David Bowie : Beauty and the Beast
On October 14, 1977, the day Bing Crosby died, David Bowie released "Heroes", the second installment of the Bowie/Eno/Visconti Berlin trilogy. This was the third Bowie album I ever owned, following ChangesOne and Aladdin Sane. I was 17 and at first I was put off by the disjointed, angular sounds (courtesy of Robert Fripp, Bowie and Eno) , the sinister undertones ( not just a reflection of the album cover) and almost an entire side of ambient experiments.
How was I to know that I was listening to the future?
A few cool facts : Robert Fripp, who plays lead guitar on six songs, spent a total of six hours in the studio. Some of his tracks were laid down the first time he ever heard the songs.
Bowie and Eno used Eno's Oblique Strategy cards, drawing inspiration from instructions. For the duet "Sense of Doubt", Eno's instruction was "Try to make everything as similar as possible", while Bowie's was "Emphasize differences".
Finally there are quite a few allusions to alcohol, the fuel with which Bowie replaced cocaine: some songs are all set in bars while the narrator of "Blackout" has been drinking rotten wine. And then there's the line in the title track, "I drink all the time".
The album topped the NME Best Albums list that year, but since then Low has taken its place as the great Bowie album of 1977
From Rolling Stone critic Bart Testa :
Like Low, Heroes is divided into a cyclic instrumental side and a song-set side. "V-2 Schneider" is an ingeniously robotic recasting of Booker T. and the M.G.'s -- at once typical of Bowie's obsession with pop dance music and a spectacular instance of an Eno R + B "study" (a going concern of Eno's own records). "Sense of Doubt" lines up an ominously deep piano figure with Eno synthesizer washes, blending them into "Moss Garden," an exquisitely static cut featuring Bowie on koto, a Japanese string instrument. Low had no such moments of easy exchange; Bowie either submitted his voice as another instrument for Eno to play the part of art-rock keyboard player.
For the finale, Heroes explodes into a trilogy of dark prophecy: "Sons of the Silent Age," "Heroes" and "Black Out." It's a Diamond Dogs set that, this time, makes it into the back pages of Samuel Delaney's post-apocalypse fiction, pushed by a brilliant cerebral nova among the players. Bowie sings in a paradoxical (or is it schizo?) style at once unhinged and wholly self-controlled. With a chill, the listener can hear clearly through Bowie's compressed lyrics and the dense sound.
We'll have to wait to see if Bowie has found in the austere Eno a long-term collaborator who can draw out the substantial words and music that have lurked beneath the surface of Bowie's clever games for so long. But Eno clearly has effected a nearly miraculous change in Bowie already.
When I first heart the Enofied instrumental textures on side two, as background music, they struck me as more complex than their counterparts on Low, and they are. Low now seems quite pop, slick and to the point even when the point is background noise; in fact, after I completed my comparison, I began to play it a lot. But what was interesting background on "Heroes" proved merely noteworthy as foreground, admirably rather than attractively ragged. Maybe after the next album I'll get the drift of this one.
And finally from Mark Bennett writing for 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die:
Riding the wave he had found with Low, "Heroes" -- the second part of the so-called "Berlin trilogy" -- saw David Bowie continue his gradual reintroduction to humanity. Fresh from a liberating stint as keyboard player on Iggy Pop's Idiot tour, Bowie was now living with Iggy in West Berlin. Relatively drug-free, the pair immersed themselves in seedy Berlin nightlife, miraculously avoiding falling back into old habits.
"Heroes" gives the trilogy its decadent splendor, its dramatic, performance art-influenced black-and-white cover photograph, and the darkly evocative song titles clearly inspired Bowie's new home. Where Low mapped the internal landscape of Bowie's fractured psyche, "Heroes," like Iggy's The Idiot (1977) is all about Berlin, from the denizens of its nightclubs in "Blackout" to the gloomy Turkish immigrant quarter in "Neuköln."
Featuring many of the musicians who had played on Low (producer Tony Visconti, collaborator Brian Eno, guitarist Carlos Alomar, and rhythm section George Davis and Dennis Davis) the album was recorded in the summer of 1977 at Hansa Studios, a former Gestapo ballroom near to the Berlin wall. Eno, Visconti, and Bowie distilled their location's powerful atmosphere in view of the Red Army guards at Checkpoint Charlie.
Like Low, "Heroes" mixed avant-garde pop songs with ambient instrumentals. Eno's influence is felt on the title track, a Velvets-like stomp taken somewhere different by Fripp's inspired, fluid guitar. Re-contextualized by its performance at 1985's Live Aid concert, the song's current existence as stadium fodder belies the emotional complexity of its pare