There’s no shortage of reminders of the greatness of David Bowie, from his acclaimed comeback album The Next Day to the forthcoming remaster of Aladdin Sane for its 40th anniversary. Soon, EMI will provide yet another reminder, with the release of Zeit! 77-79, a budget-oriented collection of the famed albums of Bowie’s so-called “Berlin Trilogy.”
While the designation of Bowie’s Low, “Heroes” and Lodger as the Berlin Trilogy is a bit inaccurate – only “Heroes” was recorded in the West German capital – these three albums taken together represent an important phase – if not the most important – in Bowie’s multifaceted career. Escaping to West Berlin to try to shake the cocaine addiction that plagued him terribly (he later admitted no memory of even recording 1976’s Station to Station), Bowie found himself working with longtime collaborator Tony Visconti as well as Brian Eno of Roxy Music, who influenced the direction of the album’s second side, a longer, mostly instrumental affair. (The album’s first side featured shorter, introspective songs that were influenced by bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!)
A critically divisive album at first, Low was nonetheless a success on both sides of the Atlantic, buoyed by the U.K. Top 5 single “Sound and Vision.” Follow-up disc “Heroes” saw Bowie slowly but surely breaking free of his demons, working in largely the same style as Low, again with Visconti and Eno (as well as guitarist Robert Fripp), to create one of his most indelible works. The third Bowie-Visconti-Eno disc, Lodger, continued the themes of experimentation (band members swapped instruments and Bowie inverted previously successful chord progressions to craft new tunes), but its slightly more commercial structure did not immediately catch on with critics, even with singles like “D.J.” and “Boys Keep Swinging.” Popular consensus, however, was strengthening around Bowie, somewhat setting the stage for a major commercial revival in the next decade.
Zeit! will package the “current versions” of these three studio albums together; alas, said versions lack the bonus material of previous releases on the Rykodisc label in the early 1990s. However, the box will also feature Stage, Bowie’s 1978 double-disc live album recorded on the “Isolar II” tour in support of “Heroes.” Although the band was praised for emulating the complex studio creations of the Berlin albums in a live setting, the sterile mix (devoid of crowd noise) and cut-up running order was not as well-received. However, as EMI are utilizing the current versions of these albums, we should be receiving in Zeit! the 2005 edition of the album, resequenced and featuring three bonus tracks (one of which was heard on the 1991 Rykodisc pressing of the album).
Release dates and further information about Zeit! have yet to be revealed, but they will be posted as received. (Thanks to MusicTAP‘s Matt Rowe and others for passing this one along!)