Heathen isn't a return to form. It's a continuation of all the marvellous things that...
Chris Jones 2002-11-20
Well, you've probably already read in the press of how Heathen is a return to form due to the reunion with the producer most closely linked to Bowie; Tony Visconti. Such idle banter holds no water in these parts. To put it bluntly, David Bowie's return to form began way back in about 1993 when he ditched faux rock band Tin Machine. Each album since has displayed the same eclectic, questing vibe that made him the world's favourite (and most commercial) art rocker back in the day. Heathen isn't a return to form. It's a continuation of all the marvellous things that we love about the man, and how many other 55 year-old rock stars can you say that about?
From the bubbling electronic undertow of the introduction to the first track "Sunday" one knows that this is sonically satisfying fare. Visconti's strengthisn't asmooth unifying approach that, say, Ken Scott brought to Hunky Dory, but an ability to stretch the artist and point them in new directions. As he said recently of guiding the mercurial Dame: "I'm one of the few people - possibly including Brian Eno - who can keep up with him, switch genres and roles very quickly. We have no holds barred."
Genres certainly get switched here. Comparisons are odious, but the aforementioned "Sunday" and "I Would Be Your Slave" exist in the wild melodramatic spaces that Scott Walker used to inhabit before he became so scary. Two cover versions; the Pixies' "Cactus" and Neil Young's lost classic "Ive Been Waiting For You" (with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl providing suitable six-stringed mayhem) both prove that DB's not losing his love of noise (or a good song). This is backed up by the first single "Slow Burn" which features some ridiculously truculent axe work from Pete Townshend. And that voice?...from emotive rumble to idiosyncratic yodel, the pipes are as distinctive as ever.
Moods also mix in varying degrees. "Slow Burn"s opening couplet: "Here shall we live in this terrible town, where the price for our eyes shall squeeze them tight like a fist" is incredibly forceful in its misery. However his follow-up to Hunky Dory's "Kooks", "Everyone Says Hi" is the chirpiest thing the man has done in years. In fact the overall feeling is of celebration and reconciliation despite the overall theme being that of the desolation of living in a Godless century. His shiny speed-thrill rendition of The Legendary Stardust Cowboy's "Gemini Spacecraft" is truly a return to the sci fi optimism of his earliest days.
With the man himself back in the UK soon to curate the Meltdown Festival on London's South Bank, dusting off the stage threads once more, and with Ziggy celebrating its 30th anniversary, this couldn't be a more serendipitous release. It bursts with a positively rude health. Everyone has at least one Bowie album they hold dear to their hearts. Who knows? This could be the one for you...