PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

David Bowie: Outside [remastered]

Seth Limmer

David Bowie

Outside [remastered]

Label: Sony
US Release Date: 2004-03-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

1977 found one David Bowie and one Brian Eno holed up in Berlin, laying the sonic foundations for the brilliant trio of albums known by their single-word titles of Low, "Heroes", and Lodger. Filled with Eno's space-age synthesized palette, Bowie's oft-atonal song structures, and Robert Fripp's absurd guitar sounds, the "Berlin Trilogy" [as it has since come to be called] represents to many the most perfect wedding of pure musical artistry with a rock and roll spirit: tracks such as "Sound and Vision", "Heroes", "Joe the Lion", "Red Sails", and "Look Back in Anger" remain seminal in every sense of the term.

And so it was to great excitement in 1995 that Bowie announced to the world a soon-to-be-released trio of albums co-created in post-Berlin Wall Europe with one Eno. Conceived as a "non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-cycle" [capitals belonging to the guy whose name was originally Davey Jones], the Nathan Adler Cycle was to trace a series of art-crimes [mostly inspired by the violent work of Damien Hirst] from [coincidentally] 1977 Berlin through the turn of the millennia [in 2000, in case you needed the help]. Especially for a man who promised in a 1987 album title never to let the listener down -- and then released the three absolutely worst albums of his solo career -- it was with excited anticipation that Outside, officially stamped first of three on its cover, arrived that fall.

This spring, Outside arrives again, to remind Bowie aficionados of the two-faced truth we've been forced to face about our hero: as much as he can raise our spirits, so, too, can he break our hearts. Outside is the perfect example of both. Following on the heels of the failed Nile Roger's collaboration called Black Tie, White Noise, this new work with Eno promised that Bowie found the muse that had mostly been eluding him for the previous decade. But even that promise was broken as New Year's Eve broke turning 2000 into 2001 without the release of any further work in the art-crime cycle. And so Outside remains a prelude to a work never written; the first chapter of a potential masterpiece whose core has been summarily tossed in the trash by its oft-distracted creator.

But what an introduction. Stylistically, lyrically, musically -- in fact, every way but narratively -- Outside is a masterpiece. The album features modern music's greatest chameleon playing no fewer than five distinct roles: the aforementioned Nathan Adler, brutalized victim Baby Grace, common criminal Leon Blank, old cod Algeria Touchshreik, and saucy vixen Ramona A. Stone with the dramatic vigor that makes seeing Bowie live such an incredible experience. Lyrically, our hero sings about "The heart's filthy lesson", "A fantastic death abyss", "Stomping along on the big Phillip Johnson" and research that pierces all extremes of his sex. In other words: the wonderful crypto-symbolic poetry that Bowie's been churning out since he sang of the Cygnet Committee or The Width of a Circle. Like the Berlin Trilogy of old, and unlike just about everything that filled the albums following the ironically titled Never Let Me Down, Outside aspires to be so much more than a mere pop trinket.

It is that aspiration that brings the album to its greatest heights. Bowie chooses to set his loose story of murder and confusion against a sprawling background of sound that alternates from the techno-infused drumbeat of "We Prick You" to the radio-ready riff of "Thru' These Architect's Eyes". Singing, strumming his guitar, and playing the sax featured frequently in his work, Bowie augments the texture of Outside by bringing together perhaps his most ambitious band. Eno is, of course, leading the charge, given credit not only for synthesizers, but also for the oblique "treatments & strategies". Old Bowie mates like Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels and Aladdin Sane pianist Mike Garson join the party by adding their own frenetic and frenzied contributions to music that is both jarring and compelling. And long-time Bowie sidemen Carlos Alomar and Erdal Kizilcay lend their usual staunch support to under gird the musical madness that happens over their always-reliable rhythms.

Mood music, club trance, pop tunes, longing ballads, art monologues and sonic segues all combine in one masterful seventy minutes of listening that makes Outside one of the most complete, if not completely overlooked, additions to the enormous Bowie catalogue. Wrongfully out of print from almost the month it was released, Outside is a welcome re-addition to the never-ending spate of Bowie re-releases and re-masters. Although its sole bonus track, the UK B-side "Get Real" actually detracts from the album, it's a gas to look through the "bonus" artwork in the liner notes to trace an art-mystery that has yet to be solved. In perhaps the greatest puzzle of Bowie's oft-puzzling career, one wonders how such as strong album as Outside began a trilogy that ended with the rushed and trendy sounds of Earthling and Hours. Like the death of one Baby Grace, the death of the art at the core of Outside will unfortunately go unsolved forever.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.