Lodger isn’t so much an album; rather, it acts as a merciless burst of creativity. At the end of 1976, David Bowie found himself burnt out, world-weary and creatively spent. On relocating to Berlin, he cultivated a new creative ethos, releasing two of his most innovative albums, Low and Heroes, in 1977. By 1979, he was bristling with newfound creative confidence and surrounded by battle-hardened collaborators. Rarely has an artist been provided with such perfect conditions for crafting an album – and its shows. Lodger is quite unlike anything else in Bowie’s discography.
Following the commercial success of Heroes, Bowie embarked on an extensive world tour that saw him bring the music of the first two Berlin albums to millions across the globe. Bowie, a man who had rarely felt safe in an aeroplane, travelled to 12 countries in total. That globe-trotting is echoed in the knowingly cosmopolitan nature of Lodger, with tracks such as ‘Fantastic Voyage’, African Night Flight’, ‘Move On’ and ‘Red Sails’ evoking a sense of continual movement. Where the previous two albums in The Berlin Trilogy had soaked up the influence of Bowie’s time in Germany and Japan, with Lodger – recorded in Mountain Studios on Lake Geneva – Bowie hops between countries, sewing sonic elements of each into the fabric of his songs.
Bowie chose to open Heroes with a theatrical 30-second build-up. With Lodger, he does quite the opposite. We hear a smattering of drums, and suddenly Bowie, apparently caught off guard, is crooning his way through ‘Fantastic Planet’. That opening is very much in keeping with the rest of the album; one created with few preconceived ideas. Many of the songs seem to have been crafted on the fly, and it’s easy to imagine how ‘African Night Flight’ – an industrial chasm of a song – might have evolved from a piece of circuitry going haywire.
Then comes ‘Move On’, another example of Bowie’s blisteringly inventive approach to songwriting on Lodger. Dig beneath his unusually simplistic lyrics, and you’ll find that his band are playing ‘All The Young Dudes’ backwards. There are other examples of Bowie generating new material from pre-existing ideas too. Take ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, which features precisely the same chords as ‘Fantastic Planet’. Such tricks make it seem like we’re hearing Lodger being devised in real time. Bowie makes no attempt to conceal the processes behind his songs. Quite the opposite; he shows us the cogs whirring and the steam rising from the chimneys. This is an album that’s constantly churning.
Following the exploded reggae of ‘Yassasin’, Bowie ushers in one of the most remarkable three-track streaks of his entire career. ‘Red Sails’, a velvet-lined krautrock blood-pumper, gives way to the infectious groove of ‘D.J’, which in turn dissolves into ‘Look Back in Anger’. The latter track is a real album highlight. Bowie’s devoted rhythm section provide a motoric pulse, above which Bowie’s vocals slide between the Lennonesque and the downright operatic. There’s no slowing down as ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ fades into the eerie world of ‘Repetition’, a song about domestic violence that wouldn’t feel out of place on Hunky Dory.
We end with ‘Red Money’, a densely textured slice of psych-funk that sees Bowie hark back to his early days in Berlin. Based on the backing track for Iggy Pop’s The Idiot cut ‘Sister Midnight’, it’s a reminder of where Bowie’s journey from strung-out coke casualty to chart-topping renaissance man began: with a decision to move on.