David Bowie: “Outside” (1995)

“Outside” sees Bowie reunite with Brian Eno for his first “experimental” album since 1979’s “Lodger”. Also on hand are Bowie veterans Mike Garson, Carlos Alomar, and ’90s-partner-in-crime Reeves Gabrels, among others. This is Bowie’s longest studio album to date, clocking in at about 75 minutes. Recorded dialogue interspersed throughout tells the story of detective Nathan Adler as he investigates “art crime” at the end of the 20th century.

Having been underwhelmed by “Black Tie, White Noise”, I was pleasantly surprised by opening tracks like “Outside” and “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”. This is definitely more challenging music than Bowie’s made in probably a decade, and the theatricality of it is reminiscent of “Diamond Dogs”.

That said, it also reminds me a bit of a similar project from 1993, Pete Townshend’s “Psychoderelict”, namely in that the concept sort of gets in the way of the music. I can help but wonder how much more enjoyable the album might have been if the dialogue had been removed and more focus put on the music.

Wikipedia notes that this album was entirely improvised, Bowie having started recording with no songs written prior. Honestly, I think it kind of shows; there are some good moments, but also some repetition and fairly static composition ticking along in time to what now sound to me like fairly dated drum loops. I was actually surprised to find out that it was Gabrels on guitar here, as his usual virtuosity and edgy harmonic sense seems largely absent.

I’ve listened to the album three or four times now, and honestly nothing past the first few tracks seems to stay with me. Still, it’s Bowie moving in a general direction that I like, so I happy to see where he goes next.