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‘Lodger’ At 45: A Track-By Track Guide To Every Song On David Bowie’s Art-Pop Classic
Warner Records
List & Guides

‘Lodger’ At 45: A Track-By Track Guide To Every Song On David Bowie’s Art-Pop Classic

Closing David Bowie’s ‘Berlin Trilogy’, the ten ‘Lodger’ songs are a masterclass in experimental pop, as this track-by-track shows.


The third and final entry in David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”, the Lodger album wasn’t actually made in Berlin at all. Recorded in Montreux under the working title Planned Accidents, it was nevertheless as boldly experimental as the Low and “Heroes” albums that had come before, with Bowie, collaborator Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti adding an art-pop twist to the rising new-wave sounds of the late 70s. This track-by-track guide to Lodger’s ten songs also picks out highlights from Visconti’s 2017 remix of the album, revealing just how the best David Bowie songs continue to reveal more of themselves with each listen.

Listen to ‘Lodger’ here.

‘Lodger’ Track-By-Track: A Guide To Every Song On The Album

Fantastic Voyage

One of two songs on Lodger that share the same chord progression (the other is lead single Boys Keep Swinging), Fantastic Voyage opens the album with an almost cinematic sweep that belies the small ensemble that put the track together. Brian Eno’s drone work is partly responsible for that, but the three-line mandolin section – guitarists Carlos Alomar and Adrian Belew, along with producer Tony Visconti – offers a subtle grandeur that perfectly supports one of Bowie’s wide-open vocals (hear him on the closing lines “’Cause I’ll never say anything nice again/How can I?”). Despite the title and almost dreamlike soundscape, the song sees Bowie address Cold War tensions between the US and Russia, reminding political leaders that “our lives are valuable, too”. “We’ll get by, I suppose,” he concludes, almost with a shrug, as if the notion of speaking sense to politicians is barely worth considering.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Arier production, foregrounded mandolins, elevated lead vocals.

African Night Flight

After visiting Kenya with his son in February 1978 and interacting with the Masai tribespeople, Bowie returned to Africa to, as he later put it, “understand what I was seeing and what I was dealing with”. This time he encountered a community of retired German pilots in the bars of Mombasa – “Very mysterious characters permanently plastered and always talking about when they are going to leave,” he told Melody Maker – and he sought to merge these disparate experiences in a song whose lyrics read like barfly chatter (“Bent on a windfall, rent a Sony/Wonder how the dollar went down”) delivered in a clipped vocal over a collision of clockwork percussion, barbed-wire guitar and what Bowie later described as “Little crickety sounds that Brian [Eno] produced from a combination of my drum machine… and his ‘briefcase’ synth”. That’s Eno, too, helping out on the Swahili chant “Asante habaru habari ha/Asante nabana nabana na” which effectively translates as “Hello, goodbye”. Written to a backwards recording of Dale Hawkins’ 1957 rockabilly hit, Susie Q, the whole comes out sounding like a bedfellow of Talking Heads’ Eno-produced Fear Of Music album, which would land in stores a little over two months on from Lodger.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Relentless synth whirrs, some bass lift, greater emphasis on vocal panning.

Move On

Although the first half of Lodger deals with Bowie’s peripatetic lifestyle and his experiences in the further-flung reaches of the world, Move On is as much a manifesto for Bowie’s creative restlessness as it is a chronicle of his worldly adventures. Revisiting his African Night Flight trick, Bowie wrote the song to the chords of his glam-era classic All The Young Dudes played backwards (compounding the meta-construction, a wordless Dudes vocal melody is buried in the mix, and can be heard when Move On is itself flipped). Over propulsive drums and what sounds like a chorus of ghosts from journeys past, he sings of packing his bags and heading off in search of love, the ocean, a morning sky.

“I can’t forget you, can’t forget you” Bowie declares towards the song’s end, as if acknowledging that all the places he’s been, the musical styles he’s explored and the personae he’s adopted are indelible parts of him that will never be erased, rather added to with each new reinvention.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Echo on vocals, gorgeous piano excavated from the back of the mix.


Having addressed his own wanderlust in Move On, with Yassassin Bowie looks to the experience of itinerant Turkish farmhands, singing of “a working man, no judge of men” facing discrimination in the city. Writing in the liner notes for the A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982) box set, Tony Visconti described the song’s woozy groove as “an experiment… combining reggae with Turkish music”. Bowie would praise Simon House’s evocative violin parts, responsible for the song’s Eastern vibe, by noting that the Hawkwind collaborator had had “no experience with Turkish music before”. Like House’s performance, Bowie allows his vocal to wail and wander on a song whose title translates as “long life”.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Greater emphasis on percussion, newly discovered vocal coda.

Red Sails

Continuing the trend of transposing Lodger’s songs onto other tunes, Red Sails uses Neu!’s 1975 track Monza (Rauf And Runter) as a jumping-off point, although Bowie later told NME that guitarist Adrian Belew had never heard the group’s music before laying down his fragmentary guitar parts, and simply “came up with the same conclusions” as the German experimentalists. While he would confess to Melody Maker that he didn’t know what the lyrics were about, Bowie allowed that he had sought to create “a lovely cross-reference of cultures” by setting “a German new-music feel” against “the idea of a contemporary English mercenary-cum-swashbuckling Errol Flynn, and put him in the China Sea”.

Although Red Sails closes Lodger’s first half with more globe-trotting observations, lines such as “I feel a little roughed up, feel a bit frightened” and “Action boy seen living under neon/Struggle with a foreign tongue” seemingly allude to danger and unease encountered far from home – and yet Bowie’s joyously unhinged delivery of the song’s closing lines suggests that nothing could stop him from setting sail for “the hinterland”.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Heftier guitar, more pronounced saxophone parts.


Returning to Western shores for Lodger’s second half, Bowie heads to the nightclub on D.J., presenting the titular figure as a down-at-heel disc-spinner who finds fulfilment packing dancefloors. Glimmers of Bowie’s ambivalence towards his character can be seen in the DJ’s own self-doubt (“You think this is easy, realism?/… I think she’s dancing, what do I know?”), his desperation all too palpable in the way Bowie delivers the lines “I’ve got believers/Believing me”.

Admitting that the song was a “somewhat cynical” response to disco culture – at a time when the “Disco Sucks” movement was reaching full cry – Bowie explained his fascination with the rise of the celebrity DJ shouldering the responsibility of providing hedonistic escape. “He has to be so finely tuned into the atmosphere on the dancefloor,” he told New York radio station WNEW-FM. “If he dared let a couple of seconds in between the records then his career’s blown. He’s got to keep that constant wave of people moving.” Despite the song’s focus on nightclub DJs as opposed to radio ones, Adrian Belew’s guitar solo, pieced together from several takes, was edited so as to create the impression of coming through a radio whose channels were being changed.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: More clarity in the mix.

Look Back In Anger

Intimations of death are juxtaposed with a malaise brought on by Western media (“So he leafed through a magazine/And, yawning, rubbed the sleep away”) in Look Back In Anger, whose backing track was constructed by Tony Visconti after a particularly exhausting recording session. Having written a series of chords on a blackboard, Eno had Bowie’s rhythm section – guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist George Murray and drummer Dennis Davis – follow his lead as he pointed to different chords at random. Davis emerges the MVP of the experiment, his kit-work truly helping the song fly.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Punchier percussion, greater dynamic range between Bowie’s double-tracked vocals.

Boys Keep Swinging

A sardonic commentary on male privilege by the man who’d turned gender stereotypes on their head in the early 70s, Boys Keep Swinging was altogether more subversive than its exuberant presentation suggested – as underscored by Bowie’s turn as his own female backing singers in the David Mallet-produced promo video. Violinist Simon House and guitarist Adrian Belew appear to be locked in a battle over who can do the most damage to the funky new-wave groove, while Bowie lodges his tongue firmly in his cheek when he sings of life being “a pop of the cherry when you’re a boy”. “The glory in that song was ironic,” he later confirmed to his wife, Iman, in a discussion with Bust magazine. “I do not feel that there is anything remotely glorious about being either male or female.”

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Violin repositioned for impact, re-edited guitar solo.


Having made his statement on the patriarchy with Boys Keep Swinging, Bowie delivers a distressingly matter-of-fact domestic-abuse narrative on Lodger’s next song, Repetition. On top of a rhythm section whose sole purpose seems to be to kick the track along, Bowie details the actions of protagonist Johnny in an unnervingly deadpan voice – “as though I’m reading a report rather than witnessing the event”, as he later explained to Mail Online. He would re-record the song in an acoustic arrangement during his Earthling era, the sparse instrumentation arguably working to even more chilling effect than the original’s nausea-inducing bass wobble.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Dread-inducing punch in the drums, violin and synths brought to the fore in the outro.

Red Money

Red Money makes for a fitting final track to Lodger, the closing entry in the “Berlin Trilogy” of albums Bowie created with Brian Eno, and whose experimental recording techniques he first edged towards during sessions for Iggy Pop’s debut solo album, The Idiot. Having transposed new ideas onto old songs throughout the record, here Bowie wholesale lifts The Idiot’s opening track, Sister Midnight.

Although not quite a note-for-note reproduction, the shared DNA is obvious, Bowie layering synth squalls and razor-like guitar to create an even more claustrophobic atmosphere than the one he worked up with the former Stooges frontman. With references to a “tumbling central” and a “mysterious red box”, his lyrics, too, are rather more dense. Images of the latter recurred throughout his paintings of the era: as he explained around the album’s release, “they represent responsibility”.

“It’s up to you and me,” are the final lines on an album that opens with Bowie’s reaction to the Cold War and ends with a question over “red money”: “Can you hear it fall?” He may not provide any answers in between, but, like the best David Bowie albums, Lodger offers plenty to check out.

Notable 2017 remix mentions: Skittish percussion given greater focus, guitar makes for a more cutting presence.

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