One of the greatest things about The Berlin Trilogy, composed of 1977’s Low and Heroes and 1979’s Lodger, is how its origin can be heard throughout the material. On these three records, Heroes and Low in particular, Bowie, father of ambient music artist Brian Eno, and long-time collaborator Tony Visconti, embraced the world of ambient and electronic music. Few places in the world during the mid to late ‘70s were as instrumental in popularizing electronic music as Germany. Artists such as Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and Neu! brought these sounds to a mainstream audience before the explosion of synthesizers in music hit in the 1980s. Mainly thanks to Eno’s contributions, the more ambient-oriented tracks in The Berlin Trilogy stand as some of the defining moments of electronic music in the ‘70s.
Heroes takes this embrace of German culture a step further than the rest. As the recording of the record was underway, the Cold War was still raging on. Some influence on the lyrics was bound to be present. However, Bowie takes these themes and channels them in a way that feels timeless. The title track’s tale of two lovers reuniting after the Berlin Wall’s fall is one of Bowie’s greatest tracks, if not his greatest, and one of the best love songs of the decade. The simplicity of the lyrics and the main guitar riff, have a certain beauty to them that is brought to life by one of Bowie’s most passionate vocal performances. It all comes together to make an incredibly uplifting track that makes the listener feel as if any struggle they face can be overcome; we all can be heroes.
“Heroes” is just the greatest in a string of songs on the A-Side of the record that makes Heroes the best installment of the Berlin Trilogy. While Low may come with one of Bowie’s greatest string of tracks on its ambient second half, the first half is populated by a drove of sonically eyebrow-raising, yet songwriting-wise unmemorable art pop tracks. With most of these cuts not even passing the three-minute mark, many of them end before they can really get going. With Heroes, even though they still average around three minutes, the first half is populated by these art pop and rock tracks that are sharply written, passionately performed, and uniquely produced. The first three songs are enough to make the A-side of Heroes much more worthwhile.
As mentioned earlier, the second half of Low features some of the greatest, most dismal, experimental material to grace a David Bowie record. Not far behind is the second half of Heroes. Similarly ambient-oriented, it’s a dark set of tracks that build up an incredibly heavy atmosphere. There’s even quite a bit of variety among these ambient pieces ‒ the incredibly serene “Moss Garden” makes great use of the Japanese koto, and the sax on the back end of “Neuköln” is absolutely stirring.
The Berlin Trilogy saw the collaboration of Bowie and Brian Eno, two artists who’d later be considered some of the greatest who ever were, end in results that couldn’t have been more fruitful. Objectively, Low and Heroes had an equal amount of impact on the worlds of rock and experimental music. However, when comparing the two, Heroes comes out as the more consistent, fleshed-out project.