Outside – David Bowie


1995 – BMG

Experimental/ Industrial/ Electronic

david-bowie-outside

David Bowie’s nineteenth studio album is a strange piece of work. Subtitled “the ritual Art-Murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle,” it would appear that Outside is Bowie’s attempt to return to a story/concept style record like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. The album also marks a much welcomed return of Brian Eno to the Bowie studio, which certainly makes for some nice sound scapes and textures.

The record as a concept album is, however, pretty weak. The noir style story makes little sense and the songs do a pretty poor job at letting you know who the characters are, what they’re doing, and why. Also, to be honest, quite a few of the ‘narrative’ tracks are just annoying and not really that worthwhile as music.

Leon Takes Us Outside and Outside are good introductions to the album setting up the intricately dystopian industrial sound of much of the record, but they don’t really stand out as amazing. The next track, The Heart’s Filthy Lesson, in contrast is really quite well done. It’s dark and heavy with some tinklings of jazz piano and, for me, this industrial rock piece stands up to anything ever put out by the likes of Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy.

A Small Plot of Land continues with this sound, but somehow doesn’t really reach achieve the same success as other tracks. The music is incredibly well composed and it all creates a brutal atmosphere of despair, but Bowie’s vocals and the melody just come across as a bit boring. There’s just not a whole lot to grab onto and it doesn’t really suck the listener into this world of chaos like it should. The track has potential, I just don’t think it was properly realized. And, unfortunately, this stab at gothic melodrama is followed up by (Segue) Baby Grace (A Horrid Cassete) which is just plain silly. I mean, it’s really just a baby-talking Bowie sounding like he’s just sucked in a whole balloon’s worth of helium spouting some nonsense that sound all dark and broody until you bother to stop and listen to the lyrics properly and realize that it’s just trash.

Then it crashes into Hallo Spaceboy and picks up a bit. This track, for me, is really one of the highlights on Outside. Its pulsating techno-rock is executed flawlessly and sounds like ecstasy if it had taken ecstasy, and the lyrics here really are well crafted coming over as a kind of sad disillusionment with the futuristic sexual ambiguity of Bowie’s space-aged glam days.

Sadly, though, Hallo Spaceboy is merely a brief moment of insane musical greatness wedged in between another stupid segue, the slightly above average I Have Not Been To Oxford Town, and the verging on boring No Control. But perhaps I’m being too harsh, I mean, there are some good tracks on here. We Prick YouStrangers When We Meet, and even one of the segues (Ramona A. Stone/ I Am With Name) are catchy and well executed, I think it’s just that there’s so much on this album that isn’t quite up to scratch that I lose sight somewhat of the good bits.

So, my verdict is that Outside is decidedly okay. There are some good tracks, some brilliant tracks, and some irritating ones, and, if you can get over trying to figure out the garbled story that’s hidden somewhere in these songs, there is quite a bit of pleasure to be had in listening to the record. I would say that the whole things drags on for a bit too long and that it is sorely in need of some vicious editing, but really one can’t complain too much. It’s an ambitious album and it’s not quite as successful as it could (or should) be, but it’s definitely worth a listen if you’ve got a spare hour and a half to waste on music.

RATING: ***/5

P.S

Maybe I could get into the story aspect of Outside if Bowie ever followed through and made some ‘sequel’ albums, but sadly that hasn’t happened yet, nor does it seem likely to anytime in the future. Perhaps he listened back to this record, realized it didn’t work as well as he’d hoped, and just gave up on the whole idea.

One of the stand-out track from 1995’s ‘Outside’

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