Revisiting Bowie’s Lodger mix: Tony Visconti takes aim at online chatter

Longtime David Bowie producer Tony Visconti appears to be less than happy with some of what he’s been reading about his remix of The Dame’s 1979 album, Lodger, which is included (exclusively) with next month’s A New Career In A New Town box set.

Referring specifically to comments on a fan forum attached to Paul Kinder’s excellent Bowiewonderworld site, Visconti felt the need to clarify timelines, in terms of when this remix work was started and also made it crystal clear that Bowie himself liked the initial work and gave him the “green light” to complete the remix. Sadly The Thin White One didn’t live to hear the results.

“Are any of my Facebook friends active in the above Bowie group? There seems to be a lot of erroneous and egregious comments about the remix of Lodger. For the record, remixing began in the middle of 2015, never before. It has been well documented that David and I always wanted to remix Lodger but there never seemed to be a good time to do that. In 2015 we were making Blackstar together and David was also busy with his musical Lazarus. There were short periods when David wasn’t in the studio, yet I was in a high state of creativity. I opened up Fantastic Voyage and started to mix it and after a few hours I left it in a better state than I had found it (I did more tweaking later on). A few weeks later I tackled African Night Flight and Move On. Then I knew this album could sound great. After I had mixed Yassassin and Red Sails I surprised David with the results. He was extremely pleased and gave me the green light to finish mixing the entire album. Because we were still working on Blackstar that year I never got a chance to complete it until later in 2016 due to my other production commitments and Holy Holy tours. There you have it from me.”

The online confusion appears to have emanated from a quote by Visconti several years ago, where he recounted a conversation with Bowie bemoaning the notoriously soupy sonics of Lodger, which culminated in the singer asking him, “Would you like to remix it?”

Visconti, Bowie, Eno and engineer David Richards at Mountain Studios, September 1978

“But we never got around to doing it until there was a break in recording Blackstar. I thought ‘If I don’t do something about Lodger, it’ll never get off the ground’. I started remixing it on my own time, without David’s knowledge.”

The only thing that slightly puzzles me is surely the Bowie camp would have had to let Visconti gain access to the master tapes (which usually reside in a storage facility in New Jersey) to begin the project, in which case Bowie would certainly have had knowledge of that. But really, does it really matter when the album was remixed? This is a project that had been on their collective minds for quite some time. Both TV and DB stated publicly they were never satisfied with the mix they achieved. Here’s Visconti a decade ago: “My only regret is that we went to New York to finish this album, and it suffered at the mixing stage because New York studios simply were not as versatile or well-equipped as their European counterparts in those days!”

Bowie’s sketched cover idea when the album was still entitled Planned Accidents

Bowie also conceded in 2001: “I think Tony and I would both agree that we didn’t take enough care mixing,” said Bowie. “This had a lot to do with my being distracted by personal events in my life and I think Tony lost heart a little because it never came together as easily as both Low and “Heroes” had. I would still maintain, though, that there are a number of really important ideas on Lodger.”

For the record, Visconti maintains that the sound quality of the multitrack recordings laid down in Montreux with Brian Eno was “very good”, but that the mixing in NYC was “problematic”, continuing to point the finger at RCA and the whole Record Plant Studio complex: “We had a horrible studio to mix in,” he tells Michael Bonner in the latest issue of Uncut.

“After Ziggy Stardust, David’s big hits were in the rest of the world; they weren’t big sellers in America*. By the time we got to Lodger, he’d dropped in status. So were were assigned Studio D. It was really bad. But we had a deadline to finish the mix.”

Artwork collage taken from the Berlin showing of the David Bowie Is exhibition

Fast forwarding almost 40 years: “I found some little gems on the tapes,” he reveals. “At the end of ‘Yassassin’, David does a little Arabic rap that didn’t make the record. I put it on the mix this time and it sounds wonderful. David was proud of these re-releases, but he didn’t want to get involved. There are so many capable people, including his own staff and myself, who could deal with it. He’d hear the final test pressing and say, ‘Great, it’s wonderful. Release it.’ But he always wanted to move on.”

Visconti’s 2017 mix of Lodger is included in A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) next month, the third in a series of boxsets spanning David Bowie’s albums and singles from 1969 to 2016.

Steve Pafford

*For the record, the only Bowie albums make the Billboard top ten in the ’70s were (in order of highest peak) Station To Station (3), Diamond Dogs (5), David Live (8), Young Americans (9) and the compilation Changesonebowie (10). Tony Visconti is also in his seventies.