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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK
Bowie means business
David Bowie
David Bowie: More than just a pretty face

By curating this year's Meltdown festival at London's South Bank Centre - a role previously filled by Nick Cave, Scott Walker and John Peel - David Bowie is asserting himself as an influential artist.

The release of new album Heathen, Bowie's first in three years, marks an important crossroads for him as he makes a concerted effort to transform from mere musician of note into musical godfather.

The album features guests Pete Townsend and Dave Grohl, and cover versions of songs by The Pixies and Neil Young.

The producer is Tony Visconti, arguably the best of all Bowie producers, clearly on hand to help rekindle the good times.


Bowie's songwriting on Heathen is generally solid, if rarely groundbreaking, and just about always manages to deliver the goods

In marketing terms this album makes a big noise - which is that Bowie remains one of pop's most successful and inventive chameleons, that everybody loves him, that he is back and that he means business.

Visconti's production is slick and assured, providing the best backdrop to a Bowie record since Heroes.

It is instantly obvious within the first few seconds of the post-rock Sunday, which starts out as one of the best opening tracks to a Bowie album in years.

It begins by using looped synth sounds to create peaceful atmospherics, and quietly builds into an impressive beast of a track.

Sunday has some great harmonic ideas, but fades out just as it is getting interesting.

It gives way to the first of three cover versions on Heathen, The Pixies' Cactus, which the changeling handles with due care and attention.

Riotous

It sounds like it would be great live - and is one of the album's highlights.

Tellingly, Bowie plays everything on the track except bass, which comes courtesy of the producer.

Bowie also claims credit for the synth and piano work for the balance of the album, proving the maxim that he is more than just a pretty face.

Of the covers, Neil Young's I've Been Waiting For You is arguably the best, given riotous guitar treatment by Dave Grohl.

Gemini Spacecraft by Bowie's '60s muse Stardust Cowboy is great fun too.

Elsewhere, Slip Away sounds like a reject from the soundtrack of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, full of '70s glam decadence and all executed with style and pizzazz.

And Everyone Says Hi gives most 20-something singer-songwriters a run for their money and shows this chameleon really can turn his hand to anything.

Burbling

Pete Townshend's contribution to the record is guitar on Slow Burn, a track that combines a Brian May guitar sound with tambourine to end up sounding like Queen doing a Christmas carol.

Heavily synthesised vocal layering does not entirely get rid of Bowie's characteristic over-the-top vibrato, but the production enhances rather than smothers.

I Would Be Your Slave works less well, sounding like Massive Attack's Unfinished Sympathy mixed with the burbling of a coffee machine.

While 5.15 The Angels Have Gone might be what you would end up with if you put Enya together with Julio Iglesias and is, for the most part, one to skip.

But Bowie's songwriting on Heathen is generally solid, if rarely groundbreaking, and just about always manages to deliver the goods.

It is the work of a musician talented enough to recognise his own deficiencies and to know who to draft in to cover them up.

On this evidence Bowie is certainly not past it, and with Heathen he suggests that we're some way from hearing the last of him.

David Bowie - Heathen (ISO Records, June 10 2002)

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06 Jun 02 | Entertainment
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