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1. Outside – A Noir Album

January 13, 2010

Town Full of Losers wrote a post on David Bowie to mark his 63rd birthday on January 8th. Reading this post made me revisit my favourite Bowie album No.1 Outside (1995).  No.1 Outside is a concept album like no other album ever made. Bowie reunited with writer, musician and record producer Brian Eno, with whom he had collaborated on the famous ‘Berlin Trilogy’, and began writing a series of songs in which he noticed, almost by chance, that a narrative was emerging.

The narrative is deliberately obscure and not easy to follow. It is loosely set in a future in which a new government bureau has been created to investigate the phenomenon of art crime. Murder and mutilation have become part of an underground art craze. The leading character, Nathan Adler is determined to ascertain what is acceptable as art, and what is simply criminal. The songs are interspersed with the monologues of several characters, which are designed to clarify the narrative. In my opinion, the monologues are pretentious and the weakest part of the album. The best songs simply allude to the narrative, as a good album should not be overplotted. The numeral is in the title as Bowie planned to make a whole series of concept albums based on a similar narrative theme, to be titled 2. Contamination and 3.Afrikaan. Sadly, no follow-up album was ever produced.

Despite these minor flaws 1. Outside is a remarkable musical achievement, one of the only albums to my knowledge to successfully adapt a crime narrative. It is fitting then that the cult film director David Lynch chose one of the best songs from the album, ‘I’m Deranged’ as the opening and closing song for his surreal neo-noir thriller, Lost Highway (1997):

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