When David Bowie began work on 1. Outside, it had been a decade since he’d had a mainstream hit, and he was well beyond caring. “He said to me that he didn’t like the commercial things he did in the 1980s when he was pressured by his record company,” says keyboardist Mike Garson. “He said, ‘For this next album, I’m going to pick all my favorite musicians who inspire me. We’re going to improvise on two big 48-track machines and just play and play. … Brian will cut it all up and make songs.'”
Bowie meant Brian Eno, whom he hadn’t worked with since 1979’s Lodger. They reconnected at Bowie’s wedding and began work two years later with Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels, guitarist Carlos Alomar and Garson, back in play after defecting from the Church of Scientology. “The chemistry between us is just tremendous,” Bowie said of working with Eno. “He will take things from low art and elevate them to high-art status. I tend to do exactly the opposite.
They convened at Montreux’s Mountain Studios – where Bowie and Eno worked on Lodger – and made up everything on the spot. Bowie created the trippy lyrics by typing articles on outsider art into a computer program that rearranged them into random phrases. Eno took a similar approach by handing band members flashcards that gave them roles to play. “They’d say something like, ‘Today you’re going to think of yourself as a 21st-century pilot in a planet that’s light-years away and you’re the commander of the ship,'” Garson recalls. “‘Play from that viewpoint.'”
The result was Bowie’s most experimental album since his Berlin period. It attempts to tell the story, complete with dialogue, of a police officer four years in the future investigating a series of murders. Listeners were baffled. Nine Inch Nails fans walked out of amphitheaters in droves when Bowie filled his co-headlining set with Outside songs. But he believed in the music and continued playing highlights like “Hallo Spaceboy” and “The Motel” up through his final shows in 2004.