After Five Years (1969 – 1973) and Who Can I Be Now ? (1974 – 1976), to dive into the box set A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982), is to zoom in on David Bowie's Berlin period. In 1977, Ziggy moored up in the German city, then disfigured by a wall. With Diamond Dogs in 1974 and in particular Young Americans the following year, soul and funk were suffused with a rock’n’roll sound. But this Bowie was to be eclipsed by a colder, more cerebral, experimental Bowie. Always ready to re-invent himself, to follow trends (when he wasn't setting them himself...) and simply to question things, he flew to Berlin, where things were in motion. Alongside Brian Eno, formerly of Roxy Music, he wrote his famous Berlin trilogy, which opened with Low. On this bizarre record, everything begins with a weird baroque soul instrumental, with electronic textures (Speed of Light), then a balanced mix of songs and other instrumental tracks. Capable of delivering futurist soul (Sound And Vision), a sombre and mysterious symphony (Warszawa), new-wave minimalism that sounded like a Sci-Fi soundtrack (Art Decade) or disjointed, cubist rock (Breaking Glass), this was David Bowie revisiting his experiences with Krautrock from groups like Neu!, Can and Faust, playing with Kraftwerk's machines but remaining himself: a genially insane savant still ahead of his time.
Heroes, which stands out from the crowd, essentially follows the same recipe, but in warmer tones. In the still-immured German city, his music recalled the halcyon days of the raging punk movement that was thundering in his native England. Flanked by mad machines (once again piloted by Eno) and weird guitars (by Robert Fripp, ex-member of King Crimson), Bowie channelled his experiments with electronic flavours (Neuköln) into compositions with more rounded melodies (Heroes, The Beauty And The Beast, Joe The Lion). Heroes is above all the cult album which would mark both new wave and the cold wave that followed…
Released in May 1979, Lodger closes the Berlin period in a more consensual (but less passionate) spirit. Recorded at Montreux and in New York by Tony Visconti, with Brian Eno still to hand, it features a Bowie who is having fun taking a look into world music, and in particular at the work of the group Talking Heads. This is hardly surprising, when we note that David Byrne's group was then working with Eno... Nevertheless, the ensemble remains startling and less homogeneous than the two previous records.
After this avant-garde trilogy, the British artist casts off some of his froideur, but not the madness, of his experiments with genre, with Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) which came out in 1980. Between self-assured modern funk (Fashion and its angular groove) and a re-visited new wave (Ashes To Ashes), he paints a new rainbow, as dense as ever, and still in step with the many currents of its time. A perfect marriage of the 70s and 80s, this brilliant neo-punk cabaret contains powerful compositions that are classic in content and daring in form. Forever in search of the unexpected, the Thin White Duke takes on board a post-Television song from Tom Verlaine (Kingdom Come), invites The Who's Pete Townshend to play on Because You're Young, and, on half of the tracks, offers Robert Fripp crazy, out-of-control guitar sequences.
Alongside remasters of Low, Heroes, Lodger, Stage and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), this box set offers Lodger remixed and co-produced by Visconti, Re:Call 3, a compilation of singles, B-sides and rarities including Heroes sung in German and French. © MZ/Qobuz