Wishful Pricks

The sequencing of Outside was willfully haphazard. It wasn’t worth worrying about, Bowie and Eno said; in the CD era people would cherry-pick their favorite songs and create their own versions of the album. But occasionally, as in any random process, little eddies of apparent design crop up. One such moment is the pairing of the minimalist “Wishful Beginnings” with the maximalist, but somehow kindred, “We Prick You.”

Neither one is overtly connected to the album’s “narrative.” “Wishful” could be a sequel to “Strangers When We Meet,” chronicling the breakup’s aftermath:

I’m no longer your golden boy….
We had such
Wishful beginnings
But we lived
Unbearable lives
I’m sorry little girl
Sorry little girl
So so sorry little girl
The pain must feel like snow


The spacious soundscape recalls — not for the first or last time in Bowie’s work — the Walker Brothers’ “The Electrician,” a lodestar of his for many years.


Strangers and Architects

At Berkeley I took a student-run writing class where we all agreed to write stories using a set of characters that we had created together. Less than half the class actually did that; some people just changed the names in already-written pieces, while others ignored the premise altogether. I’m still a little pissed off 35 years later.

Outside is kind of like that: Some songs are directly linked to the “non-linear Gothic drama hyper-cycle” concept, some are tangentially linked, and some not at all. The latter include “Thru’ These Architects Eyes,” which is not only an awkward and terrible title, but has a misplaced apostrophe that pains my proofreader’s eye.

“TTAE” is one of those songs that I quite like when I hear it and never think of otherwise. Maybe it’s the title.


With its references to famous architects Philip Johnson and Richard Rogers, this song is — dare I say it? — a little nerdy. And the music flirts with Trying a Little Too Hard to Be Funky (a recurring Bowie vice). But for the most part it works; I especially like the slinky keyboard line that introduces then undergirds the chorus.


A Small Filthy Lesson

The first two songs recorded for Outside say a lot about where Bowie’s head was at at the time. One is an abstract, almost jazzy piece with a distinct Twin Peaks vibe; the other is a punishing industrial track that nonetheless was accessible enough to make the British Top 40.

“A Small Plot of Land” was a relic of the Leon sessions, and for whatever reason seemed to be a special favorite of David’s. Often performed smack-dab in the middle of his mid-90s live sets — complete with spoken-word intro and lengthy, atonal Reeves Gabrels solo — it came across as sort of a challenge to the audience. “Get through this,” it implies, “and we’ll see about maybe entertaining you for a while longer.”


Listening to it again just now, it occurred to me that “ASPoL” could plausibly be an outtake from Blackstar, which may explain Bowie’s fondness for it — that extraterrestrial rebop was a sound he aspired to for a long time.