This years Bowie?
World weary, fearful, pensive, tortured by the times he finds himself commenting on. 1999's model was reflective on 'hous...', this years Bowie looks ahead, with a trademark curiosity that has been a trait of his throughout his fantastic voyage of 55 years.
HEATHEN may not be his greatest album, but its certainly one of his most intriguing. The opener, SUNDAY, seems to predict some kind of barren, apocalyptic future, Bowie's vocal delivered with such finality and certainty it cannot help but frighten the listener. It's a vision, not a prediction. CACTUS is a painful, turbulent storm of angst and longing sang through gritted teeth. A considerable improvement on The Pixies original.
Stylophone tinged SLIP AWAY is uplifting enough but it's the next track, SLOW BURN, which commands respect. A catchy, mid-paced rocker which features the crafty noodlings of Pete Townshend on guitar and a Bowie vocal that scrapes the paint from the ceiling. Think 'Strangers When We Meet' dates 'Teenage Wildlife' and you're close.
AFRAID soars out of the speakers at a fair old clip, although Bowie sings underwhelmingly throughout. The drawn out whining of the chorus marks what could have been the best track on the entire album. Still, a notable improvement on last years work in progress version and a pleasing track nonetheless. Neil Young's I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU is given a splattering of grunge, with gusto, by Dave Grohl's jagged guitar and beats up Young's attempt with a pretty big stick. Meanwhile, I WOULD BE YOUR SLAVE plods on promisingly with some gorgeous violins until no chorus comes along to satisfy its potential.
Fun, funky yet flawed I TOOK A TRIP ON A GEMINI SPACESHIP sounds like a leftover from the soundtrack to 'Lost In Space', conjuring up memories of Bowie's drum and bass fix 'Earthling'. It's a dramatic reading of the 'Legendary Stardust Cowboy's' weird and wonderful song, but its place on the album is questionable considering the wealth of material Bowie could have put on the album in its place. Forthcoming b sides SHADOW MAN and WOOD JACKSON would seem wiser choices.
5:15 THE ANGELS HAVE GONE is a jazzy piece of mantra and contains a laid back, playful riff that Bob Marley would have killed for. The possible gem of the album is, however, the splendid EVERYONE SAYS HI. Pure pop and pure gold, a lovely song that would surely warm the most frosty of hearts.
A BETTER FUTURE has its heart in the right place, as Bowie demands an improved world for his daughter to grow old in. He articulates the 'sense of doubt' that permeate our times in an engaging and honest enough way, but such social commentaries aren't suited to Bowie, and the music that accompanies his pleas is shamefully naff. It's 1987 again, 'Shining Star' smoking funny green cigars, demanding world peace at a Woodstock near you.
The album closes with HEATHEN (THE RAYS) which builds up wonderfully yet cries out for a trace of variation that could breathe life into its charred galleons. It's a potential epic, but sadly for us all the towering climax just isn't there. Maybe thats an intended irony. This is Bowie after all.
Heathen is easily one of Bowie's finest albums since 1980's Scary Monsters, and with a little more melody it could easily have been one of his finest ever. As it stands it's a 'good' album, not a 'great' one. He isn't firing on all cylinders, but, as always, it's well worth hearing him try.
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