Outside bears the subtitle "The Diary of Nathan Adler or The Art-Ritual Murder of Baby Grace Blue. A Non-Linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle." Alright, so it reeks of pretension. One belabors the point because Bowie at his best has always been pretentious, risque, creatively (if sometimes contrivedly) over the top. Outside marks the first in a planned series of collaborations with multi-instrumentalist, producer, and conceptualist Brian Eno based on a Bowie short story. In this end-of-millennium setting, "art-crimes" and "concept muggings" merit their own police division funded by the "Arts Protectorate of London." Echoes of the Berlin "outsider" Bowie/Eno '70s trilogy of Low, Heroes, and Lodger reverberate throughout, including a return to the "cut-and-paste" lyric-assembly method then employed, only this time fed through a Mac rather than more labor-intensive paper-and-scissors tools. The thusly fragmented "narrative" follows the investigations of Detective Professor Adler into the murder and subsequent dismembered body parts exhibition of 14-year-old runaway Baby Grace Blue. In this cut-up, composite world, each character, including Adler, Baby Grace, mixed-race youth Leon Blank, septuagenarian Algeria Touchshriek, and art-terrorist Ramona A. Stone, reflects a different aspect of Bowie himself and is therefore a component of all the previous personas Bowie has enacted over the years. The music also randomly dices and displays many of the previous album settings such personas have populated. To complete the cube, Bowie then draws on musicians that form a kind of anagram band from his past. The closest "Ziggy" link comes courtesy of pianist Mike Garson, whose icy, tinkling jazz runs evoke many a spine-tingly moment from Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs. Besides Garson and Eno, other names familiar to those who follow the Bowie canon include guitarists Carlos Alomar (Station to Station through Scary Monsters) and Reeves Grabels (Tin Machine), and '90s collaborators such as drummer Sterling Campbell (Black Tie White Noise) and multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay (Buddha). Diamond Dogs, inspired by George Orwell's 1984, is another obvious precursor to Outside's dissection of a post-apocalyptic, technological society in the name of Art. Bowie inflicts "in-character" spoken word segments as between-song segues, several of which evoke the Cockney campiness of such '60s period pieces as "Please Mr. Gravedigger" and "The Laughing Gnome" -- humor (intentional or not) that softens an otherwise bleak landscape. So, should you actually care about this dense, dark, difficult story and its generally unsympathetic characters? The effort required to adequately "process" Outside pays off in a richly voyeuristic experience where Bowie once again reflects fringe culture onto the mainstream and forces us to consider that the differences are not so great.
AllMusic Review by Roch Parisien