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Outside

David Bowie

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Album Review

David Bowie seemed like an artist without direction ever since the success of Let's Dance, switching styles and genres with a speed that made him appear nervous, not innovative. Recorded with his former collaborator Brian Eno, Outside was intended to return some luster to his rapidly tarnishing reputation. Instead of faux soul or mainstream pop — or even dissonant hard rock, for that matter — Bowie concentrates on the atmospheric, disturbing electronic soundscapes of his late-'70s "Berlin" trilogy (Low, Heroes, and Lodger), adding slight, but detectable, elements of industrial, grunge, and ambient techno. Bowie also raised the stakes by making Outside the first in a series of concept albums about mystery, murder, art, and cyberspace. Everything that would have made Outside a triumphant comeback seemed to be in place, but the album is severely flawed. Not only is the story poorly developed and confusing, but the album is simply too long. Throughout the record, good ideas bubble to the surface, yet are never fully explored, and the sheer bulk of the album means that the good songs — "Hallo Spaceboy," "Strangers When We Meet," "The Hearts Filthy Lesson" — are buried underneath the weight of the mediocre material. Furthermore, nothing on the album is a departure from Bowie's late-'70s records; when he does experiment with newer musical forms or write about futuristic technology, he seems unsure of himself. That said, Outside is Bowie's most satisfying and adventurous album since Let's Dance. It's clear that he's trying once again, and when he does hit his mark, he remains a brilliant artist. [Bowie signed with Columbia in 2002, bringing his '90s albums for Virgin along with him. They were reissued in 2004 with bonus tracks. Since Outside was quite lengthy, there wasn't room for many bonus tracks — only one, in fact, "Get Real," the only non-LP B-side from the album's singles.]

Outside, David Bowie
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