David Bowie John Milward - Essay

John Milward

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Side one [of Low], where Bowie works within more conventional rock trappings, is superior to side two's experiments simply because a band forces discipline into Bowie's writing and performance. Sandwiched between a pair of spacey instrumentals are five brief but well-defined pop songs combining quirky lyrics and a band driven by sharply cracking drums and riffing guitars. At their best, the songs are funny—only a stoneface could resist smiling when hearing Bowie's hurdy-gurdy voice sing "You're such a wonderful person, but you got problems" in "Breaking Glass"—and the band's squeaky performances match the lyrical playfulness.

When Bowie stretches out on side two, however, his mask begins to slip. The four pieces strain to evoke the spacey planes of modern electronic music where the compositions themselves become secondary to the mood they evoke….

Bowie lacks the self-assured humor to pull off his avantgarde aspirations. His role playing long ago blew his detached mystique. Low serves as a moderately interesting conduit through which a wider audience will be exposed to Bowie's latest heroes, and in this sense is an interesting addition to his recorded catalog. More importantly, Low fulfills another of Bowie's requirements—it again washes clean his audience's expectations and allows him to contemplate his next mask.

John Milward, "Records: 'Low'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1977; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 237, April 21, 1977, p. 88.