- Vancouver, British Columbia - We come to the end of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy of albums, and at this point I’m wondering why Bowie and Eno felt this was a “Berlin” trilogy at all. From what I can gather, this album was somewhat written in Berlin, but it was recorded and mixed in Switzerland and New York, which were stops between tour legs. Maybe calling it the Eno Trilogy might have been more appropriate. Upon further reflection, I’m not even sure these three albums should be a trilogy at all. More on that a little later.
Lodger has two distinct themes, separated by the two sides in the vinyl release. The first one is that of travelling to exotic places, and the second side is a strong criticism of western culture. With the fold-out cover art depicting a beaten Bowie lying on the ground and the title of the album, I think it’s fair to infer that Lodger (or a ‘renter’ for you folks not familiar with the British term) is meant to be layered and ironic. Bowie is showing dissatisfaction with being a resident of the west, or even feeling beaten down by it all, and feels the pull of other cultures.
Once again, Eno contributes strongly to the instrumentation while both Bowie and Tony Visconti produce the album. But instead of the reclusive genius of guitarist Robert Fripp on this album, as in “Heroes”, this time Bowie recruited Frank Zappa tour-mate (and Fripp’s future King Crimson band-mate) Adrian Belew. Belew, like Fripp, is an astonishing talented guitarist, and hearing his scattered manic work in other bands/solo made me exceptionally curious to hear his work with Bowie. After two solid albums, I was looking forward to seeing how this trilogy would end.
So imagine my intense disappointment when I found this album to be a mess.
First complaint: Bowie went to a lot of trouble to nab Belew, but he’s amazingly underused. My first listening through this album, and I forgot he was on it. For a man that commands attention in a song, this is bizarre. Why bother getting a talent like Belew when anyone guitarist could do what he does on this album?
Secondly, I was sorely disappointed that this album did not follow the trend of the last two by having the first half be an accessible side, and the second half be experimental instrumentals. It’s a let down. I realize this would pave the way for his immensely successful Scary Monsters (and Super Freaks), but in this album I feel like a lot of flavour has been lost. It doesn’t carry the momentum of the last two albums, so I am perplexed as to why it’s part of a trilogy.
Part of my big issue with this album is that I just don’t really like the songs. It seems a little rushed, which is odd considering how long this album took compared to its predecessors, and the instrumentation seems inferior. The first track, “Fantastic Voyage” is not only inappropriately placed on the album (such a weak entry), but is remarkably dull. “Boys Keep Swinging” has such potential but never goes anywhere, “Red Sails” is annoying, and “Move On” sounds like an Old West ditty played in reverse. Why? WHY???
I’ve read that they actually did some tricks with the music, such as taking the formatting of one song and using it for another, but I just don’t feel invested enough in this album to want to learn the tricks behind it. I need a solid hook to pull me in, and amazing song writing to keep me there. Put another way, you can have the most complicated magic trick in the world, but if you just keep repeating “Pick a card” to me, I’m going to get irritated really quickly.
There are many other admirable things about the album, like Bowie wanting to experiment with world music. Okay, that’s fine and dandy, but I can barely tell. Take, for example, the difference between Peter Gabriel’s III and IV. There is a substantial shift in tone and instrumentation between those two album, going from dark progressive angst into tribal beats, pipes, chanting, and fascinating key changes. But Lodger on the whole just sounds like another Bowie album.
But it doesn’t stand out. It’s too plain, and almost like a stereotypical Bowie album: some funny noises, Bowie’s vocal pitch going up and down, and the occasional dance number. If you had this playing in the background at a party, you’d ask the host to turn it down a notch. Not off! Just down a bit.
I’m so done with this album.
Steve’s Track Picks
Yassassin (because I can’t get it out of my head)
Look Back In Anger (because I’m feeling generous)
Rating: 1/5 Sour Grapes