David Bowie "Outside" (BMG, 1995)
David Bowie's continuous success in the music business for nearly 40 years is based on constant progress and experimentation with various styles (glam rock, soul, pop, world music, electronica...), while becoming some kind of a pioneer in many fields of art: music, images, self-presentation, story telling. He started in 1969 with his "Space Oddity", perfectly timed with the first landing on the moon. Among his following classics from periods like the Ziggy Stardust era, the Berlin Trilogy or his stadium rock tours were "Starman", "Heroes", "Under Pressure", "Ashes to Ashes", "Let's Dance" and "Absolute Beginners". He was known for big dramatic live performances in which he often appeared as one of his alter egos.
In 1989 he turned his back on his successful rock hit formula and formed the band Tin Machine, with which he gained mixed receptions. After that he concentrated more on electronic music, releasing "Outside" (reuniting with Brian Eno, with whom he had produced in Berlin) and the drum and bass influenced (and underrated) "Earthling". Both albums failed partially with his old fan base, but gained him new listeners. From 1999 on he returned to his more acoustic roots with the album "hours..." and further releases.
Throughout his career Bowie also produced for others (for example Iggy Pop), made videos, appeared in and made music for movies and participated in charity events. He continues to be a major influence for young musicians.
Note that I reviewed the album's "version 2", released a year later, which missed the track "Wishful Beginnings" but featured the single version of "Hallo Spaceboy" (it also contained a bonus disc with tracks from the maxi cd's).
LEON TAKES US OUTSIDE Intro with moody space string jumble. Unrated
OUTSIDE Dominated by conventional instruments, Bowie starts slowly with the electronical treatment (the 'old' Bowie can still be heard clearly). Hounted by quiet darkness, this song is too creepy to just be called a pop song. Opressive, because it seems to wait for something, that never arrives. 6.0
THE HEARTS FILTHY LESSON A terrific guitar riff in a trip hop like beat structure and synthetic sound swirl. There is a piano falling down the stairs but in the last moment regains its composure and flies away. Stomping, whispering industrial poison that slowly infiltrates the body and makes you addicted. Was the first single with a disturbing body mutilating video and thus suited the "Se7en" end credits perfectly. 8.5
A SMALL PLOT OF LAND A little like improvised drum and piano play to start with, then somehow Bowie's singing, encouraged by melodramatic strings in the background, builds itself into it. This song seems to get caught somewhere in between something, is not pure idea anymore, but not song yet either. More of a collage that at one point culminates in marching madness. 7.0
SEGUE-BABY GRACE (A HORRID CASSETTE) The album was originally planned as first of a series (hence the actual album title '1. Outside') that told a story about art and murder. The series, however, has never been continued. What is left are these interludes (segues) with monolgues by several story characters. They give this album somewhat of an atmospheric depth, but also blow it up a little. Unrated
HALLO SPACEBOY This album version is very different from the eventual single version that was remixed by the Pet Shop Boys. Ferocious, fast drums appear as they wanted to run away from something. Bowie sings against that in a rather calm, or probably shattered manner. It is pretty hard to find a melody beneath these loads of violence (you have to give Tennant and Lowe credit for actually accomplishing that) and it has to be questioned if this permanent beat thunder does more harm than good to this song. It seems to rather chase away any glimpse of an interesting idea, while on the other side provides the song with its urgent power. 5.0
THE MOTEL Movie soundtrack entrance, clouded and deserted. The music starts late but by that feels like an awakening. This track, like some others on the album, uses this improvising piano that likes to stir up the harmonies. Eventually the track throws itself into a rock pose with pathos and more gloom than glitter. 6.0
I HAVE NOT BEEN TO OXFORD TOWN This is the pop side of Bowie. A cool beat, neat bass drive, completed by a nice catchy chorus to sing along to. Hear it a couple of times and you won't get it out of your head... If this song sounds familiar to you and you don't know why, you probably enjoyed yourself with Paul Verhoeven's bug wars. 8.0
NO CONTROL Heavy synthie artillery is mobilized while the beats stay at ease. Together with the vocals you receive a harmonious whole here. Dreamy and sedative, a floatation through dark green fogs intersected by silver rain. 7.0
SEGUE-ALGERIA TOUCHSHRIEK Another monologue. A little funny, a little childish, whatever. Unrated
THE VOYEUR OF UTTER DESTRUCTION (AS BEAUTY) Again this restless percussions that give the music sort of an insect-like, short living character. The chorus manages to organize the arrangement a little, but without really showing a direction. Evades any scheme, structure or something to hold on to. It is just a fevering push of a sentiment. 6.5
SEGUE-RAMONA A. STONE / I AM WITH NAME Stormily slow elektro drumming over which Bowie purrs one or two things, without getting too conclusive. You can vaguely make out a song, but this song is not allow to show itself. Pure experimentation without soul. 4.5
WE PRICK YOU This has a quite breakbeat, foreshadowing the "Earthling" album. A clear, easy to follow arrangement for a change, in return the song writing is a little weak. But the many little additions here and there make up for it. 6.5
SEGUE-NATHAN ADLER Hmmm. Unrated
I'M DERANGED Feathery, but saddened. The flickering rhythm and the strings melt and with the lost singing just grips your heart. A piece doomed to never reach its destination, one that only can get lost... no wonder it opened and closed David Lynch's "Lost Highway". 7.5
THRU' THESE ARCHITECTS EYES A mix between 'Filthy Lesson' and 'Oxford Town', this one features a phlegmatic beat and a chorus with a catch phrase by a distorted guitar. Nice melody, typical Bowie singing somewehere between pop and lunacy. The piano crossed the line a little too far and therefore rightfully gets stuck at the end. 7.0
SEGUE-NATHAN ADLER Last and shortest interlude. Unrated
STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET This is a bit of a bonus for all the older Bowie fans who managed to get through this album. Could be very well a song from his 80s light rock era. Pure, nearly without synthetic gimmicks or disharmonious shades. There is too much reverb for me but all in all decent work (if not a little too decent for this album). 6.5
HALLO SPACEBOY (REMIX) Originally not on the album, this is the Pet Shop Boys Remix that was released as a single and Bowie's only entry in the top 30 UK single charts in the 90s. Typical Pet Shop Boys sound, the crudeness of the original version has been polished up and Neil Tennant added some new lyrics. Should be regarded as an encore, a bonus rather than an actual album track. 7.5
[Artwork] Well, Bowie is known for considering the graphic presentation of his work as a very important part, and "Outside" does not disappoint here. You can read the story that was planned to be continued, while the booklet decorates that with disturbing images of protagonists and events of the plot. Fits the music perfectly and enhances the whole concept. 9.0
Conclusion This is an album by a man who had all kinds of commercial success for two decades and just was not interested in that any more. As a result he delivered music which is not easy to get into. Still there are a lot of good music, great melodies and arrangements, and ingenious ideas in "Outside". You just have to look for it a little longer. Give this album some time and an open mind, and it will grow on you. Overall Rating: 6.83