Lodger completes David Bowie’s three-album collaboration with Brian Eno, alongside “Heroes” and Low. This so-called “Berlin” trilogy is something of a misnomer, seeing as much of these three albums were recorded elsewhere; Lodger, in fact, was recorded mostly in Switzerland. Nonetheless, traveling serves as one of the themes of the record, with songs like “African Night Flight” (inspired by Bowie’s recent Kenyan safari with his son), “Yassassin” (a tribute to Turkish immigrants, although the tune’s style owes as much to Jamaican reggae) and, most obviously from their titles, the album’s opener, “Fantastic Voyage” & “Move On.” Even Germany is represented, with “Red Sails” taking much of its rhythmic drive from the motorik patterns of current Bowie favorite, Neu! The album’s gatefold cover mimicked a postcard someone might send in the midst of their own fantastic voyage – “Time flies when you’re having fun!”
But another import theme is the fracturing of self. Identity has always been a trademark of Bowie albums, but whereas other albums picked a persona & stuck with it throughout, here he falls apart within each song. Even the album cover shows the author badly distorted, as if emerging from an auto accident (a strange postcard to send!) The videos from the record, among the first in Bowie’s canon to experiment with storytelling versus merely miming performances, touch on this shattering of self. In “Boys Keep Swinging,” Bowie appears as three stereotypic female models walking down a runway; “Look Back in Anger” features Bowie as a tortured artist merging into his own painting; and in “DJ” he smashes a bathroom mirror (a mirror plays a role in “Look Back in Anger” as well), while elsewhere he DJs in a room where the light is divided by severe horizontal blinds and Mondrian-like columns of colored squares, explaining “I am what I play.” Where is the whole self in that?
Receiving lukewarm reviews at the time, especially following the austere artiness of “Heroes,” Lodger is an overlooked gem in Bowie’s catalog. At times it is among his most melodic, while at others it is Bowie at his most manic, complete with various vocal tricks (including a David Byrne-impersonation at the beginning of “DJ”) and the frequent squalls of guitarist Adrian Belew. It has grown in estimation through the years and is ripe for reexamination.