Monday, 20 August 2018

David Bowie - Heathen (2002)


Released June 2002

This is an album that included three cover versions of other artists' songs and an upbeat, lively ambience, utilising a lot of drum machine rhythms (far more than on "Reality" for example, which used more "proper" drums). Personally, I prefer the latter, but this is certainly not a bad album, containing some interesting material that demands several listens.


1. Sunday
2. Cactus
3. Slip Away
4. Slow Burn
5. Afraid
6. I've Been Waiting For You
7. I Would Be Your Slave
8. I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship
9. 5.15 The Angels Have Gone
10. Everyone Says "Hi"
11. A Better Future
12. Heathen (The Rays)

The haunting "Sunday" is a low-key beginning with a percussion riff that sounds as if was taken from the title track of "Station To Station" (the train sounding bit). There are other addictively weird electronic noises and Bowie's voice is sonorously haughty. After about four minutes it suddenly develops a pounding rock beat and then finishes, just when it was getting interesting. The powerful drum beat is continued in "Cactus", which has an insistent rock beat which is almost "dance" in its metronomic consistency of rhythm. An acoustic guitar leads the track, however and the lyrics are somewhat bizarre. Apparently it is a cover of a song by The Pixies, something of which I was not aware (or of the original song, which I have just listened to, and enjoyed, although I prefer Bowie's version). "Slip Away" is a melodic, grandiose song delivered in a sort of "Space Oddity" anthem type of fashion. It has "space" references and mentions in the chorus of "Uncle Floyd" who was a US children's TV character (another thing of which I had, or indeed have, no knowledge).

It is pretty much a consistently expressed opinion that the "Heroes"-esque "Slow Burn" is the favourite track on the album for most. It is mine too. It builds up magnificently, with a cutting lead guitar, great bass line and intoxicating rhythm that keeps your attention. It has hints, for me of "Teenage Wildlife" from "Scary Monsters" (that other notable "Heroes" re-write). I have read some commenters say that there are vague references to 9/11 (which took place during the recording sessions for this album) on this track and on other parts of the album. Personally, I don't pick up on them at all and indeed, Bowie has stated that none of the songs relate to that event. Maybe people are looking to hard for something that just isn't there. Either way, its a stunning track. Best on the album.

"Afraid" is pretty good too - lively, fast-paced track with some string orchestration in the backing and an energetic vocal from Bowie. I can see why it is often considered a bit of a throwaway after "Slow Burn" but I quite like it. The bass is superb too. "I've Been Waiting For You" is another good one, a cover from Neil Young's debut album, with a powerful guitar sound (more so than Young's, even) and strong hook. The rhythmic opening to "I Would Be Your Slave" is extremely catchy and the vocal is a typical Bowie one - instantly recognisable in that sort of "Absolute Beginners" yearning style.

"I Took a Trip On A Gemini Spaceship " sounds like something from the dance-influenced "Earthling" album, with that frantic, synthesised drum machine sound. It is vibrant, however, and actually a lot of fun. Almost as if Bowie is parodying himself. It is, however,  a cover of something by "The Legendary Stardust Cowboy" who I have blissfully never heard of. (I checked it out, it's phenomenally awful!) "5.15: The Angels Have Gone" is a beguiling song with a totally addictive drum rhythm and a plaintive vocal. It does eventually kick in to a massive, heavy chorus before quietening down again into its inventive rhythm.  It is probably the most experimental, adventurous track on the album.

I find "Everyone Says "Hi" to be somewhat twee, however. It has a good hook, though, with some "way-wah-wah-ooh" backing vocals straight off "Absolute Beginners". I like "A Better Future" with its chant-like refrain of "I demand a better future..." and the album ends with the plaintive, haunting "Heathen (The Rays)". Not as good as "Reality" is my opinion, but an album worthy of repeated listens.

PS - On the extended version of this album are some excellent bonus tracks - the rocking re-makes of  the sixties tracks "You've Got A Habit Of Leaving" (which I love) and "Baby Loves That Way"; "Safe"; "Shadow Man", "When The Boys Come Marching Home", "Wood Jackson" and also re-recordings of "Conversation Piece" and "Panic In Detroit". All these tracks are well worth checking out.


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