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.
Another outlier on Outside is “Strangers When We Meet,” which clearly had nothing to do with the concept since it had already appeared on Bowie’s previous album. It’s a catchy tune with a grim outlook on life:
Is falling from me
My poor soul
All bruised passivity
All your regrets
Ride rough-shod over me
I’m so glad
That we’re strangers when we meet
In fact, despite the abstract language, “Strangers” is more or less your basic breakup song, dating back to Bowie’s early 90s split from pre-Iman girlfriend Melissa Hurley. It was demoed for Black Tie White Noise, recorded for Buddha, and then reimagined for Outside — where it kind of sits there, after the short-spoken word piece that is the real end of the album, looking for all the world like a bonus track tacked on because there was room for it. It’s a song out of place and out of time — which is maybe how it should be.