ALBUM REVIEW: The World Was Not the Same by Marc Lowe

The World Was Not the Same is the latest album from the highly prolific alternative artist (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer) Marc Lowe. The album has a fascinating genesis and history that stretches back several years. The second half of this epic double album was originally intended to be as an album called 1123, which was to also include a piano version of a ballad called One Touch. This material was recorded back in 2018 with the exception of a David Bowie cover, which is a reimagined version of Heat from The Next Day album with verses from 2002’s Heathen. The 2018 material has now all been remixed and rearranged which reflects Lowe’s artistic development both in terms of sonics and production techniques. The first half of the album largely constitutes what was originally intended as a six track album called Heart Mind, which was mostly original material and another Bowie cover, a different version of Lazarus (originally from Lowe’s 2019 album I’m A Blackstar).

Lowe then added a largely spoken word Intro track, which starts the album. His opening monologue sets the apocalyptic tone for the album, full of existential dread: “So this is how it stands…as far as I can see…one has to ask oneself how much longer we have here on this planet that we’re fucking up completely…”. After a brief burst of chaotic guitars and drums (a melange of old recordings melded together and deliberately distorted) a more reflective and resigned attitude emerges with the lines: “You just need to find something to hold on to, and hold on to it as long as you can…and then let it go. Nothing lasts forever”.

This philosophical stance, becoming detached from desire and all material and emotional attachments, is the influence of Buddhist ideas which form an important part of Lowe’s artistic persona. This juxtaposition of an impending apocalypse with Eastern religion emerges on the title track, a five minute instrumental. It features an excerpt from Robert Oppenheimer’s famous speech about the atomic bomb he developed as part of the Manhattan Project and which was deployed in 1945. Upon witnessing the death and destruction caused by the bomb, Oppenheimer remarked, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent”.

He then goes on to quote the famous translated lines from the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. This obviously has huge contemporary relevance as we stand of the brink of World War 3 due to the Russia/Ukraine conflict. Lowe creates a brooding, unsettling soundscape which reflects the world’s deeply troubled state. This soundscape continues into Lowe’s version of Bowie’s Lazarus, consisting of just haunting lead vocals and acoustic guitar. Its world weary tone is very apposite and Lowe adds some pithy lyrics of his own: “By the time I got to Tokyo I was living like Donald Trump….”.

This segues into Inner States Improvisation in which we hear some of Lowe’s rather unique tapping techniques which are both melodic and percussive. This is a version of Inner States of Mind which has appeared in different guises on several of Lowe’s releases. With his vocals set back in the mix, the track slowly builds in intensity with Lowe’s rallying cry, “We must never forget our humanity”, never sounding more relevant.

This is followed by LFLZ Improvisation, a powerful sonic concoction of tumbling Tom fills and sinister sounding synths. It maintains the saturnine yet cathartic vibe established by the previous tracks, evolving into a wall of noise that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now.

What follows is the album’s epic, the twenty two minute Heart Mind. It’s a fascinating piece of work, a spoken word monologue which starts out on a personal level then soon delves into politics, religious and philosophical ideas, allopathic and natural medicine, Freudian and Jungian psychology and psychiatry. As an artist, Lowe consistently explores and traverses the borderline between opposites, the Western and Eastern approach, the spiritual and the material, the heart and the mind. Whether intentional or not, this track feels like the centrepiece of the album and as a whole the album appears to constitute a descensus ad inferos (descent into hell). This is also known in mythological terms as the “dark night of the soul” and Carl Jung experienced this himself in middle life.

As the track evolves, the backdrop music builds in momentum and intensity, Lowe’s voice becoming more fragmented and distorted, multiple voices emerging as if descending into the complexities and tensions within his own heart/mind. Eventually, a solid industrial beat provides order amongst the sonic chaos and the effect is undeniably powerful.

This is contrasted by the sparse but beautiful acoustic ballad The Ties That Bind Us. This song appears in a different guise on another album released this year, Past Life. This version is stripped back to just acoustic guitar and Lowe’s lead vocal, allowing the poignant, melancholy melody to shine.

Ashes (of the Past) is one of the more avant garde tracks consisting of just Lowe’s vocals amidst a chaotic and unsettling soundscape, featuring some beautifully poignant and poetic lines: “The times you slept in the crook of my arm, well the coldness pierced our bones”. This particular track obviously carries emotional weight for Lowe, the line about “vivid scars” being the original title for the album (albeit with a different running order and different cover art).

Happenings is a superb track, one of the more instant and anthemic tracks on the album that could be regarded as a call to arms for outsiders everywhere, for those who feel on the edge of society. Both the gripping vocal melody and seductive, brooding bassline captivate you upon first listening, the lyrics so relatable for many: “How many times has the hammer come down, how many times have they run you out of town?”. Lowe’s production is particularly good here, a veritable plethora of masterfully sculpted reverb effects and sonic segues.

Bones is another track that proves less is more, a skeletal musical backdrop consisting of a cavernous echo-drenched 2/4 beat and Lowe’s vocals. The Bowie influence shows through once more, though it feels more like the abstract and avant garde Bowie of the Low era, with enigmatic and intriguing lyrics: “The master’s bones are dancing, the master’s bones are swaying….”. The simple piano motif in the second verse is a genius touch, the vocal harmonies and overlapping voices very effective. It then breaks down to a haunting cello passage before the final minutes of the track interweave previous elements with what sounds indeed like bones “dancing”.

I Loved That Boy is a song with a poignant backstory. The track is about a friend of Marc’s who was sadly born with no hands, yet refused to let his disability hold him back or even acknowledge it as a disability at all. He managed to become a musician despite his impediment and the song is a touching tribute. It’s a synth based alternative pop/track with an immediately distinctive and memorable vocal melody from Lowe, his delivery pitched somewhere between David Bowie and David Byrne. The track is surprisingly funky once the loose groove kicks in, then breaks down to just piano and vocal. This expresses a moment of loss and grief before returning to the complex, ever shifting beat. This is a good showcase for Lowe’s inimitable talents and I could imagine this proving popular if played in clubs.

Goonsquad is an intense, rather claustrophobic track that skilfully depicts an Orwellian and dystopian world where everyone is looking over their shoulder in fear. After the unsettling intro, the eerie yet compelling synth melody conjures a saturnine vibe that perfectly reflects the equally troubled words: “You’d better run, you’d better hide, do not go out, best stay inside….the goonsquad’s at your back, they will keep on hounding you…”. As many countries have become increasingly totalitarian since the pandemic, this track feels particularly timely and apposite, a mirror held up to the world.

The Lone Cricket is perhaps the most mystical track on the album, a blissed out ambient instrumental for the most part, with spoken word and subtle falsetto vocals deployed with great effect. The music and perhaps the philosophical concept behind this track seems very influenced by Eastern religion and mysticism once again, though tinged with the darkness that pervades the rest of the album: “The lone cricket chirps all day, he doesn’t realise that the summer has gone away….”.

Peeved Pear is a stately and mid tempo electro pop track with a languid, mellow musical feel but juxtaposed with lyrics dripping in vitriol. They depict a person with very few redeeming qualities, a portrait of a nihilistic hedonist who has no concern for the feelings of others, seemingly: “It drinks and it frowns, lounges out all day, in its liquor it drowns, it doesn’t look at your face…”. The impersonal use of “it” captures this person’s basic inhumanity, and Lowe foretells a dark demise: “This pear is gonna fall, this pear is gonna cry and if it doesn’t shape up it’s gonna die….”.

Inside is a clever little gem of a song, consisting of piano and lead vocal. The stacked fourths give the music an Oriental feel, an influence of Lowe’s life in Japan rubbing off on his music. Lyrically, it explores similar territory to Goonsquad, and whether he intended or not, he absolutely captures the authoritarian mood of the last couple of years (a disembodied, ghostly voice whispers “Don’t go out your door…stay inside”) along with the enforced introspection that resulted from it.

The final track is a radical interpretation of two David Bowie songs (Heat from The Next Day and Heathen from the album of that name). As with any cover version by Marc Lowe he makes it very much his own and here seamlessly fuses two very different songs from two very different periods in Bowie’s career.

The last moments of this epic musical journey are truly moving, a quote from Lama Chime Rinpoche spoken over the unsettling sonic landscape that underpins the whole album till it fades and leaves only his words: “I’ll meet him again in the next life, somewhere much better, more happy and pleasant than now….”. These wise words somehow bring the journey full circle, showing how it is mortal life itself that is the descensus ad inferos we must all endure as best we can, a better fate awaiting us on the other side.

Overall, this is a remarkable new album from the hugely creative Marc Lowe. Taking material originally written a few years ago, he has reworked and remixed these tracks into a cohesive whole that manages to capture the current zeitgeist in a compelling way. While these songs are often full of pain and darkness, they are also shot through with hope and hard earned wisdom drawn from all corners of life. It’s inspiring to know that while mainstream culture is at an all time nadir, artists like Marc Lowe are making uncompromising art and music that really matters.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Visit Marc Lowe’s official website HERE

Listen to the full album:

Album Documentary


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s