Friday, March 1, 2013

David Bowie Low (33 1/3), by Hugo Wilcken

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

David Bowie Bowie’s classic album Low gets a fascinating treatment in this short book of pop scholarship.

David Bowie’s moody and introspective 1977 album Low has long been one of my favourites in the Bowie canon. Recently this short book was recommended to me. It’s part of a series that covers various influential albums. Another reason I’m very fond of Low is because it is the first collaboration between Brian Eno (creator of wonderful ambient records and an innovative producer) and David Bowie. They wrote together the very moving instrumental that opens side two, “Warsawa”.

Enough of me. What about David Bowie Low? Books about a particular film or album (or even book, for that matter) are a mixture of fan rave, criticism and contemporary history. As a fan, you get to soak up every little detail of trivia about your favourite album, enabling you to piece together musical influences and the gestation of new musical styles.

Hugo Wilcken has written for the most part a history of Bowie’s drug drenched and paranoid late 70s period, interspersed with some perceptive commentary and musical appreciation.  We get lots of fascinating info on Bowie’s reading habits and obsessions of the time, his friendships and collaborators. Wilcken tries to get close to the mystery of musical genius, and does a pretty good job by describing the musical influences swirling around Bowie at the time (most notably the German electronic music scene) and his responsiveness to it. The miracle is that Bowie managed to create such extraordinary music while on the verge of nervous collapse.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable little book that accomplishes its brief with intelligence and sensitivity. The book is not too academic, nor is it dumbed down. Perhaps you could describe this type of writing as pop scholarship. Bowie fans should find much to enjoy in David Bowie Low.

David Bowie Low (33 1/3), by Hugo Wilcken. Published by Continuum Trade. ISBN: 9780826416841  RRP: $19.99