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David Bowie - Earthling CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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2.88 | 155 ratings

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3 stars Bowie sounds like a damned fool on this album. For his latest effort in proving how hip to the times he was, Bowie embraced the cutting-edge programmed percussion styles of 1997, and he often lets the songs go for long stretches where his programmed percussion is the only important part of the sound. The harder he tries, though, the clearer it is that he's a poseur (he was 50 when this album came out!!!) and the more I wish he would just go back to arranging his songs like on Buddha of Suburbia. This album has aged horrendously, and in my observations has been one that has been disproportionately easy to find used at very cheap prices.

And yet, out of the nine tracks on here, only two seem flat-out bad to me. "The Last Thing You Should Do" is notable only in how un-notable it is, and the closing "Law (Earthlings on Fire)" is every bit as embarrassing as "Pallas Athena" was in 1993, but once I get used to the monotonous percussion choices, I find myself enjoying every other song on here. "Dead Man Walking," for instance, sounds at first like Bowie has made one of the tackiest songs of his entire career, and yet I wasn't surprised at all when I saw a video of him performing an acoustic version of the song that sounded like a career highlight. The arrangement is hideous, mind you, but the song itself is good enough that I wouldn't mind hearing it again once in a while. And the rest just sounds like a bunch of solid, tweaked pop songs crossed with horrible techno monsters. The opening "Little Wonder" is basically just a lightweight pop ballad, except in the moments where it gets dark in the "so far away" repeated vocals, and it definitely sets a pleasant tone for the album. The "SATELLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITES" backing vocal part is a strong enough hook to make "Looking for Satellites" enjoyable, and I even like the endless noisemaking of Gabrels' guitar playing. "Battle for Britain (The Letter)" is a little too noisy and chaotic to work completely given how relatively simplistic it is at its core, but I like the individual ideas, and the song works better than it probably should. "Seven Years in Tibet" annoys me more than a bit when the "trance" beat is pushed to the forefront, but whenever it slips out of that mode into a heavy guitar rocker, I'm thoroughly sucked in. It's got a nice vocal melody, anyway, even if I don't pay much attention to the lyrics. And "Telling Lies," well, I crack up every time I hear that dead-man croak saying the title of the song; I just have to get around the drums, as usual.

But of course, the big highlight is "I'm Afraid of Americans," originally a collaboration with Brian Eno and infamous for getting remixed by Nine Inch Nails. This is the one case on the album (in my opinion) where the percussion is used in service of the song and not as a gimmick, as it works with the jittery synth line and the stuttering backing vocal sounds in a nearly ideal manner. The lyrics are really great as well; I feel like the minimalism helps amp up the paranoid vibe of the song even further, to the point that when Bowie cuts in with, "God is an American" it almost sounds horrifying. It's a freaking classic on an album that badly needs a freaking classic.

So ok, I can't say I love this album, and I'm not even sure I would recommend it, but if you can cut through the jungle of, um, jungle, there's some awfully good material here. If you can find it for a couple of dollars (and believe me, you probably can), consider getting it.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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