some are"

Little Big Macher (llamasfur), Thursday, 16 October 2003 04:38 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

CD bonus tracks tacked on to classic albums usually makes me nervous, but 'some are'... what an unbelievable track for them to leave in the vault for 20 years...

granted it would have been tough to place anywhere on either side. but somehow it's now my favorite track on the whole album.

can't believe they leave it off some versions of the album. criminals.

also, geir, you know about the 'All Saints - collected instrumentals 77-79' compilation, right?

(Jon L), Thursday, 16 October 2003 17:27 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

whoops, '77-99'. now I remember why I passed on buying it, was scared.

(Jon L), Thursday, 16 October 2003 17:33 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

the all saints instrumentals collection is rub though -- i have it, and if you already own 'low' and 'heroes' it's pretty superfluous. as a 'bonus' it includes those awful phil glass symphony remix things.

geeta (geeta), Thursday, 16 October 2003 18:32 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

not a bonus. no.

(Jon L), Thursday, 16 October 2003 19:15 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I do not agree w/geir: just why would be the BEST electronic alb in the world?!

'Another green world' is so much better than side two or side one of heroes.

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Friday, 17 October 2003 11:41 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I'm going to buy this tonight. From memory, side 2 is best, and Low is better than "heroes", but we'll see. Poss I will buy both.

Pashmina (Pashmina), Friday, 17 October 2003 11:57 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

geir and momus
up a tree
doing what they shouldn't be

momeir, Friday, 17 October 2003 12:03 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

eight years pass...

This week's Then Play Long update? Why is it here? Read on.

Here he is with the classic "Poème Électronique." Good track (Marcello Carlin), Wednesday, 18 July 2012 14:04 (six years ago) Permalink

I've only just quick-scanned it (bookmarked for quality time with a glass of laphroiag, for sure) but that is fantastic.

willem, Wednesday, 18 July 2012 14:25 (six years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

… but you got problems

j., Thursday, 19 December 2013 00:59 (five years ago) Permalink

eight months pass...


Josh in Chicago, Wednesday, 10 September 2014 13:34 (four years ago) Permalink


Οὖτις, Thursday, 11 September 2014 22:38 (four years ago) Permalink

oh shit lol xp

Οὖτις, Thursday, 11 September 2014 22:38 (four years ago) Permalink

anyway I laughed

Οὖτις, Thursday, 11 September 2014 22:38 (four years ago) Permalink

Same guy did this one, which is not as brilliant, but still very good:

dlp9001, Sunday, 14 September 2014 21:38 (four years ago) Permalink

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 16 September 2014 03:47 (four years ago) Permalink

Geir Hongro, may I just say that you seem like a very reasonable man indeed and I am utterly baffled why some on these boards hold you up as an example of spectacular and stubborn insanity. When I come to Norway we shall roam fjords singing the rather decent melody of 'Sombre Reptiles' together.

Karl Malone, Tuesday, 16 September 2014 03:47 (four years ago) Permalink

haha that Warszaw video is hilarious, very well done!

niels, Tuesday, 16 September 2014 07:31 (four years ago) Permalink

After some thought, this has to be Side One for me. Side Two has 'Warszawa' and 'Subterraneans', which are both indispensable for me, but every cut on Side One rules.

Welcome To (Turrican), Tuesday, 16 September 2014 08:57 (four years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

I listen more to side one, but I think side 2 informs side 1. You listen to it in a slightly different way because you know what's on the other side.

The extra track they put on the re-release a few years back was really good, I forget what it's called now.

― Two-Faced January (Two-Faced January), Wednesday, October 15, 2003 7:19 AM (12 years ago)

yes: you can even give it a pass over and over, but it's still there, and the more unevenly you play it, the more side 2 sounds like a discovery or a rare event

j., Thursday, 14 January 2016 03:14 (three years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Is it just me or is the new mix crystal clear?

niels, Tuesday, 3 October 2017 12:45 (one year ago) Permalink

lol it's apparently just a remaster - nothing to see here... I'm just enjoying it a lot

niels, Tuesday, 3 October 2017 12:49 (one year ago) Permalink

Sides One of Low and Heroes, put together, would be the most fantastic Bowie pop record ever made

eh, fun idea ! I will try to listen to it that way. It may change the perspective.
I have loved Bowie (mostly the Ziggy period and StS) but can't really get into it anymore.

AlXTC from Paris, Tuesday, 3 October 2017 13:08 (one year ago) Permalink

Easily in my Top 3 albums of his, alongside Station to Station and Lodger ...

more Allegro-like (Turrican), Tuesday, 3 October 2017 13:17 (one year ago) Permalink

How did I miss this thread at the time? Of course I prefer side 2 as it is more challenging and less conventional. And almost everything Eno touches sounds better after. Additionally I have never liked Bowie's contrived voice.

Ich bin kein Berliner (alex in mainhattan), Tuesday, 3 October 2017 18:43 (one year ago) Permalink

no wait there is something to see here after all:

In terms of the issue around the mastering and the additional bass or ‘bottom end’ on albums like Low and Lodger, the point was strenuously made that Tony Visconti has never been involved in remastering these albums before, and what you hear on these new remasters is how he always wanted them to sound.


niels, Wednesday, 4 October 2017 12:43 (one year ago) Permalink

interesting ! especially since I was just listening to Low/Heroes today and was wondering what the difference was between this Low remaster and the 1999 one.
And I also noticed that "drop" during "Heroes" but I thought I had touched a button or something.

AlXTC from Paris, Wednesday, 4 October 2017 13:55 (one year ago) Permalink

I couldn't resist having a look over at the retirement home upon reading that - I instantly saw a thread that was about 180+ pages...

more Allegro-like (Turrican), Wednesday, 4 October 2017 17:56 (one year ago) Permalink

There will be friendships truncated and sig files revised over this...

harbinger of failure (Jon not Jon), Wednesday, 4 October 2017 17:59 (one year ago) Permalink

two months pass...

the way the snare sound deepens and then cuts off in "breaking glass" >>>>>>

eno's convulsive blinking synth in "what in the world" >>>>>

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Saturday, 30 December 2017 01:40 (one year ago) Permalink

the out of tune Iggy backing vocals on "What in the World"

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 30 December 2017 01:42 (one year ago) Permalink

yes to both of those, yes to all of Side 1, this is his pinnacle imo much as i love Lodger. still think "Heroes" is the weakest of the three

a Rambo in curved air (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 30 December 2017 10:34 (one year ago) Permalink

In the intro to Breaking Glass I recently noticed really quiet synth that sounds like a ringing phone that was either muted or erased and has bled into another track, kinda wish it had been left in.

MaresNest, Saturday, 30 December 2017 11:27 (one year ago) Permalink

I've always found this idea of a "trilogy" a bit stupid, for me I see everything from Station to Station up to Scary Monsters (including stuff like The Idiot) as one long golden period.

Gholdfish Killah (Turrican), Sunday, 31 December 2017 16:10 (one year ago) Permalink

Do you have any idea of the context of the recording of those three particular albums?

Because if you did, you're already aware of the idiocy of your own statement.

he doesn't need to be racist about it though. (Austin), Sunday, 31 December 2017 23:36 (one year ago) Permalink

Actually, Turrican is right insofar as the Davis-Murray years go from 1976 to 1971. And only one album was recorded in Berlin.

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 31 December 2017 23:45 (one year ago) Permalink

it's a well established shorthand, however arbitrary, let's hustle along without revisiting Taxonomy 101 for the millionth time

a Rambo in curved air (Noodle Vague), Monday, 1 January 2018 00:02 (one year ago) Permalink

this is not your first rodeo

j., Monday, 1 January 2018 00:59 (one year ago) Permalink

1976 to 1971?

Mark G, Monday, 1 January 2018 01:18 (one year ago) Permalink

I've always found this idea of a "trilogy" a bit stupid

i think i posted this before:

Bowie began referring to the three albums as a Berlin-centered trilogy during the promotion of Lodger, although "Heroes" was the only installment primarily recorded in the city.

stupid idea or not it was bowie who started it.

new noise, Monday, 1 January 2018 02:00 (one year ago) Permalink

song cycle begins with "sister midnight" and ends with "red money" there you go

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Monday, 1 January 2018 09:38 (one year ago) Permalink

ten months pass...

Y'know, people say that the melody on 'Weeping Wall' is meant to be 'Scarborough Fair', but I suspect that it's actually taken from Zappa's 'Who Are the Brain Police?' (Which Bowie was a fan of and even apparently covered in the '60s)

Le Baton Rose (Turrican), Thursday, 8 November 2018 19:53 (two months ago) Permalink

Eh?!??!? Right, I'll have to check that out!

Alma Kirby (Tom D.), Thursday, 8 November 2018 20:59 (two months ago) Permalink

It's true!

ROCK MUSIC (Tom D.), Thursday, 8 November 2018 21:51 (two months ago) Permalink

ummm wow!

Elvis Telecom, Thursday, 8 November 2018 23:55 (two months ago) Permalink

You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.