For the first time in the decade, Bowie feels like he’s repeating himself, returning to Berlin with Visconti and Eno, and recording an album with an instrumental side and a song-based side. While Heroes follows the Low template, where Low felt both groundbreaking and natural, Heroes feels more contrived, and the instrumentals are less accessible than before. The one new band member for the record is King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, and his addition to Bowie’s already virtuoso and idiosyncratic band means that Heroes sounds terrific even if the material or the conceptual approach is sometimes lacking.
My main issue with Heroes is that the instrumental second side isn’t very interesting, but the first side is strong, opening with the claustrophobic ‘Beauty And The Beast’ and centering on the six minute title track, a tale of a suicide pact that was somehow co-opted into an uplifting anthem. The album tracks push the envelope even further; ‘Blackout’ is impressionistic and cathartic, while Bowie’s phrasing gives ‘Joe The Lion’ a weird energy. There’s also a full song tacked onto the end of the instrumental side, the dance piano groove of ‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’.
Heroes feels a little formulaic, and the instrumental material drags, but there’s still plenty to enjoy.