Written off at the time as an over-ambitious folly, David Bowie’s 1995 album Outside (or 1. Outside) may be trying a little too hard to be industrial, and is overlong at 19 tracks (and 74 minutes) but there is some great music on it.
Leaving aside the pretentious storyline, odd-sounding character names (Ramona A. Stone, Algeria Touchshriek, Baby Grace), the fact that each track has a subtitle, and some borderline annoying interludes, what’s left is a series of strong, very consistent songs. Although the feel of the album is somewhat claustrophobic, there’s hardly a bad song on it. The first song proper, the title track, is really dark and brooding before The Heart’s Filthy Lesson really goes for the whole Nine Inch Nails vibe.
Hallo Spaceboy (the album version, not the horrid Pet Shop Boys remix) is full of pounding drums as Bowie croons “this chaos is killing me”. After this, The Motel is excellent, a slow space ballad giving Bowie’s voice plenty of room to really fill out the song. The vocals are really excellent here and across the whole album.
The material is largely impressive, but there is a lot of it to take on board, and after a time it becomes somewhat homogenous. Not all the tracks work, Wishful Beginnings drags a bit with shades of David Sylvian. Later, I’m Deranged has another fantastic vocal over industrial beats and the upbeat, clattering melody of Thru’ These Architechts Eyes work particularly well.
The album finishes with the much smoother, tension-free track Strangers When We Meet, a kind of standard-issue Bowie-crooned ballad. It doesn‘t quite fit in with what went before it. The album had been billed as part of a trilogy, but we haven’t got to hear parts 2 & 3 (yet). Although there is plenty to criticize on this album, it’s an enjoyable listen, and far superior to most of his 80s and 90s albums.