The idea of dividing an artist into periods or eras is a very seductive one – preferring the ‘fusion years’ of Miles Davis over the ‘cool jazz’ of his beginnings, or Frank Zappa’s musique concrete over his more obscenity-riddled pop tunes in his later years. Although this is certainly a legitimate distinction in both examples given above, it is regardless something applied to the artist retrospectively. It’s fairly rare we ever hear the artist talking about their work in such strict, easily distinguished partitions. All the works bleed together; something that arose in one earlier piece of writing or music flourishes in the next and becomes the focus – the creation of a piece of art is far more complex and organic than these simple labels suggest.
Yet what about when these labels are applied by the artist? On the release of 1979’s Lodger, David Bowie announces this album to be the third part of a ‘triptych’ alongside 1977’s Low and “Heroes”. Brian Eno – Bowie’s musical collaborator over all three of these albums – also starts to refer these albums as a trilogy. The Berlin Triptych is born.
Just by calling these albums a collective whole, it definitively changes our experience of them as listeners. A trilogy perhaps even more so. We expect the first part (in this case, Low) to introduce us to ideas that will carry throughout the works, the second part (“Heroes”) to expand and experiment with these ideas, and the third (Lodger) to hark back to the original as well as providing us a sense of closure. A beginning, a middle and an end.