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Music / The Buddha of Suburbia

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"Now we're swimming up farther with the doll by our sides."

The Buddha of Suburbia is the nineteenth studio album by David Bowie, released in 1993 (just seven months after Black Tie White Noise) through Arista Records in the UK. Though named after the 1993 BBC miniseries of the same name (itself based on the novel by Hanif Kureishi), it is not a soundtrack for it. Rather, it serves as an artistic expansion of the musical and lyrical themes featured in said soundtrack, built off of demo recordings that Bowie had initially made for the show but withdrew. Revisiting the material with Turkish multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kızılçay and producer David Richards (both of whom had previously worked with Bowie for the title single to When the Wind Blows and on Never Let Me Down), Bowie elaborated upon these recordings to the point where it was adjacent to but unrecognizable from the original soundtrack. The only song shared between the show and album was the Title Track.

Musically, the album is a continuation of the electronic rock style that Bowie had first developed on Black Tie White Noise. However, rather than going for the lounge-pop Contemporary R&B of that album, The Buddha of Suburbua orients it in a musically and lyrically abstract direction more in the vein of the Berlin trilogy 16 years prior, in effect acting as a Spiritual Successor to those albums. Fitting Bowie's choice of collaborators, the idea was one rooted in the period just after Never Let Me Down's release, with Bowie having voiced his desire to make a Berlin Trilogy successor for the late '80s before a bout of Artist Disillusionment motivated him to form Tin Machine instead; Bowie's original demos for the album he promised back then were refitted for other projectsnote . Concurrently with its sound, The Buddha of Suburbia is also overall more personally introspective, focusing on the BBC miniseries' themes of faith, personal identity, and self-actualization, punctuated by heavy references to South Asian culture and the South Asian diaspora in the United Kingdom.

Despite being radically different from the music featured in the show, Arista Records chose to brand and market The Buddha of Suburbia as the official soundtrack album from the miniseries, right down to using an edited still from the latter as its cover art. Consequently, the album undersold, only reaching No. 87 on the UK Albums chart, not helped by the multitude of releases that the Title Track received as its one and only single. As a result, the album was deleted from Bowie's catalog, and went unreleased in the US until a 1995 release by Virgin Records. It would be quickly deleted there too after further underselling; the album wouldn't return to print until a 2007 by EMI. In spite of its marketing though, Bowie, biographers, and journalists would continue to maintain that it was a proper studio album rather than just a TV soundtrack, a label that would finally be affirmed in 2021, when it was included as part of the Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001) Boxed Set in a vinyl-centric conversion of its 2007 packaging.

All that said, The Buddha of Suburbia was a personal favorite of Bowie, who lamented its commercial underperformance as "a real shame." As a testament to his enjoyment of this album, Bowie would re-record the track "Strangers When We Meet" for his next album, 1. Outside.

This album produced just one single: the title track, which was released in a number of different forms.


  1. "Buddha of Suburbia" (4:28)
  2. "Sex and the Church" (6:25)
  3. "South Horizon" (5:26)
  4. "The Mysteries" (7:12)
  5. "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad" (5:22)
  6. "Strangers When We Meet" (4:58)
  7. "Dead Against It" (5:48)
  8. "Untitled No. 1" (5:01)
  9. "Ian Fish, U.K. Heir" (6:27)
  10. "Buddha of Suburbia" (featuring Lenny Kravitz on guitar) (4:19)

"Troping along in south London, vicious but ready to learn":

  • Alternate Album Cover: The album received three of them over its staggered lifetime.
    • The original 1993 cover art consists of an edited still from the TV show, with a map of London inserted as the background.
    • The 1995 US cover art features a black and white photograph of Bowie seated on a cot, since the miniseries wasn't widely known outside of the UK.
    • The 2007 cover is near-identical to the 1995 one, since the miniseries fell into relative obscurity by that point, but uses a sepia tint. This cover is generally treated as the "canon" one for the album, being incorporated into digital releases and further reissues.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The end of the title track includes the Gratuitous French phrase "ouvre le chien," which nonsensically translates to "open/unleash the dog." This is a Call-Back from "All the Madmen", a track from The Man Who Sold the World that features the same phrase.
  • Book Ends: The album opens and closes with different versions of the Title Track.
  • Bowdlerization: The title track's music video is edited in some territories to censor the line "can't tell the bullshit from the lies," as well as to remove shots of Bowie smoking.
  • Call-Back: "Buddha of Suburbia" has a guitar riff midway through the song that recalls the riffs in the breaks of "Space Oddity", and as noted, the ending of the song lyrically recalls the beginning and end of "All the Madmen" from The Man Who Sold the World (i.e. "day after day" from the beginning of each verse in "All the Madmen" and "zane, zane, zane, ouvre le chien" from the end).
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Both the front and back covers on the 1995 and 2007 releases, though the back cover also features a collage of colorful Pakistani-inspired patterns.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: The 2007 UK release includes a blurb below the disc tray thanking the buyer for purchasing the album, and encouraging them to avoid pirating music or enabling piracy. The US version of the 2007 reissue features a more straightforward anti-piracy blurb, while the 2016 repressing by Parlophone Records features the UK blurb in all regions, albeit with all mentions of EMI removed (as Parlophone was bought out by Warner Music Group following the initial dissolution of EMI).
  • Epic Rocking: "Sex and the Church", "The Mysteries", and "Ian Fish, U.K. Heir" all exceed the six-minute mark.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Sex and the Church" is a song about the relationship between sex and the Church.
  • Face on the Cover: The 1995 cover, recolored and reused for the 2007 reissue and 2021 remaster, depicts Bowie seated at a cot. The 1993 cover does not include Bowie's image, but does feature a picture of him on the back.
  • Fading into the Next Song: The end of "South Horizon" segues seamlessly into the start of "The Mysteries".
  • Gratuitous French: The ending of "Buddha of Suburbia" features Bowie repeatedly singing "ouvre le chien," which doesn't actually translate to anything meaningful, as described above under As Long as It Sounds Foreign.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The synthesized wind sweeps at the very end of "The Buddha of Suburbia" repeatedly jump between the left and right channels as the song closes out.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: A number of websites and blogs offer different interpretation of the repeated phrase in "Untitled No. 1". Even the highly regarded blog Pushing Ahead of the Dames is unsure of the line, offering "See Me Kapoor" and "City Kapo" while another reader suggested "Cynical fool". Others claim it's supposed to be a namedropping of Indian film actor Shammi Kapoor.
  • Instrumental: "South Horizon", "The Mysteries", and "Ian Fish, U.K. Heir".
  • Limited Lyrics Song: "Sex and the Church" consists mostly of the song's title being continuously repeated.
  • New Sound Album: More experimental but still jazzy, electronic-tinged art rock, acting as a middle ground between the lounge pop of Black Tie White Noise and the forthcoming industrial rock of Outside.
  • Other Common Music Video Concepts: The title track's features a light variation of the "travelogue montage" kind, featuring Bowie wandering through the suburbs while singing. It also falls under the "movie tie-in music video" category, featuring clips from the miniseries interspersed throughout.
  • Record Producer: The album reunited Bowie with David Richards, who previously collaborated with him on several projects in the late '80s, most prominently co-producing Never Let Me Down. Oddly, the US CD release mistakenly credits Erdal Kızılçay as co-producer in place of Richards, an error which is carried over to Parlophone Records' 2016 reissue of the album. The 2021 remaster splits the difference by crediting Bowie and Kızılçay as the album's performers on the back cover, with the disc label providing the proper Bowie/Richards production credit.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Bowie sports a nice brown trenchcoat and suit in the "Buddha of Suburbia" music video; his outfit on the US/2007 cover art isn't too shabby, either.
  • Shout-Out: The title track namedrops Elvis Presley.
  • Significant Anagram: "Ian Fish, U.K. Heir" is a rearrangement of the novel author's name Hanif Kureishi.
  • Special Guest: As given away in its name, the version of the Title Track that closes out the album features guitar parts by Lenny Kravitz.
  • Splash of Color: The full-color Pakistani patterns on the back cover pop out against the otherwise black and white artwork.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Sex and the Church" is punctuated by a number of passages where a vocoded Bowie recites ruminations on the relationship between religion and human sexuality. The end of the song meanwhile features a sample of a man muttering "I love you" during sex.
  • Title Track: "Buddha of Suburbia", both times over.
  • "Untitled" Title: "Untitled No. 1", in this case meant to invoke this trope's frequent use in fine art.
  • Video Full of Film Clips: The music video for the title track consists of footage of Bowie singing in a suburb, frequently intercut with clips from the miniseries.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad" "Strangers When We Meet", and "Untitled No. 1"
  • Word Salad Title: "Bleed Like a Craze, Dad"