David Bowie: ” ‘Heroes’ ” (1977)
The Berlin Trilogy continues with “‘Heroes'”, which some consider Bowie’s finest album. It’s hard for me to disagree, as I’d argue that the title track is not only Bowie’s finest moment, but possibly one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded.
This little tidbit about recording the vocals for that track — which I think I’d read about in the past — is also pretty amazing:
Tony Visconti rigged up a system, a creative misuse of gating that may be termed “multi-latch gating”, of three microphones to capture the epic vocal, with one microphone nine inches from Bowie, one 20 feet away and one 50 feet away. Only the first was opened for the quieter vocals at the start of the song, with the first and second opening on the louder passages, and all three on the loudest parts, creating progressively more reverb and ambience the louder the vocals became. Each microphone is muted as the next one is triggered. “Bowie’s performance thus grows in intensity precisely as ever more ambience infuses his delivery until, by the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard….The more Bowie shouts just to be heard, in fact, the further back in the mix Visconti’s multi-latch system pushes his vocal tracks, creating a stark metaphor for the situation of Bowie’s doomed lovers”.
There are similar moments of engineering wizardry on the rest of the album, what with Eno continuing to add “treatments” to various songs, as well as Robert Fripp working his avant-magic on many tracks — all of which he did in a single day, having flown in from LA, not to mention also having been in semi-retirement, and thus not playing regularly.
While to album continues the melancholic tone of “Low”, side one is full of fairly energetic — perhaps even frenetic — rock: “Beauty and the Beast”, “Joe the Lion”, and the spastic “Blackout”. It’s not until side two that we encounter moody instrumentals akin to those on “Low”, but even these seem more exploratory than despairing.
Vocals return on the last track, “The Secret Life of Arabia”, as well as the upbeat tone of side one. Wikipedia says that many people think placing this song last was an error, ruining the overall mood of side two. I can sort of see their point, as it is fairly jarring. Still, I think it bookends the album pretty well, slapping us out of the reverie instilled by the preceding tracks.
Much like “Low”, I can hear a lot of Eno influences that remind me of U2’s Achtung/Zooropa era. And, again, for 1977 this album sounds ahead of its time. Advertising for the record used the term “New Wave”, which I didn’t even realize was a thing as far back as 1977. It’ll take pop music another three to four years to catch up with what Bowie, Visconti, and Eno are doing here.