40 Years Ago: David Bowie Becomes an Art Rocker on ‘Heroes’
In 1977, David Bowie was in the middle of yet another transformation. With the October release of Heroes, he took further steps into a more electronic flavored sound that first reared its head on the Low album released earlier in the year. Often referred to as his 'Berlin Trilogy' due to the influence of the city where much of the recordings were made, the trio would be complete with Lodger from the 1978.
All three albums are distinctly different, yet have a unifying sonic theme. Produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, they were all collaborative efforts with Brian Eno, who brought influences from such artists as Kraftwerk and Neu! into the picture. What is commonly referred to as Krautrock served as a template for the sonic exploration Bowie, Eno and Visconti were submerged in. Unlike much electronic music, there was a genuine warmth to the music of these artists, and Bowie was able to capture that.
This is most evident on the album's title song. "Heroes" is one of the most perfectly beautiful songs ever recorded. It practically glows as it emanates from the speakers. Based on a simple Velvet Underground-esque riff, the haunting quality envelopes its own simplicity. Though not a hit at the time, the song has become a genuine rock classic over the years.
Elsewhere songs like "Joe the Lion," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Blackout" employed an aggression that was in tune with the edge of the punk movement surrounding the music business. There is much experimentation at play here in the handful of instrumental tracks such as "V-2 Schneider" and "Neuklon," which is very reminiscent of the first Harmonia album. "Sons of the Silent Age" is nothing short of astonishing in its beauty, while "The Secret Life of Arabia" closes the album on an upbeat, danceable note. Much of the sonic beauty of the album is due in no small part to guitarist Robert Fripp, whose distinct style adds the perfect touch.
Bowie would complete the trilogy, and the decade, with the 1978 album Lodger, and though Low is pretty hard to beat, Heroes may have the winning hand in the end. It's a complete picture of the artist at that moment in time. Bowie uses his influences to perfectly suit the material while maintaining his own unique vision. The RCA marketing of the album included the tag line "There’s Old Wave, there’s New Wave and there's David Bowie." The album did make it into the Billboard Top 40, peaking at No. 35.
Unlike so many artists who specialize in one sound or style, Bowie made a career out of playing chameleon, and those artistic risks were what made him such an amazing artist. Nowhere were those risks striking as on Low, Lodger and, in particular, Heroes.
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