David Bowie - Heathen

As the blips and beeps of the analogue to digital transfer takes place on "Sunday", Bowie still tries to come to terms with the fact that he's a modern man in a world that refuses to change in any significant way. Sure your mobile phone may be smaller and there may be more TV Channels to watch but what really has changed. As Bowie croons "look for the cause or signs of life...its the beginning of nothing and nothing has changed" over a minimalistic haunting string arrangement and sparse random guitar attacks enters the voice of reason - an alien like figure thrust into the United Kingdom and now residing in New York Central he cuts a figure across the horizons.

Over recent years Bowie has been the subject of more negative news stories than I care to remember from his flirtations with drum & bass music through to his recent choice of line-up for the Meltdown Festival. It seems that whatever he does the press will always try to bring him down and it's worth noting that his drum and bass material still stood up on its own in the live arena as this journalist can testify to having seen the legendary Manchester Academy shows a few years back. "Heathen", his first album for Columbia, mixes the best of both worlds seeing a return to the classically written songs Bowie is famous for, while at the same time still having traces of the technological meltdown of drum & bass.

Back with Visconti on production duties, the sweeping grandiose orchestral arrangements perfectly complement the lyrical channels Bowie has always maintained even throughout the more disastrous musical moments. "I Would Be Your Slave" with its subtle nuances on percussion and a tune not too far removed from Richard Ashcroft's "Song For Lovers" but still very much his own, and some of the most simplistically beautiful cello arrangements laid down on record. It's totally at odds with the song which follows, "Gemini Spacecraft", which is harsh, brutal and weighed down under the weight of his fascination with Space Oddities.

"Heathen" is return to form for Bowie and hopefully the likes of "Everyone Says Hi" and "A Better Future" will snare in the doubters who left him high and dry during his drum and bass phase. Its an album so typical in the sense that it mixes up classic rock & roll with the subtle influence of the modern age in the percussion and synth arrangements. When he hits the stage at numerous live appearances over the summer for once we won't all be dreading the moment when he plays his new album - we'll be down the front with begging bowls asking for a slice of Heathen.

Alex McCann

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