BOWIE WEEK: One Outside
Brian Eno and David Bowie got together in 1991 to create an 'art crime' concept album. Twenty years later, Ric Rawlins fingerprints the results...
One Outside is not only the most David Lynchian album in David Bowie's discography, but it was also the record which reunited Brian Eno with his old partner for the first time since the famed 'Berlin trilogy'. Together, they created some of the darkest moments in either artist's cannon, while echoing Bowie's earlier adventures in conceptual storytelling.
Rather like with Ziggy Stardust or Diamond Dogs, the narrative to One Outside is blurred - perhaps intentionally so. As is usually the case, the record is set in a bleak urban future, in which Bowie assumes the role of a detective from the fictional Art Crime police department; it's his job is to decide the difference between ritual murder and art, a job which become particularly tricky when a fourteen-year-old girl is killed and, we're led to believe, mutilated into 'art'. Bowie's detective is Nathan Adler, and the album is based upon his fictional diary.
It's a darkly dramatic record, but it's also the album which saved David Bowie from his reputation as an '80s bore; replacing the wedding tunes and the synth blandness with a sudden thirst for fiction - and not just fiction, but a blend of Lynch, Man Ray, Brett Easton Ellis and the Pixies - Bowie was shot back into the critical cannon with surprising ease, and renewed acclaim.
The most beautiful song on One Outside is, appropriately, a song which also emerged on a David Lynch soundtrack, albeit in a remixed form. 'I'm Deranged' is used at the climax of the film Lost Highway to lend some poetic reflection to an otherwise bleak ending. In the context, the song appears to reason with the hopeless situation of the central character, who is tormented by both ecstatic love and demonic deception. Hell, we've all been there.
'Hallo Spaceboy', similarly came into its own through a post-production collaboration, this time with the Pet Shop Boys who turned it into a disco tune (as they tend to do) while retaining the sci-fi existentialism of the original. The album's other single, 'The Hearts Filthy Lesson' was successfully remixed by Nine Inch Nails - who would support Bowie on the One Outside tour - and as with 'I'm Deranged', found a new life soundtracking a dark classic of cinema (David Fincher's distinctly One Outside flavoured masterpiece Se7en).
At its best the album illustrates a sense of evil perceived through the academic analysis of a detective; the title track 'Outside' achieves this marvellously, as do the Burroughs-style hints of narrative that occur when the focus is on the diary writer. On the other hand, the record's attempt at narrative can lend the album the feel of a primitive PC game without the interaction. The result is an ambiguous storyline set to music which ranges from challenging sci-fi to table-tapping ambiguity.
It's been suggested that One Outside is just the first chapter in a sequence of albums based around the theme of art crime. Common internet chatter has it that Two Contamination is up next - but it hasn't seriously been discussed this century. The trail runs colder the more you investigate it - and the journalism surrounding such an idea can only entertain it for so long. Boys? Geeks? Two Contamination is very unlikely to happen.
On the other hand, we don't need it; One Outside is a voodoo album, possibly based on knowledge of a perverted underworld we can only begin imagine. Who's to say? But if art is a crime that needs solving, Bowie's as good a detective as anyone we can think of.
TOMORROW: FILM FESTIVAL + NEW ALBUM & TOPICAL ARTICLES