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An album by David Bowie

Heathenis, in essence, the first "traditional" Bowie album worthy of kudos in years, as it successfully reunites Bowie with producer Tony Visconti, the man at the controls during Bowie's Berlin period.Heathenfinds rock's greatest chameleon once again … see full wiki

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1 review about Heathen

Afraid of the future?

  • Jun 24, 2002
And so, with eternal hope, we buy yet another "latest Bowie album", hoping that this one might finally be the unequivocal return to form the Great Dame has been promising since he departed from form in the first place, way back in 1981. This time, so the promos tell us, he really means it. This time he really is back.

So is he?

Of COURSE not - why should he be? How could he be? What, really, has Bowie got to offer the world in 2002?

Only one thing, actually: a kick-arse back catalogue. Thirteen - count them - outstanding long playing records, stretching from 1969's Space Oddity through to 1980's Scary Monsters - barely a weak track on them, let alone a weak album. Discovering them (which I did as a teenager in the eighties) was the most heavenly experience, because not one was a disappointment, every one was different, everyone exuded unutterable coolness, and nearly all served as fundamental touchstones for the direction of popular music well into the 1990s. I can't think of another popular act with a single run of albums over such a long period of time of such consistent importance.

But - and this is the point - it's all over now. Not just now, either. It was all over by 1983's Let's Dance.

It's not like he didn't have a good innings: Every cutting edge must grow dull, middle aged and complacent, and much keener on the idea of celebrity than the idea of achieving it, and that's just what seemed to be happening to Bowie.

Then, after five years of unashamed selling out culminating with a starring role in a Muppet movie, the coffee seemed to have been smelled. At last Bowie started producing something of interest: Some worked (Black Tie, White Noise; the Buddha of Suburbia), some just flat out didn't (fun though it was, place Tin Machine in this category), and gradually Bowie brought the ship round.

The more he did so the more he relied on the help of some old friends: First it was Aladdin Sane pianist Mick Garson (Buddha of Suburbia), then that old chestnut the earthman/spaceman metaphor (Earthling, Hallo Spaceboy); and before you knew we were into fully blown Diamond Dogesque decaying society metaphors and crazy cutup lyrics (1. Outside...). There was a quick Hunky Dory on 2000's Hours, and finally, bolstered by his rapturous reception at Glastonbury last year, this latest instalment, with which we are told the restored picture is complete. Certainly, the old-boys' club pretty much is: now we have the troika of Messrs Visconti, Townsend and the silly Bowie voice/random lyrics from Scary Monsters. The space metaphor makes a welcome return. If you listen quietly, you may even hear StationToStation guitar-slinger Earl Slick widdly-widdlying away in there, too. A bit of crisp, state of the art production, and, bob's your uncle, David's back at the helm. Isn't he?

No. He's a silly old duffer who should leave it to people less than half his age to make profound countercultural sentiments and get on with writing his memoirs. For one thing, a fifty-four year old reinventing himself as avant-garde c.1982 just isn't going to sell any records. Certainly not when none of the tracks have any obvious tune, let alone point. What Bowie's ended up with is (a bit like each of Buddha, Outside, Hours and Earthling) is a record which tries to capture the glorious past while catching the crest of the present wave, but where as the previous efforts at least took you somewhere (and, particularly in the case of Buddha and Outside, were pretty creditable records), Heathen ends up sounding the worst bits of all of them amalgamated: There is no Strangers When We Meet, no Bleeds Like a Craze, no Hallo Spaceboy, no I'm Afraid of Americans - just a melody-less wash of half-finished ideas and cornball lyrics.

But it's given me an idea: Hey, David, if you're reading, here's your next LP - it's a greatest hits, 1986 -2000.
Track listing: Dead Man Walking, Telling Lies, the Heart's Filthy Lesson, Under the God, Betty Wrong, Little Wonder, Hallo Spaceboy, Strangers When We Meet, the Buddha of Suburbia, Shopping for Girls, Bleeds Like a Craze, Black Tie White Noise, South Horizon, Tuesday's Child....

Hmm, maybe THAT is the album we've been waiting for?

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Label: Sony
Artist: David Bowie
Release Date: November 12, 2002

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