The pretty things are going to hell....
Released on 21 September 1999
Running time 47:06
After the diversification into dance music experimentation that was "Earthling", two years later, Bowie, thankfully, in my view, ditched the "beats per minute" and returned with this mainly melodic, ethereal, introspective album. He still employs programmed drums and bass guitar as opposed to a conventional band, but it often doesn't sound like it. Initially, they recorded it with a "Diamond Dogs" guitar backing, which guitarist Reeves Gabrels much preferred, but in the end Bowie went for a more slick, contemporary sound. That was a shame, I would have liked to have head the original version.
1. Thursday's Child
2. Something In The Air
4. If I'm Dreaming My Life
6. What's Really Happening
7. The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell
8. New Angels Of Promise
9. Brilliant Adventure
10. The Dreamers
It kicks off with the airy, breathy "Thursday's Child", which, although it appears to use programmed drums has a fetching melody and a killer bass line, which is also synthesised but actually sounds authentic. The same sound features on the relaxed and chilled-out intro to "Something In The Air" - a nonchalantly appealing and typically Bowie song. This album, far more than the previous two, sounds what I imagine a David Bowie album twenty-odd years on from the mid/late seventies should sound like. I much prefer it to either "Earthling" or "1.Outside", although there are many who would not agree with me. "Survive" is, according to Bowie himself, very much written using similar structures to those used on "Hunky Dory" in the early seventies. I am sure he is correct, but I can't detect it myself. It sounds very much of its time. A bit of "Starman" style morse code guitar creeps in, however. "If I'm Dreaming My Life" is sombre and introspective and probably a bit too long. It is considerably darker and bleaker than the material so far.
"Seven" brings us back to a lighter mood, however, with a "Hunky Dory" style acoustic guitar intro, but that is as far as that tenuous link goes. For me, the material is not really reminiscent of any earlier era. It is Bowie as he was in 1999. It is music contemporary to its time. "What's Really Happening" is a powerful, industrial-sounding rock number with a big drum sound and some "Heroes"-style guitar. "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" is a strong, riffy guitar-driven rock number, probably my favourite on the album. Bowie's vocal is deep and confident on this one too.
"New Angels Of Promise" starts with a Japanese-sounding intro and has lots of echoes of "Sons Of The Silent Age" in its deep, resonant vocals. "Brilliant Adventure" is an infectious, eastern-sounding instrumental which has always reminded me of the theme to "Midnight Express". Again, it sounds a lot like the instrumental stuff from "Heroes", like "Moss Garden". This relatively short album ends with the melancholy, sonorous "The Dreamers", which is full of strong, powerful, scratchy guitar riffs and slightly distorted vocals. The album was quite harshly treated by critics at the time, which was somewhat unfair. It is not that bad at all.