Album review

David Bowie : Heathen
ISO / Columbia

David Bowie : HeathenRemarkably unscathed by any need to dress things up, Heathen takes some serious listening to get to its point. There's very little present to dull or gloss the songs and the buzz word in the studio seems to have been 'anti-production'.
    Creating a beauty in its barrenness, Tony Visconti once more proves himself to be one of the best producers / midwives in the business by getting to the heart of what matters and delivering it into the world as the world intended it to be.

Heathen is a damned hard album to get into, and I have to admit to rubbishing Slow Burn as the worst possible choice of single to pull off it. But hindsight being what it is, the decision makes sense with repeated listening. Simmering with subliminal ethos, it's a fine track that an outing on TOTP couldn't do justice to. Passing listeners will get nothing from it, but those willing to go the distance within the confines of the album will be richly rewarded.
    The fantastic Slip Away is a semi-bombastic piece of machinery that simpers on the borderline of another world, whilst I Would Be Your Slave is culled from an imaginary arthouse soundtrack album.
    Then there is The Angels Have Gone - Heathen's tour de force - an example in how to write lyrics and melody that mean far more than their individual parts - an art sadly neglected for those of us brought up in the days when it was the norm.

With the era of The Spiders and Diamond Dogs never to be repeated, Heathen is as close as Bowie has been in recent years to revisiting this territory. The reason Heathen is hard on the ears initially is because its delivery is just so unexpected . . . but to expect anything less from the Duke was dumb.
    Heathen is as close to brilliant as I've heard in a long time. Flawed genius is always hard to resist and Heathen is just that. With it, Bowie has surrendered his best work of the last twenty years, and where he goes from here doesn't really matter. There will always be somebody listening.

Bonus disc
A Moby remix of Sunday that has Moby written all over it, and A Better Future remixed by Air - also with Moby written all over it - are left wanting a little, with neither being that far removed from the versions resident on the album.
    The bonus disc is rescued by those nuggets of the last millennium; Conversation Piece and Panic In Detroit, both of which live up to expectation, with Panic in particular undergoing a decent makeover. I'm not sure what the point is though. I would have been happier with four (twelve string) acoustic versions of Heathen material, namely Everyone Says Hi, Slow Burn, The Angels . . . and Cactus. Get on with it then . . .

:: Sion Smith

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