The final entry in the Berlin Trilogy boasts a picture of a beat-up Bowie on the cover and lyrical content that speaks to the same. RCA, Bowie’s label at the time, characterized it as “a concept album [about a] homeless wanderer, shunned and victimized by life’s pressures and technology.” That’s a bit high-minded, but not inaccurate: Lodger could be subtitled “Bodies and Motion, No Rest.” It opens with “Fantastic Voyage,” a weird, warped-number that pitches and groans and stops dead on a chorus that goes, “We’re learning to live with somebody’s depression.” Later, “Red Sails” tells of trouble lurking on the horizon, Bowie zig-zagging across the stave on the back of a strangled saxophone. Even the album’s best excuse for a pop single, “Boys Keep Swinging,” feels like the crowd-pleaser at a zombie disco.
Though Bowie and Eno’s creative partnership was fizzling (after Lodger‘s completion, they wouldn’t work together again for another 15 years), they still shore up a host of strange and suitably unsettling ideas. “Move On” contains a healthy helping of the Bowie-penned “All the Young Dudes” played backwards, “Boys Keep Swinging” duplicates the chord structure of “Fantastic Voyage,” but in a different meter, “African Night Flight” inverts the melody of Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q.” Robert Fripp had been replaced on guitar by his King Crimson bandmate Adrian Belew, who Bowie and Eno perversely required to play over tracks he’d never heard before. They pieced his final performance together from multiple takes, and the results feel appropriately disjointed. When it was released, Lodger was considered the least-adventurous of the trilogy, but that’s only because the albums it followed were essentially inventing genres whole-cloth. While Lodger does edge back towards something like traditional rock music, its perspective is still decidedly askew, its sonic backdrops still full of thousands of tiny flourishes and filigrees: the weird wooshing noises that come and go throughout “Repetition,” the hiccup in Bowie’s voice as he sings the refrain of the cultish “Yassassain.” His proper return to straightforward pop would arrive a year later, with the more direct — yet still distinctly unnerving — Scary Monsters . Taken as a whole, the Berlin Trilogy makes for a fascinating narrative, one man’s journey out of the numbing wreckage of drug abuse and flirtations with witchcraft and Satanism back, at the end of Lodger, into normal society. The last words on the album are “Project Cancelled,” and with good reason: its aims had been fulfilled — a thousandfold.