Heathen – David Bowie

2002 – Columbia

Rock/ Alternative

David Bowie’s twenty-second studio album Heathen marks another turning point in the artist’s long and winding career. On this record we can hear him moving away from the kooky industrial music he made in the nineties and returning to a more traditional rock style, but with still with some obviously Bowie flourishes.

Sunday is a great beginning to the album with its slow flowing expressiveness echoing the melancholy of Station to Station, but with a decidedly modern feeling. The second track, a cover of Black Francis’s Cactus, also echoes the early Bowie incarnations in its beat driven rock melodies, but there is a certain kind of resigned maturity. It’s almost as if Bowie realized on Heathen that he was no longer the pinnacle of youth culture and was now a wearied survivor of the brutal music scene. In my mind this album marks the beginning of the kind of music that we hear on later records like Reality and ‘Hours’…

Slow Burn has one of the greatest guitar introductions I’ve ever heard followed by an intense wandering through a sort of matter of fact sadness and the cover of Neil Young’s I’ve Been Waiting For You injects the album with a much needed dose of pounding rock. Really this album has it all.

I would say, however, that, while it does have a reasonably impressive scope of music, Heathen does tend to drag a bit in its propensity for wallowing in the mire of despair. To me this overwhelming feeling of depressiveness doe get a little old after a while and I would like to have heard some more slightly upbeat/angry tracks like Cactus, or I’ve Been Waiting For You, but I guess you can’t have everything.

All things considered I would say that Heathen is a very good album. It’s not mind-bogglingly great, but it is very good. It marks an important point in the illustrious career of one of my favourite rock artists and for that it is well worth a listen, not to mention the fact the all of the songs are well performed and composed with great skill and care. But, even after all of this praise I have to say that it’s not really up there with my favourite records, or even my favourite Bowie records.

RATING: ***/5

David Bowie’s cover of the Frank Black song ‘Cactus’ from the album ‘Heathen’


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