The Buddha of Suburbia is the 19th studio album[lower-alpha 1] by English musician David Bowie. It was originally released on 8 November 1993 by Arista Records in the UK and Europe. The project originated following an interview between Bowie and novelist Hanif Kureishi during a press tour for Black Tie White Noise (1993), where Bowie agreed to compose music for an upcoming adapation of Kureishi’s 1990 novel The Buddha of Suburbia. After making basic tracks, Bowie decided to turn the project into a full album. Recording took place at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland and was completed in six days. Bowie primarily collaborated with Turkish musician Erdal Kızılçay, while pianist Mike Garson contributed overdubs.
The music on The Buddha of Suburbia primarily consists of numerous motifs created using various instruments. The pieces contain references to his late-1970s works throughout. Commentators have noted the presence of rock, pop, ambient, jazz and experimental themes throughout. The music itself bears little resemblance to the music of the BBC serial; only the title track featured in the programme. Aside from three instrumentals, the lyrics are non-linear, which Bowie utilised as a way to reduce narrative form.
Initially marketed as a soundtrack album, The Buddha of Suburbia flopped and received little promotion from Bowie himself, despite receiving positive reviews from British critics. It wasn’t released in the US until October 1995 by Virgin Records with updated artwork. It fell back into obscurity until a worldwide reissue by EMI in 2007, although it still remains one of Bowie’s least-known works. Nevertheless, Bowie’s biographers and other reviewers have praised The Buddha of Suburbia as a forgotten gem in his catalogue. A remastered version was released in 2021 as part of the box set Brilliant Adventure (1992–2001).
While promoting his then-upcoming album Black Tie White Noise in February 1993, David Bowie spoke with British novelist Hanif Kureishi for Interview magazine, who sought permission to use some of Bowie’s older material[lower-alpha 2] for an upcoming adapation of Kureishi’s 1990 novel The Buddha of Suburbia. The novel, which concerned a teenage boy named Karim attempting to be an actor in the 1970s, featured a character named Charlie who becomes embroiled with the rock star life. In The Complete David Bowie, biographer Nicholas Pegg describes Charlie as an amalgamation of Bowie, Sid Vicious and Billy Idol. Kureishi told biographer Marc Spitz that the novel “reminded [Bowie] of his own youth”. Bowie agreed and months later, Kureishi and the serial’s director Roger Michell ventured to Switzerland to see what Bowie had come up with. According to Pegg, Bowie had completed close to 40 pieces by the early summer of 1993. Kureishi suggested revisions, after which Bowie decided to turn the project into a new album—what Chris O’Leary calls a “quasi-soundtrack”. Speaking with journalist Dylan Jones, Kureishi stated: “[Bowie] said he wanted to write some songs for it because he wanted to make some money out of it.”
The album was recorded and mixed at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland and co-produced by Bowie and David Richards,[lower-alpha 3] who previously co-produced Never Let Me Down (1987). According to Bowie, it took only six days to write and record, but fifteen days to mix because of some “technical breakdowns”. For the album, Bowie worked with Turkish musician Erdal Kızılçay, who collaborated with Bowie on numerous projects in the 1980s. The two watched the serial repeatedly while making the album, with Kızılçay recalling that The Buddha of Suburbia came from the stories they told one another while making it, as well as the connections Bowie had with Kureishi. In 2003, Bowie recalled that he felt “very happy” during the making of The Buddha of Suburbia. Kızılçay later told biographer Paul Trynka: “Something happened for that album. There wasn’t a big budget; David explained the story before we started. It was a challenge, it was a small budget, but David just said, ‘Let’s go, let’s do it,’ and everything worked.” Pianist Mike Garson, who had recently reunited with Bowie on Black Tie White Noise, overdubbed piano parts for two tracks (“South Horizon” and “Bleed Like a Craze, Dad”) in a single three-hour session at O’Henry Sound Studios in Burbank, California.