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Week 34 | Lodger (1979)

I thought, for a long time, that the three albums of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” each had their flaws, but combined, without the instrumentals form “Low” and “Heroes” but with the three strongest songs from “Lodger” the trilogy would make one super-album.  Today, that’s as easy as making a playlist, however “Lodger” ages well and stands up on its own.

Coincidentally or not, three of Bowie’s four albums starting with “Lodger” feature three particularly well-known songs each (the exception being “Scary Monsters”).  Unlike “Let’s Dance” and “Tonight,” however “Lodger’s” three most accessible songs are nestled on side two of the album.  These three— “DJ,” “Look Back in Anger” and “Boys Keep Swinging,” are three of my favorite songs.  Each was accompanied by a memorable video, and to my ears each is more evocative of “Scary Monsters” than “Heroes,” which is to say they projected forward.  “Lodger” is all about motion— several of the songs have a travel-related theme.  Four of the songs from side one have movement-related words in their titles— “voyage,” “flight,” “move on,” “sails”.  The word “Lodger” itself suggests movement and travel or at least non-permanence, and in fact, there’s enough of a theme here that the album can be (though seldom is) characterized as a concept album.  

All the movement, the name, the cover art combining a postcard motif with an image of Bowie as some sort of accident victim (I think he looks like he’s pressed up against glass), all suggest that this was projected as a transitional work.  To some extent that’s right, but most of Bowie’s albums have a hook in the past and a hook in the future, which means most of them have a transitional element.  But over time, I have come to embrace “Lodger” as a destination in itself.  

It is still not one of my absolute favorite albums.  The songs on the album’s first sides are not immediately likable and some, especially “Red Sails,” have a discordant quality.  I like them more over time, which means they have depth, but I still don’t have any on my IPod play list (as I think of it, that might change in the near future).

Side two explodes with the aforementioned sequence of great songs, followed by a weaker song about domestic abuse, “Repetition” (which I actually think foreshadows Tin Machine), and then closes out with “Red Money,” in which Bowie puts different words to the music from “Sister Midnight.”  I happen to like the lyrics to “Sister Midnight” better, and I have no idea what the lyrics to “Red Money” are about.  It is less of a closing song than most Bowie-album closing songs.  But his voice is strong.

Bowie would sometimes perform “Sister Midnight” live, including during his last tour, but the studio version of the song appears on an Iggy Pop album, “The Idiot.”  That album, along with, “Lust for Life” were what Iggy and Bowie created together around the same time as the Berlin Trilogy.  Another Iggy song, “The Passenger” (which Bowie also co-wrote), might have been more appropriate for “Lodger,” but then again it might have been too obvious. 

But “Sister Midnight” is the opening song on, “The Idiot,” which in a way is the first of five Berlin albums that Bowie was involved with, the other being Iggy’s “Lust for Life,” and with “Red Money” closing “Lodger,” Bowie might have had a symmetry in mind. 

When I was doing the 365 song daily tribute, I came across a series of videos of a band called Shearwater, covering the entire “Lodger” album.  All the videos are on YouTube.  They are faithful renditions and are quite good.  I attempted to purchase a download of their album, but while I was charged, I never was able to download the thing.  I was thinking of giving that album a separate entry in this project, but the whole project is closer to a copy of Bowie’s “Lodger” and a reinterpretation, so there’s not much more to say.  But if I ever do figure out how to download it, I will enjoy listening to it…

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