First Appeared at The Music Box, February 2003, Volume 10, #2
Written by John Metzger
Ever since David Bowie took his music public, heís been obsessed with revisiting his past. His last album Hours dove straight into the heart of his early folk-oriented days and updated them for the new millennium. His latest effort Heathen marks his first collaboration with Columbia Records, and offers a similar treatment of his back catalog by folding his folk period into his more atmospheric excursions from the late í70s. This isnít all that surprising, of course, when one takes note that the album also features the reunion of Bowie with producer Tony Visconti, who helped him shepherd in both remarkable eras.
Where Hours was an easily accessible masterpiece, however, Heathen takes a bit more work to get oneís arms around. Upon doing so, unfortunately, one is left ó quite justifiably ó with the feeling that Bowie is simply mining his days gone by for future stock gains. Where he once stood on the fringes of the rock world and pointed to its future, he now covers himself (along with The Pixies, Neil Young, and Legendary Stardust Cowboy), and thatís a real shame. Yet, itís also not necessarily a bad thing, given he spent the bulk of the í80s and part of the í90s producing little worth savoring.
Despite all of this, Heathen is still a rather remarkable effort. After all, who knows Bowie better than Bowie, and throughout the album, he smashes the puzzle pieces of his career apart and reassembles them time and time again as only he is capable. The disc opens with heavenly strains of the Low-like Sunday, as Bowieís voice drifts in anti-gravity bliss before the band comes in full-force; Slip Away delves into Space Oddityís grandiose folk, affixing it with electronic overtones; on, Slow Burn, Pete Townshend reprises his guest spot from the Scary Monstersí sessions, and the resulting track sounds like a lost outtake; and the one-two punch of sunny hope on Everyone Says ĎHií and Better Future offer a modern take on Hunky Dory blended with pure í60s pop.
As the songs on Heathen begin to string together, one is tossed about amidst its loosely knit thread of a spiritual quest for meaning in a godless culture. No matter that our god is now money or that this is something for which Bowie has become quite good at striving. In the end, and despite its regurgitations, Heathen is another artistic endeavor in a career that has been full of them. Thatís all you need to really know.
Heathen is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box