33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Four: The Berlin Trilogy Part 3 – Lodger

Lodger really isn't my favorite, can you tell?

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

In the event
that this fantastic voyage
Should turn to erosion 
and we never get old
Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable
But our lives are valuable too

Here we go! We’re at the end of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. We started with Low, continued with “Heroes,” and now we’re finishing up with Lodger. I’ll be back to monthly after this, so I’m excited to see where I end up in January.

Full disclosure, right up front. I don’t have nearly as much of an attachment to Lodger as I do Low and “Heroes.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album. For sure. It just doesn’t have as grandiose of a thesis as the last two. It kind of wanders and is a bit all over the place. But that’s why it works for me. When you’re going through a transitional period, you can’t always end up in a clear, concise, and obvious place of growth. You usually just end up “here.” And you usually can’t tell where here is until you’re already… somewhere else. But it’s important to remember how you got “here.” Even when that trip was a rough one, it’s still, as Bowie calls it, a “Fantastic Voyage.”

But any sudden movement I’ve got to write it down
They wipe out an entire race and I’ve got to write it down
But I’m still getting educated but I’ve got to write it down
And it won’t be forgotten
‘Cause I’ll never say anything nice again, how can I?

We’re learning to live with somebody’s depression
And I don’t want to live with somebody’s depression
We’ll get by, I suppose

It’s a very modern world,
but nobody’s perfect

There’s a lot of interesting directions Bowie and Eno choose to take on their final (for now) collaboration. Songs like “African Night Flight” and “Yassassin” pick up where the final song on “Heroes,” “The Secret Life Of Arabia” left off, with Bowie and Eno experimenting with world music. These serve as the most diverse songs on the record, which doesn’t feature any of the ambitious atmospheric instrumental pieces the last two albums featured. I don’t have a whole lot to say about them, but these serve to define the eclectic and meandering style of the record. Coupled with the German influenced “Red Sails,” this record really feels like Bowie wandering around the world trying to find the next musical outlet to call “here.” In case the diverse styles aren’t enough to convince us of this, here’s Bowie on “Move On.”

Sometimes I feel the need to move on
So I pack a bag and move on

Well I might take a train or sail at dawn
Might take a girl when I move on

Somewhere, someone’s calling me
And when the chips are down
I stumble like a blind man
Can’t forget you

The second side of the album is more focused and thematically driven. After establishing that Bowie can do whatever he wants on Side A, Side B is all about expectations and what those restrictions can do to people. Now that Bowie has broken out of the standards he’s set on his own records, it’s time to explore just what that kind of pressure can do when you *can’t* break free of it, in four different acts.

First, in “Look Back In Anger,” we see the set up. No matter where the pressure is coming from, we can so often only get mad and just wait for it to reach a tipping point.

Look back in anger, driven by the night, Till you come
(Waiting so long, I’ve been waiting so, waiting so)
Look back in anger, see it in my eyes, ‘Til you come

Then “Boys Keep Swinging.” What about privilege? Can these societal pressures benefit some of us? Is it fair? What’s the downside to that?

Heaven loves ya, The clouds part for ya, Nothing stands in your way
When you’re a boy

Clothes always fit ya, Life is a pop of the cherry
When you’re a boy

Uncage the colors, Unfurl the flag, Luck just kissed you hello
When you’re a boy

Learn to drive and everything, You’ll get your share
When you’re a boy

Well, the downside is for the people that tell those boys no. Nothing’s ever their fault, everyone else is just getting in their way. When someone is expected to be handed everything, over and over again, how does that person confront people that say no? Usually pretty poorly, as he lays out in “Repetition.”

He’ll get home around seven
‘Cause the chevy’s real old
And he could have had a cadillac
If the school had taught him right
And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse
And the food is on the table
But the food is cold
(Don’t hit her)
“Can’t you even cook?
What’s the good of me working when you can’t damn cook?”
Well Johnny is a man
And he’s bigger than her
I guess the bruises won’t show 
If she wears long sleeves
But the space in her eyes shows through
And he could have married Anne with the blue silk blouse
Shows through
And finally, he concludes the album, and this theme with “Red Money.”
Oh, can you feel it in the way
That a man is not a man?
Can you see it in the sky
That the landscape is too high?
Like a nervous disease
And it’s been there all along
It will tumble from the sky
It’s been there all along
Project cancelled
Tumbling central
Red money
Can you hear it fall
Can you hear it well
Can you hear it at all
Lodger is a complicated album. Sure, it’s use of world music, and hooks helped influence so many musicians for decades to come, but at the time it was met with a pretty middle of the road response. But I think that’s fitting. After the masterpieces of Low and “Heroes,” expectations couldn’t be higher for a listener going in to Lodger. And what do you find? Wandering through different styles, grasping to see what works or what resonates with an artist in limbo. I’ve heard it described as a thesis-less album, but what if that’s the point? Aren’t we all unfocused, thesis-less people until we move on and someone decides what our “defining” thesis was? Sometimes we get the honor of deciding, but more often than not, it’s just the imprint that we left on someone else that actually matters. We’re all just different stages of put together as we fall sloppily through someone else’s idea of a narrative.
If Lodger is about anything, it’s about the struggle of finding the balance of who you are, how society helped create that person, and how hard it is to overcome those expectations. There’s no clear answer, within the record or within ourselves, but at least the record ends with a hopeful:

Such responsibility
It’s up to you and me

Ryan Lynch is a Flying Machine contributor and a host of the comic book podcast Divisive Issues.

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