(ON THIS DATE) David Bowie: Lodger

May 18, 1979 – David Bowie: Lodger is released.

RF Rating 3.5/5
# Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
# Blender 4/5 stars
# Robert Christgau (A-)
# RS Album Guide 5/5 stars
# Spin 8/10 stars

Lodger is an album by David Bowie, released on this date in 1979. The last of the ‘Berlin Trilogy’ recorded in collaboration with Brian Eno (though in fact produced in Switzerland and New York), it was more accessible than its immediate predecessors Low and “Heroes”, having no instrumentals and being somewhat lighter and more pop-oriented. However it was still an experimental record in many ways and was not, by Bowie’s standards, a major commercial success. Indifferently received by critics on its initial release, it is now widely considered one of Bowie’s most underrated albums.

Originally to be titled either Planned Accidents or Despite Straight Lines, Lodger was largely recorded between legs of Bowie’s 1978 world tour and featured the same musicians, along with Brian Eno. Lead guitar was played not by Robert Fripp, as on “Heroes”, but by Fripp’s future King Crimson bandmate, Adrian Belew, whom Bowie had “poached” while the guitarist was touring with Frank Zappa. Much of Belew’s work on the album was composited from multiple takes played against backing tracks of which he had no prior knowledge, not even the key. Other experiments on the album included using old tunes played backwards, employing identical chord sequences for different songs, and having the musicians play unfamiliar instruments.

Eno felt that the trilogy had “petered out” by Lodger, and Belew also observed Eno’s and Bowie’s working relationship closing down: “They didn’t quarrel or anything uncivilised like that; they just didn’t seem to have the spark that I imagine they might have had during the “Heroes” album.” An early plan to continue the basic pattern of the previous records with one side of songs and the other instrumentals was dropped, Bowie instead adding lyrics that foreshadowed the more worldly concerns of his next album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

Though missing the songs/instrumentals split that characterised Low and “Heroes”, Lodger has been interpreted as dividing roughly into two major themes, that of travel (primarily Side One) and critiques of Western civilisation (primarily Side Two). The final track on “Heroes”, “The Secret Life of Arabia”, anticipated the mock-exotic feel of Lodger’s travel songs. “African Night Flight” was a tribute to the music and culture of the veldt, inspired by a trip to Kenya; its musical textures have been cited as presaging the popularity of world music, Bowie considering it a forerunner of the sounds developed by Brian Eno and David Byrne for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). “Move On” was lyrically Bowie’s ode to his own wanderlust, sonically his earlier classic “All the Young Dudes” played backwards. “Yassassin” was an unlikely reggae song with a Turkish flavour. “Red Sails” was inspired in part by the ambient motorik of German band Neu!; for Bowie, it combined “a German new music feel” with “a contemporary English mercenary-cum-swashbuckling Errol Flynn” to produce “a lovely cross-reference of cultures”.

Of the album’s critiques, “Boys Keep Swinging”, the first single, was seen partly as a witty riposte to the Village People but also, combined with its cross-dressing video clip, a comment on ideas of masculinity; musically it was notable for guitarist Carlos Alomar and drummer Dennis Davis in the unfamiliar roles of drummer and bass player, respectively. According to Tony Visconti, the song featured the “exact same chord changes and structure, even the same key” as “Fantastic Voyage”, Bowie’s take on the possibility of nuclear war. The second single, “D.J.”, took a sardonic look at the world of the disc jockey. “Repetition”, Bowie’s exploration of a wife-basher’s mentality, was sung in a deliberately unemotional tone that highlighted the lyric and the unnatural slur of the bass guitar. “Red Money” added new words to a Bowie/Alomar tune that had originally appeared as “Sister Midnight”, with lyrics by Iggy Pop, on the latter’s album The Idiot.

Bowie collaborated with British pop artist Derek Boshier on the cover design. The original gatefold album sleeve featured a full-length shot of Bowie as an accident victim, heavily made up with an apparently broken nose. For effect, the image was deliberately of low resolution, taken with a Polaroid SX-70 type camera. The inside of the gatefold included pictures of Che Guevara’s corpse, Mantegna’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ, and Bowie being readied for the cover photo. These images were not reproduced in the Rykodisc CD reissue in 1991.

Lodger received relatively poor reviews on its original release, Rolling Stone calling it “one of his weakest … scattered, a footnote to “Heroes”, an act of marking time”, and Melody Maker finding it “slightly faceless”. It was also criticised for having a thinner, muddier mix than Bowie’s previous albums. Lodger peaked at #4 in the UK charts and #20 in America at a time when the artist was being “out-Bowied” commercially by his New Wave “children” such as Gary Numan.

Soon after its release, NME editors Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray predicted that Lodger would “have to ‘grow in potency’ over a few years, but eventually it will be accepted as one of Bowie’s most complex and rewarding projects”. While biographer Christopher Sandford calls it a “slick, calculatedly disposable record”, author David Buckley contends that “its stature grows with each passing year”, and Nicholas Pegg sums up, “undervalued and obscure practically from the moment of its release, its critical re-evaluation is long overdue”.

Track listing
All lyrics written by David Bowie; all music composed by David Bowie and Brian Eno except where noted.

Side one
   1. “Fantastic Voyage” – 2:55
   2. “African Night Flight” – 2:54
   3. “Move On” (Bowie) – 3:16
   4. “Yassassin” (Bowie) – 4:10
   5. “Red Sails” – 3:43

Side two
   1. “D.J.” (Bowie, Eno, Carlos Alomar) – 3:59
   2. “Look Back in Anger” – 3:08
   3. “Boys Keep Swinging” – 3:17
   4. “Repetition” (Bowie) – 2:59
   5. “Red Money” (Bowie, Alomar) – 4:17


Lodger has been re-released several times on CD. RCA issued CDs of the album in the 1980s, which existed in at least two separate editions: Japanese-sourced pressings and German-sourced pressings (at least some of the early Japanese discs are defective, with severe audio drop-outs throughout the album). Rykodisc (in the USA) and EMI (elsewhere) released a version with two bonus tracks in 1991. The most recent iteration appeared in 1999 on EMI (featuring 24-bit digitally remastered sound and no bonus tracks); subsequent editions are merely repackagings of the current EMI edition.


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