Those paying attention will notice the big hole in my Bowie collection, just about 1987 to 1997. These years are something of a desert to me. Following “Never Let Me Down” it seems Bowie decided he needed a reset and his solution was to form a band. He’d met a new guitar player, Reeves Gabrels (or as he’s commonly referred to in our house “the man who made Bowie unlistenable for a decade”), and together with the Sales brothers, Hunt and Tony, the rhythm section from Iggy’s “Lust For Life”, formed Tin Machine. I have spent the ensuing 34 years trying to excise the horror of their 2 albums from my memory.
Consequently after 3 duff albums on the bounce I lost interest in Bowie, meaning that “The Buddha Of Suburbia”, “Black Tie White Noise” (apart from the single “Jump They Say”) and “1. Outside” simply passed me by (you can maybe “look forward” to my musing on 2 of those sometime this later this year as part of my plan for 2023 is to fill some holes in my collection. And as you can see I have done that with “1. Outside”, just for my esteemed readership I purchased a copy last week. It really makes a difference when I know someone is actually reading my ramblings).
“1. Outside” (or “1. Outside (The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper Cycle)” to give it its full title) is a record I’ve always struggled with. I was aware there are good songs on here but as it’s a “concept album”, or at least there is a story to it, and I’ve never really understood the concept then I’ve always struggled to understand it. Let’s see if we can fix that.
As far as I can grasp it the concept is “death as art” and a world in chaos. Loosely, Nathan Adler, a detective/professor is investigating the murder of Baby Grace Blue whose dismembered body was left arranged around the doorway of the Museum in Oxford Town, New Jersey. The album deals with a host of characters who may or may not be involved. Having only recently bought this album on vinyl (previously I’ve only had a download) I now realise it contains a pretty extensive booklet which appears to explain the “Hyper Cycle” in more detail. I need to get to that for further clarity.
The album was produced by Bowie and Brian Eno. The band included Reeves Gabrels, Mike Garson who is really let loose on parts of this one in a most “Aladdin Sane” style, Erdal Kizilçay and drummer Sterling Campbell, a former pupil of another of Bowie’s drummers, Dennis Davies.
There are good songs in here. The opening pair of “Outside” and “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” are superb, then later there is “Hello Spaceboy”, “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town”, “Strangers When We Meet”…there are more. The music is some of Bowie’s most challenging since the Berlin years (Eno’s influence ?) in places hinting at the techno/garage of “Earthling” (“We Prick You”) and embracing the, primarily US, futuristic Industrial sound (NiN, Ministry etc.) rather than the backward reaching BritPop that was smothering the UK in the mid 90’s. There is a style I now see developing here that would reach its full development some years later. Bowie stretches his voice much more on this album than he has in a long time (again, Eno’s influence ?).
One thing I find confusing about it all are the “Segues”, short interludes with contributions from other characters in the story (Algeria Touchschriek, Ramona A Stone etc.). It should be noted that when the album was released on vinyl originally in 1995 it was titled “Excerpts From Outside…” and not all the “Segues” (or tracks for that matter) were included. So maybe creating a digital version in that format might help. Added to that the “story” doesn’t seem to resolve itself. It’s an expectation we have when being told a story that it has an ending, but this doesn’t seem to have that. It was reported that Bowie saw this as part one of a 5 part cycle and that obviously fell by the way as he moved on to other things.
There is definitely a line to be drawn from “1. Outside” directly through to “★ Blackstar” some years later both in their musical adventurousness and certainly vocally. Track 3 after that earlier brilliant opening pairing is “A Small Plot Of Land” with Bowie singing in a very “atonal” manner, not too dissimilar to his vocal style on the song “Blackstar”. A foundation is being laid, a new style being explored. The musical progression made between “Never Let Me Down” and here in just 8 years is almost as astounding as the development over the 1971 to 1980 period. I must know there is something in here as I keep coming back to it, or I really WANT to like it. I have friends who cite “1. Outside” as (among) their favourite Bowie records. I’m not there yet but the fog of confusion around it is certainly clearing.
I Have Not Been To Oxford Town - https://youtu.be/bDh9QgzFBN4