Low is the eleventh studio album by David Bowie, released in early 1977. It is the first of his "Berlin Trilogy", along with "Heroes" from late 1977 and Lodger from 1979 (despite this, most of the album was actually recorded in France).
Having recently become embroiled in controversy after getting Lost in Character as the Thin White Duke and making a number of pro-fascist statements on live TV, Bowie realized just how deeply his state of mind had been damaged by his cocaine addiction, and retreated to Berlin to rehabilitate. While there, he became interested in Krautrock musicians such as Kraftwerk and Neu! as well as the works of Brian Eno (later a major contributor to the album). Combined with the turmoils of the rehabilitation process, this led to Bowie moving into a more minimalist, instrumental approach that was mostly panned by critics at the time, but has been Vindicated by History as one of his most influential albums and is considered a contender for his magnum opus. Low, along with the rest of Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy", was a major influence on Post-Punk and Post-Rock. The album is best remembered for the Top 10 hit "Sound and Vision".
Low was supported by three singles: "Sound and Vision", "Be My Wife", and "Breaking Glass" (the latter being exclusive to Australia). "Be My Wife" also featured Bowie's first traditional Music Video since "Life on Mars?" in 1971 (other music videos between them were simply recordings of Bowie in concert), being very similar to its predecessor from a visual and cinematographic standpoint.
- "Speed of Life" (2:45)
- "Breaking Glass" (1:42)
- "What in the World" (2:20)
- "Sound and Vision" (3:00)
- "Always Crashing in the Same Car" (3:26)
- "Be My Wife" (2:55)
- "A New Career in a New Town" (2:50)
- "Warszawa" (6:17)
- "Art Decade" (3:43)
- "Weeping Wall" (3:25)
- "Subterraneans" (5:37)
Bonus Tracks (1991 Reissue):
- "Some Are" (3:24)
- "All Saints" (3:35)
- "Sound and Vision (Remixed Version, 1991)" (4:43)
"Baby, I've been breaking tropes in your room again":
- Accentuate the Negative: Down to the title this is mostly a melancholic album.
- Alliterative Title: "Weeping Wall".
- Ambient: The second side of this album mostly falls into this genre.
- Bilingual Bonus: "Warszawa" (pronounced "var-sha-va"), the Polish name of Warsaw, the capital of Poland.
- Bookends: This album contains some unusual examples. Side A mostly consists of vocal pieces, but is bookended by the instrumental tracks "Speed of Life" and "A New Career in a New Town". Conversely, Side B is mostly instrumental, but "Warszawa" and "Subterraneans", which both contain brief passages with vocals, bookend it. "Speed of Life" also serves as part of an unusual example of bookends between albums: "The Secret Life of Arabia", the last song on Bowie's next album, "Heroes", opens its first verse with the line "I was running at the speed of life."
- The Cameo:
- Iggy Pop contributes a prominent backing vocal to "What in the World".
- The brief female vocal on "Sound and Vision" is by Tony Visconti's then-wife Mary, aka Mary Hopkin of "Those Were the Days" fame.
- Cradle of Loneliness: "Be My Wife":Sometimes, you get so lonelySometimes, you get nowhereI've lived all over this worldI've lived in every place
- Darker and Edgier: While not as eerie and antagonistic in tone as Station to Station, Low is far more dour, both musically and lyrically, with themes of isolation and alienation.
- Distinct Single Album: The first side is made up of art-rock pieces, while the second is almost entirely instrumental.
- Downer Ending: "Subterraneans" is an eerie, subdued album closer intended to invoke the misery felt by those in East Berlin at the time; Bowie's saxophone was meant to reflect the city's memory of what it had been.
- Drugs Are Bad: Low was inspired by Bowie's feelings about his cocaine use and especially trying to kick the habit.
- Echoing Acoustics: The album's A-side makes liberal use of a hollow, echoing drum sound, achieved by processing the snare drum track through an Eventide H910 Harmonizer. Producer Tony Visconti notably received numerous calls from other producers inquiring about the process, only for Visconti to ask them how they thought it worked.
- Epic Rocking: "Warszawa" is over six minutes, although it doesn't qualify so much as "rocking".
- Face on the Cover: Bowie shown in a profile shot lifted from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
- Gratuitous Panning: Done with Eno's synthesizer sounds in "Breaking Glass".
- Guest Star: Tony Visconti's then-wife Mary Hopkin, who had a fairly popular career as a singer in her own right in the '60s, contributes backing vocals to "Sound and Vision".
- Hikikomori: "What in the World" and "Sound and Vision" are both about people who rarely leave their rooms.
- History Repeats: "Always Crashing in the Same Car", about how people keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
- Instrumental: "Speed of Life", "A New Career in a New Town", and most of the second side ("Warszawa" and "Subterraneans" both have lyrics, but they're each very brief).
- Limited Lyrics Song: Several songs either have small amounts of lyrics that are repeated several times or have barely any vocals to begin with ("Warszawa" and "Subterraneans" fall into the latter category).
- Looped Lyrics: "Be My Wife", where the verse and chorus are repeated twice, with no variations.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Sound and Vision" is an upbeat song about isolation.
- Miniscule Rocking: "Breaking Glass" is only 1:42 long.
- Mythology Gag: The music video for "Be My Wife" consists entirely of one to the "Life on Mars?" music video from six years prior.
- New Sound Album: Bowie's second major 180, Low was a considerable departure compared to anything he had previously put out, being a proto-Post-Rock album with Krautrock and ambient influences, plus traces of funk in the rhythms on side A.
- Non-Appearing Title: The word low is notably absent from the album's lyrics.
- Obsession Song: "Be My Wife":Please be mineShare my lifeStay with meBe my wife
- One-Word Title: Low, as well as the tracks "Warszawa" and "Subterraneans".
- Post-Rock: An arguable Ur-Example for the genre, to the point where Stylus Magazine speculates that it might've been more readily categorized as post-rock had it come out twenty years later than it did.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Art Decade" was named for a street Bowie had encountered in West Berlin. "Weeping Wall" about the misery of the Berlin Wall. "Always Crashing in the Same Car" was inspired by an incident where Bowie rammed his car into one of a drug dealer, because he believed this man ripped him off. "Be My Wife" was directed at his then-wife, Mary Angela Barnett, as a plea to rebuild their relationship; unfortunately, they couldn't salvage their relationship and would divorce in 1980.
- Rearrange the Song: Not on this album itself, but Philip Glass famously wrote a symphony based on three songs from this album's recording sessions ("Warszawa", "Subterraneans", and "Some Are", the latter of which only appears as a bonus track on some versions of this album).
- Record Producer: David Bowie and Tony Visconti.
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Breaking Glass" was intended as a song from the viewpoint of someone who lost his mind. As Bowie himself was recovering from a horrifically severe cocaine addiction— which had previously resulted in a psychotic break during the sessions for Station to Station— he acknowledged that he was basically referring to himself.
- Just like Station to Station the album cover of Low is an edited photograph taken during production of The Man Who Fell to Earth, specifically of Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton standing on the dock by his house.
- The 1977 EP Bowi by Nick Lowe was a Pun-Based Title on this album. Lowe did this because Low seemed a pun on his name, without the final letter "e". So he did the same with Bowie's name. Also, Lowe's 1978 album Jesus of Cool includes an Affectionate Parody of "Sound and Vision" called "(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass"; according to Lowe, the similar title to this album's "Breaking Glass" is a coincidence.
- Joy Division initially called themselves "Warsaw" after the title of "Warszawa" from this album.
- "Warszawa" is featured in the film Christiane F. from 1981.
- Philip Glass "1st Symphony "Low"" from 1992 was inspired by this album, even having three movements titled after (and based on) songs from this record: "Subterraneans", "Some Are" and "Warszawa". Later he would also base his 4th Symphony on Bowie's "Heroes" in 1996 and his 12th Symphony on Lodger in 2018 (following over 20 years of Development Hell).
- Eddie and the Hot Rods based their song "Always Crashing in the Same Bar" on Bowie's "Always Crashing in the Same Car".
- The chant on "Warszawa" sounds like The Stooges' "We Will Fall". Bowie was a fan of the band and a friend to Iggy Pop, producing The Idiot and Lust for Life. And as noted, Iggy himself appears on the album.
- Stealth Pun: If you put together the album title and the cover image, you get "low profile".
- Titled After the Song:
- Unbuilt Trope: To Post-Rock. While the album does heavily emphasize soundscapes and focus on texture and timbre over traditional "verse-chorus" song composition, the way songs are actually composed tend to directly contradict tropes common among post-rock. Among other oddities, the lyrical tracks lean more towards Miniscule Rocking, Uncommon Time and the Boléro Effect don't appear anywhere at all, and the instrumental tracks are more similar to conventional ambient music. Consequently, Low is quite possibly one of the most commercially-accessible post-rock albums ever released.
- White Void Room: The music video for "Be My Wife" is set in one.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Done intentionally with "Subterraneans", due to Bowie having grown weary with "conventional" rock lyricism.