Monday, 28 May 2018

David Bowie - "Heroes" (1977)


Released on 14 October 1977

Recorded at Hansa Studio By The Wall, Berlin

Running time 49:17

Remaining in Cold War oppressed Berlin after the recording of "Low", David Bowie's "Heroes" was a ground-breaking, adventurous, genre-busting album. It was controversial upon its release due to its almost blatantly uncommercial, "anti-rock" ambience. Released at the height of punk, it influenced so many of the "post punk" bands that soon were everywhere. It influenced bands like Magazine and Joy Division, but also synthesiser-dominated groups like The Human League and, later, New Order. It was one of the most influential albums of its time, without question. It is not an instant album. Not at all. Even its vocal numbers have bleak, clunky, dense soundscapes that broke all existing moulds and the instrumental numbers are seriously dark. Although Bowie had set the trend with the previous year's "Low", this was a far less accessible album even than that one, and that is saying something. It was marketed by RCA thus - "there's new wave, there's old wave, and there's David Bowie...". That hit the nail on the head. It was a special, genre-busting creation.

Some have said that this was a less sombre and melancholy album than "Low" had been. I have to disagree with that one, finding this by far the bleaker, denser album. As I said, this is not an instant album but it has a strange, growing appeal. I often return to it. An enjoyable thing to do is randomly shuffle the tracks with those from Talking Heads' "Fear Of Music" (also worked on by Brian Eno). You get quite an industrial soundscape.

The previous Teutonic musical influences are all still there - Neu! (who had produced a track called "Hero" in 1975), Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, although no German musicians are involved apart from backing singer Antonia Maass. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp was flown in and laid down the guitar part for "Beauty And The Beast" while suffering from jet leg, apparently. The lyrics to "Joe The Lion" were improvisedly written in under an hour, according to producer Tony Visconti.


1. Beauty And The Beast
2. Joe The Lion
3. "Heroes"
4. Sons Of The Silent Age
5. Blackout
6. V-2 Schneider
7. Sense Of Doubt
8. Moss Garden
9. Neuköln
10. The Secret Life Of Arabia                      

While I personally have always preferred "Low", of these two stark, metallic semi-instrumental albums, I have always had a weakness for the mysterious "V-2 Schneider", the iconic title track and the unusual "Secret Life Of Arabia". The latest 2017 remaster has got me appreciating "Joe The Lion" and "Sons Of The Silent Age" a lot more. Just listen to that BIG booming bass intro to "Schneider" Beautiful. The intro to “Beauty And The Beast” is excellent too, and Bowie’s haughty, mannered vocal on “Sons Of The Silent Age” as well. 

Of course, "Heroes" is superb, featuring those now iconic guitar and keyboard riffs swirling all over it and Bowie's uplifting Cold War/Berlin Wall-inspired lyrics. It has achieved timeless "classic" status and is used as a soundtrack to all sorts of things on TV, often sporting achievements. It was one of Bowie's greatest ever songs, no question about that. 

“Blackout” is a frenetic, madcap drum-driven ride through all sorts of images about "Japanese influence" and the like. Played live it became even better. "Joe The Lion" is a perplexing, fascinating song. Who was he? What was it about? As I mentioned earlier, the lyrics were written quickly, on the hoof, so nobody really knew. They just made it up at the time. 

The sonorous, dense, metallic industrial beauty of "Sense Of Doubt", "Moss Garden" and "Neuköln" sounds just wonderful on this remaster too. This instrumental part of the album was as baffling to people at the time as the similar side of "Low" had been, but for most, the more you listened to it, the more oddly appealing it became. It set the foundations for so much subsequent ambient music. While "Low" came as something of a cultural shock, the first strains of post-punk were starting to make themselves heard and certainly this album didn't seem anything like as odd or unexpected as its predecessor had been. 

Regarding the new, quite controversial remastering of the album, contrary to what many others have felt about these latest batch of 2017 Tony Visconti remasters, I absolutely love them and feel they are the best ever remasters of what were always, for me, and I stress, for me, frustratingly tinny albums. Each to their own I suppose. I love my music to be "big" and very bass heavy, so these remasters do the job for me, and some. Before this edition, I did not listen to "Heroes" so much. Now I listen to it a lot more. I watched a brief video clip where Tony Visconti talked through the creation of the title track and it introduced me to sounds contained within it that I really had not realised were there.

I find all the EMI/RYKOs somewhat lo-hi, muffled and just not my sonic cup of tea. I own them all for the bonus material. The 1999s are an improvement but these 2015-2017 ones give me the most satisfaction, but as I said, that is just me. They suit me but don't seem to suit many others.


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