The first release from Lodger was the single ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, backed with ‘Fantastic Voyage’, which released ahead of the album on 27 April 1979. It reached number seven in the UK charts.
Also in April, director David Mallet filmed David Bowie in promotional clips for ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, ‘DJ’, and ‘Look Back In Anger’. The shoot took place at Ewart Studios in Wandsworth, London. For the ‘DJ’ clip Bowie made an unscheduled foray onto Earls Court Road, and continued lip-syncing while surrounded by delighted fans.
Bowie also undertook an extensive promotional campaign for the album, submitting to TV, radio and press interviews. One of these was an event organised by RCA, held at Tony Visconti’s God Earth Studios in London’s Soho on 18 April. Twelve competition winners were invited to ask Bowie questions and to hear the new album, with a track-by-track commentary by Bowie. The exchange was broadcast on Capital Radio the following month.
Another playback was held at RCA’s London offices, in which journalists heard the album and were shown the new promotional videos. The event was arranged by Chris Charlesworth, a former Melody Maker journalist who was now RCA’s press officer.
The playback of the record was virtually drowned out by a chorus of inebriated bickering, gossip and giggling. The tottering pen-pushers were only silenced when we were treated to a series of videos of the Thin White One. The first tapes, projected onto a massive screen in the far corner of RCA’s plush fifth-floor banqueting suite, were from the Stage tour in Dallas. More striking were the recently completed promo flicks for the new album, certainly the most impressive video sales pitch since the original Devo epics. ‘See those girls?’ asked the chap from RCA. ‘Absolute goddess, the one in the middle,’ we replied, pointing out the Lauren Bacall-meets-Jerry Hall lookalike. ‘They’re all Bowie,’ explained the chap from RCA. Mouths dropped open.
Melody Maker, 26 May 1979
Lodger was released on 25 May 1979. RCA, which had initially refused to issue Low, aghast at its departure from Young Americans-style soul, were more positive about Bowie’s latest offering. A press release quoted label executive Mel Ilberman as saying: “It would be fair to call it Bowie’s Sergeant Pepper, a concept album that portrays the Lodger as a homeless wanderer, shunned and victimized by life’s pressures and technology.”
Reviewers broadly viewed Lodger as the inferior sibling to Low and “Heroes”. Rolling Stone believed it to be “scattered, a footnote to “Heroes”, an act of marking time”, and Melody Maker described it as “slightly faceless”.
The album had moderate commercial success, reaching number four in the UK, three in New Zealand, and five in the Netherlands. In the US it peaked at number 20 on the Billboard 200.
Lodger is really a hodgepodge of styles that create a lovely sort of mix. The areas we’ve been working in are so undefined at the moment that I find them hard to analyse, but I think probably a classification you can give the album is that it incorporates just about every style that I’ve ever got involved in, apart from rock. There are three or four narrative songs, though, which is something I haven’t done in a long time, and two or three of what you might call Dada pop as opposed to rock. Now whether that’s the kind of pop that people expect, I don’t know. But it’s definitely Bowie pop.
Rock Australia Magazine, 15 June 1979
Another UK single, ‘DJ’/‘Repetition’, was released in June 1979, and reached number 29 on the charts. ‘Look Back In Anger’/‘Repetition’ was issued in the US and Canada in August 1979.
Bowie’s first official 7″ picture disc was for ‘Boys Keep Swinging’/‘Fantastic Voyage’, a Spanish promo released in April 1979.
How on earth could you record an album like Lodger and not find the time or proper studio to mix it the way you want it? Incredible! What’s more important than your album? It still came out great but one wonders if it would have sold more.
Thank you Joe for this site. I’ve read every word, went back to beginning and started again. I’ve read many books about Bowie and still learned so much more I didn’t know from your pages. Cheers!