Perhaps I’m one of a few, but the opening notes of David Bowie’s Outside give me the shivers. Hindsight offers new perspectives on a great artist’s work, and in coming years, Outside is going to be held up as one of Bowie’s most ambitious achievements. For one thing, it’s a culmination and fulfillment of the experimental techniques he and Brian Eno pioneered in the Berlin years. Whereas those acclaimed records were sonically daring, emotionally fractured, and only loosely thematic, Outside is fully conceptualized. Bowie and Eno returned to the use of flash cards, oblique strategies, characterization, in – studio improvisation, multi-media, cut and paste narrative and other techniques they’d originally developed in the 70’s. This time they tied it together in a self-contained narrative of near-future dystopia, with commentary on the value of art and human life in a deteriorated, image and media saturated society not far off from our own. Bowie initially talked of Outside as the first in a series of albums documenting the final five years of the millennium, which he admitted was ‘over-ambitious’ but also ‘a once-in-a-lifetime chance.’ Like many of Bowie’s overly ambitious concepts, it was never followed through. However, the Outside sessions were meant to yield enough material for a trilogy, and that material is presumably just waiting for somebody to come dust it off. Perhaps, sometime soon, Brian Eno may take it upon himself to finish the project. (If he doesn’t, sooner or later someone else will.) Although it’s a bitter disappointment that David Bowie, with his famously short attention span, lost interest in this particular project, for my money, his entire career was a once-in-a-lifetime series of overly-ambitious albums documenting the end of the millennium in a dystopian science fiction near-reality parallel to our own.


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