The hinterlands!

Well, Robert has finally been definitively identified: What I have here is a dieffenbachia, of all things. This is a tropical plant, apparently, so an area of the country officially classified as “arid” is not the ideal habitat, but if I keep Robert inside, all should be well. He has looked better in the past few days, though we will still have to deal with finding a new place for his grabby philodendron potmate.

This is good news; knowing nothing about these things, I was afraid Robert would turn out to be a ficus. I’d find it difficult to reconcile myself to a ficus. Dieffenbachias are also known as “dumb cane,” but we’re just going to pretend we don’t know that.

Anyway, as Pete noted, we have begun a new theme, dedicated to red, and we may even venture into pink if the situation seems to call for it. So here’s a track from David Bowie’s 1979 Lodger LP:

“Red Sails” link for the e-mailites.

The Lodger was the last collaboration between Bowie and Brian Eno, and they were running out of gas a bit after Low and Heroes, but “Red Sails” is a high-energy rant that seems to make reference to a sailor in dangerous foreign ports, but without actually being about that, or anything very specifically.

Feel a bit roughed up,
Feel a bit frightened
Nearly pin it down some time
Red sail
Action wake up in the wrong town
Boy, I really get around

Thunder ocean
Thunder ocean
Red sails take me,
Make me sail along

Bowie never did feel any special obligation to make sense, and if the sailor is later the “action boy seen living under neon/Struggle in a foreign tongue,” that wouldn’t be surprising, but it also doesn’t matter, since “Red Sails” is all about the sound, not the words. And there is just a ton of stuff going on on this record.

Bowie provides his own backing vocals, from the baritone chorus behind the verse to the bellowed “Red sails!” to a trilling falsetto, all supporting a lead vocal that’s intentionally pitched too high and rattles back and forth between just strained and almost panicked.

This record has an intentionally Teutonic feel to it, as Bowie found himself an admirer of German ambient style. But it rocks in British fashion, from the downtuned guitars behind the first verse onward. Dennis Davis’ drums are a racing heartbeat, sometimes thundering in the back and then moving far, far forward in the mix — first at 30 seconds or so, then with no vocal over it just after the 50-second mark, and it’s just crazy effective. As is Adrian Belew’s woozy, distorted guitar. If you like the little solo at one minute in, stick around; he really gets rocking in the long outro, after the peculiar and amusing declaration:

The hinterlands! The hinterlands!
We’re gonna sail to the hinterlands!

Eno-supplied even-keeled keyboards are balanced by swooping feedback as this frantic record rolls through a lightning-fast three minutes 40 (and anticipates a whole platoon of ’80s trends). Put on the headphones and turn it up; this blend of great players and Eno studio tricks is, for lack of a better word, a blast.

About Bridey

Bridey has been a music nut since falling in love with Elton John's "Caribou" album in grade school (why that one? I was nine). She's a magazine editor by trade who writes regularly about radio, music, and related industries.
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