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Bowie Hints at Past While Looking Ahead

David Bowie - Heathen
(ISO / Columbia)
3 1/2 Stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 23, 2002

David Bowie

By Tony Bonyata

"Nothing remains...everything has changed," croons David Bowie on the opening strains of his latest album, Heathen. But with a collection of delightful covers and new self-penned numbers that ever so lightly touch down on periods throughout his four decade career, there is still a lot that remains the same. And thankfully so.
Produced by Tony Visconti, who steered much of Bowie's strongest works in the '70s, Heathen is a true return-to-classic-Bowie-form. Not that his recent efforts haven't been successes. His 1995 album Outside, saw Bowie reuniting with old pal Brian Eno for a challenging, if not somewhat disturbing, work of art, while 1997's Earthling found Bowie pilfering the hot sounds of the day (drum 'n' bass and techno) for refreshing results. On his last foray Hours he seemed to pine for the past a bit more, though, as he nostalgically revisited his sounds from Hunky Dory and Heroes, to pleasing, if not slightly mixed, results. But on his 25th studio recording, Bowie finds a happy meeting ground as he lightly flavors the direction of his own future with the sounds of his own past.
Instead of trying to clumsily cop the sounds of his best work, Bowie instead merely hints at them on Heathen, which leaves a bittersweet longing for his '70s work, as well as making a strong affirmation that this 55-year old rock legend still has something left to say.
The ghosts of Bowie's Eno-influenced work (Low, Heroes and Lodger) ethereally float through the trance-like "Sunday" as well as "I Would Be Your Slave." He goes on to unabashedly revisit the grand Thespian-meets-English nursery rhyme whimsy of his mid-'60s work on "Slip Away," even adding the wonderfully cheesy flavorings of the Stylophone - a cheap electronic instrument which he used on his 1969 number "Space Oddity."
Incorporating the guitar talents of Pete Townsend on "Slow Burn," which finds Townsend's burning leads hauntingly reminiscent of Robert Fripp's on Scary Monsters, and the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl on a jacked-up cover Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You," Bowie still shows that he knows how to expertly cherry-pick his axemen (Need we be reminded of Mick Ronson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, among countless others?)
And speaking of covers - something that he's better than just about anybody at turning into his own animals - Bowie not only takes Young's early track to a new plateau, but, with a hankering to still slip into that slinky skirt, he faithfully covers The Pixies' snotty "Cactus," pleading to his lover to send her sweat-soaked dress for him to don. One of the album's highlights is a cover from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy (who's name Bowie lifted for his early '70s Ziggy character). "I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship" features frenetic beats and dark swirling synths as a detached Bowie delivers one of his coolest, sexiest vocals to date.
While much of Heathen may seem to reference his own past, with new numbers like "5:15 The Angels Have Gone," which features a beautiful, sweeping chorus, and the hopeful number "Everyone Says 'Hi'," which incorporates a bit of Billy Corgan's melancholic melody, Bowie is still an artist who keeps looking forward.

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