About the Album:
1977 was a busy year for David Bowie. Iggy Pop released his first solo album The Idiot, which was written and recorded with Bowie. He toured with Pop as his keyboardist and they went back into the studio to record Pop’s second solo album, Lust for Life.
Bowie also released his own album, Low, at the onset of the year. Much of the same lineup returned for Heroes, including collaborator Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti. For this album, Robert Fripp of King Crimson was added on guitar. He provided “a muscular foundation for the electronics, especially on the relatively conventional rock songs.” AMG Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal praised Fripp as the standout on the record. WK
Low, Heroes, and the next album, Lodger, are referred to as the Berlin Trilogy, but this was the only one of the three albums recorded entirely in Berlin. The studio, a former concert hall used as a ballroom by Gestapo officers during World War II, was located about 500 yards from the Berlin Wall. WK
Essentially, the difference between Low and Heroes lies in the details, but the record is equally challenging and groundbreaking.” AMG It continued to expand on the experimental music such as art rock, electronica, and ambient music explored on Low. “Heroes develops and strengthens the sonic innovations David Bowie and Brian Eno explored on their first collaboration. The vocal songs are fuller, boasting harder rhythms and deeper layers of sound.” AMG “The instrumentals…are more detailed, this time showing a more explicit debt to German synth pop and European experimental rock.” AMG
Heroes largely followed “the formula of Low's half-vocal/half-instrumental structure.” AMG On the previous album, Bowie penned more autobiographical lyrics; this time they were more oblique and evasive. WK Bowie improvised lyrics in the studio, a technique he’d seen Iggy Pop employ when they worked together.
On the title cut, Bowie’s vocal ranges from “calm and playful to a near-scream.” WK “Fripp’s guitar feedback dominates throughout, while the bass pulsates and Eno sythesizers blends in the background.” WK Bowie said the song was about facing reality and acknowledging that the future didn’t belong to him, but everyone. WK
Joe the Lion was a tribute to American artist Chris Burden, known for outlandish publicity stunts. WK V-2 Schneider was inspired and named after Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk, one of the band’s who’d been significantly influential in the Berlin Trilogy.
Blackout referred to the 1977 blackout in New York City. Sons of the Silent Age was influenced by the works of Jacques Brel. WK The Secret Life of Arabia signalled what was to come with Lodger. WK
The “dark and gloomy” WK instrumentals included Sense of Doubt, which repeated “a four-note piano motif against a set of synthesizers to paint an image of a barren landscape.” WK Moss Garden, which featured Bowie playing the Japanese instrument koto, “evoke[d] a sound resembling aeroplanes flying overhead.” WK Neuköln was named after a district in Berlin and “uses sound to capture the feeling of despair and desperation that the Turkish immigrants who lived there experienced.” WK
Heroes was named Album of the Year by NME and Melody Maker. Zig Zag’s Kris Needs said it was “a strange, cold, sometimes impenetrable album, but Bowie makes all these unlikely ingredients work.” WK In Hit Parader, musician Patti Smith called it “a cryptic product of a higher order of intelligence.” WK Robert Christgau of The Village Voice considered the instrumentals to be little more than “interesting background.” WK
Notes: The 1991 Rykodisc reissue includes the German version of “Heroes” and the song “Abdulmajid.”