And so here we are again. Edition 11 of this series, look you see, which has proven to be more popular than I had imagined. Thank you one and all, to be sure, for taking an interest in my musings via the means of reading this.
In this edition, then, we return to 90's Bowie. The middle of the 90's to be exact, with the 1995 album 1. Outside. And a note on that here. Pedantic people will say that the album is supposed to be called 1. Outside. The even more pedantic people will say that the full title, as point of fact, is 1. Outside The Nathan Adler Diaries : a hyper cycle (lower case as per the spine of the CD). For ease of reading, let's just all accept that yes, that's the case, but from here on out in this article, or if you like blog post, it shall be known as Outside.
For fun, and as a kind of thank you to all of you who read these posts, there's a sort of "one of a kind" giveaway in this blog post. But we will get to that later on.
To start with (sort), then, as usual some fantastic facts on this record. Outside was the 19th studio album by David Bowie as per the commonly agreed method of counting and cataloguing them. It came out in 1995, two years after the double whammy of excellence that was The Buddha Of Suburbia and the better known Black Tie White Noise. It marked a reunification, of sorts, with Brian Eno, with the two of them not being widely credited as working together since the "Berlin Trilogy" of the late 70s. At just slightly south of 75 minutes Outside is, by some distance, the longest David Bowie album to be released that was neither compilation nor a live recording.
Where to begin with this one? Sorry, this is quite likely to be all over the place. I am writing this a bit late into the month compared to others, so it's "on the fly". As is much of the album, I suppose.
It's what you could call a flawed album, where the many great parts do not add up to the superb whole those parts suggest. Far be it from me to be making this accusation - Bowie himself spoke of it as being "a bit too much" and expressed the notion that he should have released it as a double album, so as to give listeners a pause or break.
This was also an album Bowie was fond and steadfastly proud of. Brian Eno has spoken of how, somewhere around a year before Bowie passed away, the two of them chatting about the album. Both of them expressed regret that it appeared to have been "forgotten" about when people spoke of Bowie's illustrious catalogue. Well then, let this in some small way be a means of reminder.
When I first heard this record I didn't really like it. The opening was strange, the first two songs (Outside and The Heart's Filthy Lesson) were excellent, then A Small Plot Of Land came along. It was monotonous, tinny "jazz odyssey" stuff and gave one a headache. And then you got the excellence of Hallo Spaceboy, only for it to be followed by more tinny "jazz odyssey" in the form of The Motel.
And then I read an interview with Neil Tennant out of the Pet Shop Boys. It was in NME. Two things stuck with me. One was an unsolicited spoiler he gave for the film The Crying Game, although in fairness the film had been out for some 2 - 3 years by then. The second was a comment on Outside.
By this stage the album Outside had been met with some criticism, or "meh" responses. In the interview Neil championed it. He declared it to be "the perfect album for headphones whilst jobbing". Now, then, I thought, or thought I. Whilst jogging has not ever really been a thing of mine, headphones have been. I made a tape of it, listened to it on my walkman and found it to be much, much better as a listening experience than on the stereo.
The above is of relevance to the giveaway promised to be part of this post. Stay tuned!
So anyway, the album. A concept album it is, or "hyper cycle", as David would have wished for it to reference. The premise is that society (not necessarily of the future, "it's happening now, not tomorrow" is a key lyric) has come to accept murder as socially acceptable in some cases. Should the nature of a murder be "artistic" in the eyes of a judging panel then the murderer would be celebrated and praised rather than sentenced and condemned. Ostensibly Outside tells a story of such an incident, as investigated by Nathan Adler.
What inspired this narrative? Bowie never said directly or overtly, but for those of us there at the time the influences are fairly obvious. Outside came in the way of things like the OJ Simpson murder trial - and indeed the trial of the Menendez brothers. Both became media circuses, making a mockery of the judicial system to varying degrees. Also, art was changing. Tarantino had changed things. He did this directly with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, indirectly with the scripts for True Romance and, of most relevance, Natural Born Killers. After a short period - say 1990 to 1992 - of Hollywood shying away from making violent movies, they were back in a way not seen before.
Of those influences Natural Born Killers is perhaps the most relevant. Certainly it is in terms of the audacious and brilliant soundtrack, curated and created by Trent Reznor. Musically, when not being all "jazz odyssey", the biggest influence on the sound of Outside is clearly Nine inch Nails, with many of the songs (chapters?) echoing the sinister, threatening, aggressive mechanical scope of The Downward Spiral.
No surprise, then, that Trent Reznor was called upon to deliver a remix - labelled the "alt remix" - of The Heart's Filthy Lesson for the first single. And yes, indeed, this was the song that was used for the end credits of Se7en, a film we are perhaps no longer allowed to watch due to certain allegations against one of the actors in it. But if we are, you will note that the opening credit music was Trent, with Closer by Nine Inch Nails being used.
One of my favourite moments on Outside is Hallo Spaceboy. Which is interesting, as one of the least favourite things to do with the record is the Pet Shop Boys single release. The original on the album is an overwhelming blast of raw, audacious and aggressive sound, touching on drum and bass greatness. By contrast the single is an underwhelming, subdued affair with the song turned into a rather soft, banal Pet Shop Boys b-side.
I suspect, however, that the remix was done with reason. This is all my own theory, so blame me if not so. My guess is that we were all supposed to understand Hallo Spaceboy as being "the third Major Tom song", following Space Oddity and Ashes To Ashes. That would explain the mashed up lyrics from Space Oddity appearing. Also, all of the song seems to reference earlier Bowie songs. The line "do you like girls or boys? it's confusing these days" echoes Rebel Rebel, and I have every confidence you can by yourself tie the "moon dust" references to another celebrated Bowie outing.
The above I took in HMV, I suspect when I went to go and buy Liam Gallagher's debut solo album on the day after the day of release. If you can get the CD at that price new, then go for it. The penny south of £4 for it is all the more worth it when you learn that the cover is in fact a self portrait work of art by David.
Getting the album? OK. Let's take a break - and I promise I will discuss some more of the music as we go - and have a look at this "giveaway" I am offering. No idea if it is special or worthwhile or if anyone will take me up on it, but here goes.
Remember the part earlier on (as opposed to one you have not read) about how headphones seem to make Outside all the more better a listening experience? Well, as you can see in the picture above, I elected to honour that. Yes, I made a tape of the record to listen to again before writing this. Sure, it might have been easier to stick it on an iPod, but the tape is done now.
If for some reason you would like this tape, you are welcome to it. Please note it is strictly first come first served - I can't go making copies of this to give away.
Some rules? Sure. As postage for such would be south of £5 for me, what the heck, this is open to the entire planet. Please do not - and I mean this - leave any contact details on the comments section of this post. Rather just leave a comment saying "I am interested" (unless someone else has) and we can connect to get details via Google+. Alternatively, I suppose, you could get in touch with me via either of my verk websites, The Taper and Best Write. Great also, by the way, if you use my verk services - that's how I make my living, and that's how I am able to keep doing this, making it all free and clear of adverts appearing.
Yes, that is an excerpt from Outside off of the album Outside, playing on the tape which could be yours if for some reason you want it. No, absolutely not, the stereo is not included. You will have to sort out your own cassette deck to play the tape.
Right, hopefully will hear from at least someone and back to the album. And a return to the origins of it. Which are, frankly, a mixture of confusion and what can only be described as bullsh!t.
To start with the latter, the recording process. For some reason Bowie made a lot of noise about how this was all "done in the studio" with "no plans or preconceived ideas" brought in. This claim is utter nonsense. For a start the last song, Strangers When We Meet, is a re-recording of the song from 1993's The Buddha Of Suburbia.
Also, the whole concept and idea seems to stem from one of Bowie's more Spinal Tap moments. When Q magazine, back when it was good, asked Bowie to keep a diary for them, he decided his life was "too boring". Instead, then, he created a diary of someone called Nathan Adler. Whilst it has been some time since I read it, from what I recall yes, most of that diary ended up being the linear notes to this record, as well as making "a substantial" appearance in the lyrics.
Why is this Spinal Tap? If you can find the magnificent book Inside Spinal Tap. This contains a "diary" from Nigel Tufnel. He was also asked to write a diary for a magazine. When confused about what that should be, they showed him a sample of someone else, who had been skiing. Nigel misunderstood the example somewhat and so fabricated a story of him skiing for the magazine, instead of the hoped for diary.
The fact that Bowie also intended to do one of these albums a year for the next five years shows that some planning was involved. But, for reasons best known by Bowie alone (maybe it just amused him) he wished the world to think that Outside was the product of him and his musicians "slumming it" in a recording studio in Switzerland, with it all created by role playing scenarios.
One of the most exciting aspects of Outside was the "db" logo what David came up with for the single and album artwork. It's a great shame that it was not used any more after the Telling Lies single which preceded Earthling, an album I am trying to build up the courage to cover here one day. The logo is unmistakably priapic in nature, as if David was just saying "cock" to anyone at all who noticed it or thoroughly deserved to be told such.
An expressed intention of Bowie was that Outside, and the following four albums, would address and explore "pre-millennium tension". Perhaps this is why no further volumes ever came out. David was quite ahead in this respect, you see, as in 1995 virtually no one was aware of "pre-millennium tension". The year 2000 still seemed so very far away.
In retrospect 1995 was a peculiar, halcyon time. The Cold War was gone, with Russia neutered under the rule of comic figure Boris Yeltsin. After the early 90s Gulf War the Middle East appeared to have been "put in place" and posed no threat. China was really, really good at making shiny things cheap and selling them cheaper. Our friends in the USA felt so relaxed that they elected musician and prolific sexualist Bill Clinton to be President, rather than a politician. South Africa had Nelson Mandela as President and seemed at peace as a "rainbow nation". Here in the UK, we were all counting down to the next election, where it seemed a formality that bright young thing Tony Blair would become our leader and deliver wonderful days.Computers were not a standard in homes, either. They were not relied on for work. So there was no fear at all over something called a "Y2K bug" when Outside came along.
Thus, so it came to pass that David Bowie presented a, on the whole, collection of good to great songs to an audience which, in a sense, simply did not exist. Except maybe pop star jogging enthusiasts.
How does the album hold up today? Very well. But perhaps not as intended. I mean, I still have absolutely no idea what the story is behind this "concept album", let alone what the conclusion is. For telling a story, Tommy it most decidedly is not. The songs are, however, excellent.
An outstanding display of Bowie's vocals are here to be had. Oddly this is not so much the case on the two well known singles. Although the delivery of the line "daddy will you carry me, i think i've lost my way" on Heart's Filthy Lesson is a distinct high. No, instead discover his singing on songs such as Thru These Architect's Eyes, No Control, I Have Not Been To Oxford Town and the re-recording of Strangers When We Meet. There is the voice we all fell in love with. Or, if you like, there is the voice that I fell in love with.
Touring Outside looks like it was excellent. Alas, no, I did not get to see it. I should say now that this tour is very well documented. No official recordings have been released, although there are "quasi unofficial blind eye turned" bootleg CDs available on the web. Ultimately, You Tube is your friend - most if not all feature there.
A highlight of the Outside tour for many was the joint Bowie & Nine Inch Nails concerts. Nine Inch Nails were ostensibly the support band, but concerts featured Bowie singing some NIN songs, and indeed NIN providing the music for some Bowie songs.
The tour seems to have carried on all the way to just about the time David was ready to release Earthling. Some of the later shows featured songs that would be, or were intended for, that album. On this superb TV broadcast you should be able to hear I'm Telling Lies performed, ultimately released as simply Telling Lies. Bowie also performed the Tin Machine song Baby Universal on the later dates, as there was an intention to re-record it for Earthling. This was never released, and thus far no copy of the re-recorded song has surfaced. Reeves, if you are reading, share it, man.
So, is Outside a David Bowie album worth getting by you, the person who does not presently own it but are reading up and considering? Yes, I suppose, if you are the first to get in touch for the tape copy on offer. Also yes if you can find it at the price HMV were selling it for, or less. The whole album in its entirety is, as Bowie said, "rather too much" to listen to at once. There are far more good songs than average or poor on it; it's just that if you listen to it in one go the weaker songs feel like they drag on, dominating and distracting.
A curiosity, really. The sum is somehow less than the parts in isolation would suggest. It feels far too harsh to say it was a "failed experiment", then, although the lack of any further such "hyper cycles" suggest that Bowie saw it as such or simply got bored. To my mind "flawed experiment" feels about right.
Well, there you go. Episode 11 all done, and it has just dawned on me that I have referenced Bowie's Spinal Tap inclination on an album for this number that puts it into perspective, perhaps too much perspective. At the least, Bowie avoided going full tilt Spinal Tap by ditching plans for a "concept show" to tour the record with. What the world did not need was Glass Spider 2.
I have absolutely no idea what Episode 12 of this shall feature. Let me look at the collection and see what strikes me as one to listen to again and consider. Until then, then.......
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!