“Don’t look at the carpet.
I drew something awful on it”
Low marks the first of the famous Berlin trilogy. After the drug-fuelled romp that was Station to Station, Bowie moved away from LA (AKA cocaine-central) to a place where the drug of choice (heroin) did not appeal to him.
His first offering during this time is – perhaps expectedly – far more tame than his last. Pitchfork have called it the greatest album of the ‘70s, which is frankly quite ridiculous. That said, it’s definitely a pretty good album, and despite the sobriety it in no way lacks inventiveness.
The album opens with Speed of life, a musical introduction that is a move back to the rock’n’roll direction from whence Bowie first grew his wings. It’s of a gritty, more avant-garde variety, and it’s the perfect lead-up to Breaking Glass, a track which lodged itself so firmly in my brain that I was concerned my mind would never be silent again. There is something about this song that is particularly pleasing if you’re listening with headphones – the stereo harmonic effect which alternates from ear to ear is seductive is production of the most inspired kind.
The next few tracks are of similar quality, and explore the themes of withdrawal and the reclusiveness that comes with it, at least when compared to the life of a heavy cocaine user. There are a tonne of references to just being indoors: “So deep in your room, you never leave your room” on What in the World and “blue, blue electric blue, that’s the colour of my room/where I will live” on Sound and Vision.
Although there are less standout tracks than Bowie’s previous work it’s extremely cohesive, and made for a good distance run. This time I made just under 11kms, but at a slow speed of 8.7 Kkph. This route was a little different to usual:
I continued to run East a lot further, thinking I would be extending my route by several kilometres. Unfortunately, it must have been a more efficient circle, and so while it felt substantially longer, it was not. Regardless, I didn’t suffer the same knee pains as the last 10k, and so was extremely happy with the progress.
I finished the album probably half way through, and my impressions were largely good. Except – and this is important – the last third is fucking boring. There are three or four musical tracks in a row that are just not interesting enough to justify their space. Actually, even Be my Wife, which wasn’t devoid of vocals, marked a brief divergence back to cheesy, very British Bowie. Sure, in the context of his habit-kicking, such pleas for stability take on a different meaning – but it’s still not good.
Even with my misgivings,, I feel less cynical about Bowie’s offerings after the 10th album – a milestone few artists reach at all. The sheer volume of the work inspires me to think about my own work, and so as I run I listen back over a few of the hundred or so hummed-out song ideas on my phone that I never get around to fleshing out.
The rest of the run is a breeze, and for the first time I begin to feel like this challenge is really building some good habits that – even if I don’t make my target weight by the next album – will get me there eventually. With the ability to burn 900 calories now at my disposal, there are far fewer meals that that bring on the “fuck it, I’ll just eat everything then” attitude I used to adopt when I fell off the wagon. I still aim to keep things at about 2400 per day – neutral without the exercise – and use the run to supplement eating well, rather than as the main instrument.
But now when I see the glowing arches of the McDee’s during lunch at work, I think of the effort required to burn it, and ask myself – is it really worth it? Of course I always knew intellectually that it wasn’t, but when that which used to require considerable willpower comes automatically, you know you’re moving in the right direction.