Earthling

David Bowie

Virgin, 1997

http://www.davidbowie.com

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/29/2008

After the slow and somber Outside, David Bowie’s 1997 album Earthling does a complete 180, absolutely bubbling with activity. This time Bowie delved into the underground rave culture that was very popular in the mid 90’s, giving the album a heavy Prodigy-style techno/drum 'n bass/jungle influence.

For this reason it was a controversial release that polarized his fans. Some saw Earthling as the most tasteless work yet of a trendwhore who would do anything to regain mainstream clout, while others saw it as a long-awaited, energized comeback by an artist who had lost his way. You can confidently place me in the latter category.

Admittedly I had concerns before reviewing the disc -- the last time I listened to it, back in 2003, it was already astoundingly dated-sounding as a result of the very brief popularity of the trendy rave sounds it’s inundated with, and at the time that distracted me from the songs. Listening to it today, as far as the production is concerned, the album has aged far more poorly than any other in Bowie’s extensive discography, but at the core of all the fancy production tricks and mountains of electronic effects lie a batch of really solidly written pop songs. I’d be willing to say his best ones since Let’s Dancemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 .

Earthling is damn good -- this is the first time Bowie has actually sounded somewhat edgy since probably Scary Monsters, which, like Earthling, also reflected a popular musical trend of its day (new wave) coupled with catchy melodies. This album succeeds in every way where his previous effort, Outside, tried but failed, not just in terms of more interesting, busy arrangements and melodies, but also sheer energy. Most of the songs on Earthling move along at a brisk pace, filled to the brim with really odd, captivating noises, and have a great danceable quality to them. Dare I say that it’s actually really fun to listen to? Fun is not an adjective easily associated with Mr. Bowie.

"Little Wonder" for example is a very good opener -- catchy and powerful, exploding with heavy beats and a poppy vocal melody, though at six and a half minutes could use some editing. Other highlights include the mid-tempo space rock and eccentric, robotic harmony vocals of “Looking For Satellites”, the fast, aggressive “Dead Man Walking” that would almost sound like a KMFDM song if not for the vintage Bowie pop hook, and "Seven Years In Tibet" -- a moody, atmospheric track with sleazy bass rhythms, heavy guitars playing odd riffs, horn blasts, eerie synths and xylophone taps! Solid stuff.

Perhaps the most well known song is “I’m Afraid Of Americans” which Bowie co-wrote with Brian Eno, and is also famous for a remixed version supplied by none other than Nine Inch Nails creator Trent Reznor, who also co-starred in the popular music video. I love the slowly pulsating rhythms, distorted vocals and thunderous chorus of this song.

The only issue I had in the past with Earthling was the aforementioned really dated drum 'n bass beats prevalent on nearly all the songs -- you know, those skippy, hyper-active snare drum lines that sound like a squirrel beating on a bunch of soup cans. They pop up all over the place and used to annoy me somewhat, but being a decade removed from the peak years of that style, they’ve adopted a nostalgic charm to my ears. Thankfully, even if you’re a person whose age prevents you from relating to that mid 90s scene and style, there's loads of other interesting stuff happening in the music to focus on, like all the moody, explosive synths and surprisingly heavy, mean sounding bursts of distorted guitar sitting comfortably next to Bowie’s finest pop melodies in years.

It was the inspired, powerful music of Earthling that finally allowed David Bowie at fifty years of age to re-connect with a younger audience after years of pumping out boring old man crap.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A


Comments

At this point in time, Bowie was doing a lot of accoustic gigs. A lot os the songs from Earthling have popped up played with just guitars and they are really amazing songs. They are almost unrecognisable from the originals. This album was just another one of Bowie's strange ideas that really split people down the middle. You either love it or hate it. I Love It.








© 2008 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin, and is used for informational purposes only.