on 22 June 2002
One review of Heathen said that every time Bowie releases a new album, it is heralded by critics the world over as Bowie's return to form, since the doldrums of the mid '80s pop sellout, only for months later the critics to realise that it's actually just as bad as all the others...
This, his first album since the tuneful but dissapointing Hours..., has had exactly the same treatment, except that this time, the cliche that is "His best since Scary Monsters" is entirely justified, beacause with Heathen, Bowie has managed to rediscover three things: his unique ability to construct a wonderful tune, his lyrical inventivity and his talent at making a beautifully flowing album.
Sunday, the album's opener, is an incredibly pretentious and majestic song, which builds slowly to an incredible climax. A wonderful opening song. In Slip Away, the former Thin White Duke has made one of his best songs in years. Emotionally delivered and with a beautiful tune to boot, this is perhaps the albums highlight. Other great songs are I Would Be Your Slave (a paranoid and moving love ballad) and Everyone Says Hi (a little ditty with a catchy tune which works brilliantly). But Bowie isn't just fantastic with his own work, and on Heathen, he turns his talents towards the work of three other artists, covering the Pixie's 'Cactus', The Legendary Stardust Cowboy's 'I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spacecraft' and Neil Young's 'I've Been Waiting For You'. All are exectued to perfection, and Cactus, a song which suits Bowie down to the ground, is particularly good.
In truth, Heathen doesn't have a bad track, the closest being Afraid, and in the final song, Heathen (The Rays), Bowie has made yet another masterpiece to add to his repertoire. The opening single, Slow Burn, is Bowie's best single release in years, with the legendary Pete Townshed giving a guitar performance filled with verve, enthusiasm and energy. Overall, Heathen is an album made and executed wonderfully. Much of this has to do with the return of produced Tony Visconti, who famously produced many of Bowie's greatest albums (including the aforementioned Scary Monsters...), and who's talents with string arrangements are highly in evidence, especially in I Would Be Your Slave and Afraid. However, more important than anything else, Bowie now sounds like he cares about and feels for his music again. His voice has matured beautifully, and instead of slipping quietly into mediocrity as many artists of his generation have done, Bowie continues to surprise and delight.
A return to form? Most definitely.
on 14 June 2002
'Heathen' is by far the most interesting Bowie album since 'Scary Monsters' (1980), and, in my view, it surpasses the latter, which is often used as a benchmark to judge Bowie's subsequent output. The sound is excellent with lots of interesting musical effects and textures. Best of all is Bowie's voice which is strong and emotional, evident on the best songs on the album, such as 'Sunday' (the Moby remix is even more powerful than Bowie's own), 'Slip Away', 'Slow Burn', 'I would be Your Slave', '5.15: The Angels Have Gone', and the title track. It is fantastic to have a Bowie album that is simply so damn interesting. 'Slip Away' finds Bowie in Proustian mode in search of lost time and creating memory; 'Slow Burn' is truly awesome with electrifying guitar from Pete Townshend which serves to musically capture the beautiful desperation of the song; 'Afraid' intriguingly captures the songwriting spirit of mid 1960s' Bowie and yet sounds authentically 'now'; 'I Would be Your Slave' is Bowie at his sublime best and is quite remarkable, only Bowie could write and perform such a song; the title track 'Heathen' is both beautiful and sublime in turn and could have run on musically for a further five or ten minutes; these are just some of the highlights from a glorious and magnificent album. If the album has a downside it is, for me, the inclusion of the three covers, which seem without real point and distract from the quality of Bowie's own songwriting. Bowie does them well but they are not 'Bowie'. I would have preferred the inclusion of tracks like 'Jackson Wood' which, for reasons known only to himself, he left off the album in favour of the covers. Bowie is best when he is being Bowie - the difference can be heard in the difference between the cover of the Neil Young love song 'I've Been Waiting for You'(which I find a mess) and the great authentic Bowie love song 'I Would Be Your Slave'. For anyone who likes Bowie this is a real treat of an album and has a real majesty and integrity to it. It reveals all the principal altercating and paradoxical sides of Bowie: at once naive and innocent, dark and desirous, brooding and alienated, hopeful and expectant. An album for our complex and troubled times, an album for believers and unbelievers in the past and the future. As his 25th studio album, this record also finally reveals an important truth: that in spite of all the so-called and celebrated 'ch ch ch ch changes' that have characterised his musical odyssey, there is an 'essential' David Bowie, one that is singular, unique, and incomparable, and that is marked by an often overlooked emotional sublimity and intensity as well as musical experimentation. Bowie has been searching his soul and seeking to connect with the world for a long time and this is an overriding constancy of his work to date. It could be his leitmotif. Nothing's gonna change his world.
on 13 June 2002
I am going to break a trend here, rather than compare this to the 'good ol'days of Scary Monsters and Ziggy, I am going to say that 'Heathen' is unlike any other Bowie album.
At first, the songs seem almost gentle; beautifully melodic with soul-wrenching harmonies. Then, once the initial curiosity settles, and the meaning behind some of the songs starts filtering through, its impact is staggering.
David Bowie always was a deep thinker. Never was that more apparent than with this album. One gets the feeling that becoming a father again has really struck home. 'Better Future' speaks for itself, whilst 'Slip Away' harks wistfully back to memories of a world that was once simple.
The title track is undoubtedly the most powerful, written before September 11th 2001, yet disturbingly prophetic.
It's not all deep thinking - the light relief is there in the form of 'Everyone Says Hi', clearly written for little Alexandria, (yet nowhere near as nauseating as 'kooks'), and a wonderfully quirky cover of 'I took a trip on a Gemini Spaceship', a song penned by 'The Legendary Stardust Cowboy'. Legend has it that they both shared the same record label in the early seventies, and David Bowie stole the 'Stardust' part of the Cowboy's name for Ziggy.. Years later, Bowie visited the aforementioned artist's homepage, and found a rather miffed comment saying that as Bowie had never paid him anything for using his name, the least he could do was sing one of his songs.. The rest is history.
'I Would Be Your Slave' deals with spirituality and the need to have faith in something, even if the ideal of 'God' is imperfect.
'Cactus' has just the right level of malevolent sexuality; it could almost have been written for Bowie, and it sounds as though it's going to be a stunner live..
It's well worth spending a few extra pennies to get the limited edition, if only for the wonderful treatment of 'Conversation Piece'. The 'Air' mix of 'Better Future' is interesting, and equally as good as the unmixed version, as is Moby's treatment of 'Sunday'
Perhaps with the exception of 1.Outside, this is the best album that David Bowie has produced for many years; it places you on an apocalyptic knife edge of desperation; forlorn hope for the future balanced perfectly with longing for the stability and comfort of a potted ham and ginger beer past that exists somewhere in our collective subconsciousness.
Buy it. Definitely. You won't be disappointed.
This review is exclusively about the 2015 gatefold - not the album or its music.
Please be mindful that when you open the packaging, the gatefold may be glued together so it can't be opened, that the inner bag may be glued into the album artwork and have may to be cut open to release the vinyl, that the vinyl may be warped, that the record jumps and that the artwork is washed out and poor.
It is one of the worst album re-releases I have ever seen. It is appalling.
on 1 June 2002
"The Best Since Scary Monsters" has become a worn out cliché to describe the Dame's upcoming albums for the entire last decade. The havoc started with (in my humble opinion) highly underappreciated Black Tie White Noise in 1993, co-incidentally sinking its indie label Savage Records, through a magnificent (possibly Bowie's best ever) work but a commercial disaster The Buddha Of Suburbia later the same year, the controversial "young" sound of 1.Outside and Earthling (1995 and 1997 respectively), right to the boredom of hours... in 1999. All these albums had one common feature - they all were hailed as "return to the form" and "rediscovered vintage Bowie". The same, unsurprisingly, is said to Heathen, Bowie's newest offering. Is Heathen different?
Despite the scepticism of certain fans, and the reluctance of musical press to rate any new material from Bowie above average, I would say, yes, it is.
One obvious answer is Bowie's reunion with his long-time collaborator Tony Visconti, last seen on Scary Monsters, and, as die-hard fans will know, on the Placebo single Without You I'm Nothing and The Rustic Overtones' Viva Nueva. Visconti's string arrangements in Heathen are truly superb - ranging from the dark, intense and enigmatic I Would Be Your Slave to deceptively jolly Everyone Says 'Hi'. Yet, I believe, Mr. Visconti is not the only reason making Heathen exceptional.
Those who have followed Bowie's work during last three years will know that there was one more album between hours... and Heathen. The album was tentatively called Toy, and contained polished rerecordings of Bowie's early songs, an attempt, according to him, to finish what was started over thirty years ago. Then-Bowie's label Virgin, possibly scared by the imagery of Laughing Gnomes and Rubber Bands did not consider this idea that brilliant, and the album suddenly disappeared even before finalizing plans for the release. However, two tracks from Toy were reworked for Heathen. Afraid, a live favourite, is on par with such rockers as Suffragette City and Fame. Slip Away, Bowie's homage to the bizarre TV show, witnesses some of Bowie' best composing and some of his mot cryptic lyrics (even distorted further by the reviewers, thank you very much The Guardian). More tracks from Toy are being released as B-sides and other additional material, and should definitely be given due attention.
Next, come three covers that mostly provoke a love-or-hate relationship to the listener. In Cactus, a cover of The Pixies, David not only sounds naughtier than his multiple character in the Outside murder saga, but he also does almost all of the instruments on the track. I've Been Waiting For You, originally Neil Young's, is a look back to the Tin Machine era. The best of the three (or the worst, depending how you see it) is Legendary Stardust Cowboy's Gemini Spacecraft, a surreal cosmic love story, invoking the imagery of Bowie's alien personae without directly referencing to them. In addition, Bowie's vocals are so mellow and sexy, the track could easily be on Young Americans.
Heathen has everything a good album needs: an interesting, yet not intrusive or too in-your-face concept, very rich and deep melodic textures and wonderfully diverse vocals. Every new listen of Heathen brings a new discovery - whether it's a chord you did not hear before, subtle synthesizer effects or a pun in the lyrics. But in order to truly appreciate Heathen, one has to stop comparing it to Bowie's "classic" works. If you have Ziggy and Low engraved deep in your skin, Heathen will feel like a cup of two-day-old coffee.
on 8 August 2015
Has anyone had the same problem as me. When i recieved this i tried to take the record out only to discover the inner sleeve got stuck inside the cover as it appeared to have been placed there before the adheasive holding the outer cover had time to dry. I managed to pull the record out and found a lot of adhesive stuck to the outer rim of the record itself. I ordered a replacement which i recieved within twelve hours (thanks Amazon) and the same thing again, only this time the adhesive only caught on the edge of the inner sleeve. So this time i was able to play the record. I am not impressed the quality as it was like listening to an old 78rpm. The cover won't fit properly in a PVC gatefold protective sleeve as the cover was manufactured too big for one. I would have expected the Music On Vinyl people to have made this as there previous productions of Bowie records were fantastic. I am a big Bowie fan but i'm dissapointed i paid nearly £40 for something I won't bother playing as i have it on CD.
on 8 March 2013
I was 22 when this came out and I've had 11 years to digest it, as well as learning more about the themes of this album as you go through life.
I know at the time it was referred to as some kind of come back or return to form, but it didn't feel like that. Hours was only 3 years previous and he was headlining Glastonbury in 2000, so it was not really like he's been away for that long, and it's a long time since Tin Machine and Never let me down. The 90's produced a lot of great work from Bowie, if not resulting in a 'perfect' album. But then he never really did albums that were flawless and there's a very good and important reason for that.
Bowie isn't about just delivering run of the mill songs that keep mums' happy while they drive to ASDA (that's why god invented Coldplay), so you have to expect to be challenged and often taken to different places, musically, that you didn't always want to go. Earthling is a good example, but a lot of the times it's rewarding, and it's never dull.
Therefore Heathen is also an album that is perhaps not flawless too, but it's damn close. You have to go back to Outside for an album that competes with heathen, and before Outside you're talking 70's albums before you find one that competes. Personally I think it's bloated with 3 covers and I could lose A better future without shedding many tears, but the remaining songs and (admittedly the cover of Gemini Spaceship) are very very good indeed.
It's not always a 'fun' greatest hits party album, as the album title suggests it deals with some serious issues, but when the time and mood is right this album can be as rewarding as any other. Given the scoring system of 5 stars, it's difficult to rate this accurately. Is this the best Bowie album? No. Is it close? Yes. I can only give it 4 stars for that reason, but as an album it's in the top 5 Bowie albums.
With the imminent release of The Next Day, this may change as I think The Next Day could better Heathen. It's too early to tell yet though.
on 18 June 2002
If this review section were limited to just three words about each item, I would use the following to describe this new Bowie effort: Just simply breathtaking.
I was hesitant. Like the other reviewers, the cliche of "the best thing since Scary Monsters" and a "real return to form" initially made me run for the hills screaming out for Bowie to become the cult hero that he was in the 90s, though the chart hits deserted him.
I honestly believed it would be something of a stylistic progression of 'hours...' and having heard the first single release, Slow Burn, I expected a wholly different listening experience. That track oozes remnants of Scary Monsters tracks Teenage Wildlife and Because You're Young, most notable with respect to the latter in Pete Townshend's guest appearance on guitar.
However, each and every track is, in itself, a masterpiece. Believe me, you may need to listen to it twice to appreciate it all, but Heathen really does deliver the best album since Scary Monsters. No, seriously!
Sunday, the first track, is a Bowie re-write of much of the style, content and vocal tones of his recent version of Nature Boy from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Yet, it's A Better Future, Everyone Says 'Hi' and all three cover versions that really engage.
As ever, the debut single from this album is the weaker track from it, but on repeated listening, it does grow on you, even if the first verse's lack of rhyming does affect its listenability.
The Ltd Ed Digipak with bonus Remix CD is only really worth it for the re-recording of Conversation Piece which is far superior to the original recording made back in 1970. The inclusion of the hard-to-find remake Panic In Detroit will enthuse those who missed out on the Rykodisc/EMI reissues of Scary Monsters in the early 90s which included this track. Is it me, or is there an even more palpable parallel between Heathen and THAT album of 1980? Hmmmm.
It's a shame it's taken Dame David so long to return to tuneful, sharp, simplistic, moving, witty and ultimately rewarding music. It was hard living down the shame of the 80s sell-out. It was tough seeing the genuine excellence of much of the tracks on Black Tie White Noise and 1.Outside go virtually unnoticed by the public. The sacrilege of record buyers missing out on The Buddha of Suburbia will eat my core til the day I die. Even Earthling and 'hours...' did little to restore faith, no matter how many 50th birthdays and comparisons to Hunky Dory they received. This album will be looked back on in a few years as THE definitive post-Let's Dance release.
Last week, Bowie revealed that he was happy with his musical direction and was startled at how good his writing is at the moment. This is the key. Bowie's found his way through the wilderness. I hope the enthusiasm and sheer brilliance of this album leads him on to do some of the greatest music he has yet to give.
on 13 November 2014
I love this record, been a Bowie fan since 1972 when I was 15 years old.
Shame it's not spread over two LP's. There is too much music crammed onto one disc, so the sound is a compressed and the music is quieter than it should be. So the small amount of crackle is enhanced. A missed opportunity speaking as an audiophile. Otherwise a five star album, one of his best.
on 10 June 2002
It may not be the world changing form of the 1970s albums, but Heathen celebrates Bowie's return to true songwriting form. Deeply incisive about the present atmosphere of not only music but world issues.
Bowie's subject matters have however not changed but instead he writes with the dark thoughts and fears not uncovered so clearly since 1980's Scary Monsters. It seems that the joy of a new child has coincided with the world going to hell and Bowie is all to aware what a sad state of affairs this is.
The album is musically the closest Bowie has come to the classic sound of Scary Monsters, not unconnected to that album's producer Tony Visconti's return to the producers chair.
Most importantly it is Bowie's most instant material for years, without sacrificing any artistic qualities. Tracks like "I Would Be Your Slave" and "Everyone Says Hi" sound like readymade singles but with a classic sound of longevity that Bowie is best remembered for.
Judging by this album, the next time Bowie ventures into a studio the result may well be the best music he has ever made.