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HEATHEN

David Bowie

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ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars They finally got back together! David and Tony.

It took them a hell of a time to do so and expectations were high (remember "Scary Monsters"?). And even if "Heathen" doesn't compete with the scary masterpiece, it is a very fine album.

Typically Bowie, I would say. Little to no risks are taken here. But at this time of his long career, who could blame him for this? This album is easily digested. No weird sounds nor beats (well, almost). Very much in-line with "hours". Not a return to a more tranquil Bowie, but a good follow-up album.

Maybe that melodies are just a little behind, but the man has now enormously grown and he settled a style which will last for another trilogy: "hours", Heathen" and "Reality".

The first few songs are the best ones. Ambient and passionate ("Sunday") which could have been featured on "Heroes", a folkish-rocking one ("Cactus") which is a cover from "The Pixies", a fine rock ballad ("Slip Away") somewhat "Hunky Dorish".

This one has an excellent melody and some good piano work. One of the most emotional song from "Heathen" with some references ("Sailing over Coney Island, Twinkle twinkle Uncle Floyd"). One of my fave from of this album.

While listening to "Slow Burn", one is again projected back in time. Heavy drumming, crying guitar and some "Heroes" atmosphere. A very good start indeed for this album. This track features Pete Townsend on the guitar (this is not his first appearance on a Bowie album).

And it goes on pretty well during "Afraid". An almost new wave beat combined with some fine violin/cello adds a truly great dimension to this good song. Both "Afraid" and "Slip Away" are new versions of very old songs.

Actually, David wanted to release an album full of this type of old songs, almost fully re-invented. It was the "Toy" project which never saw the light (only partially here).

The first weaker moment is the heavier "I've Been Waiting For You". A drastic sound change when compared to "Slip Away" or "Afraid", but not bad to break the melodic/mellowish global mood.

This album just confirmed that David might have been tired with experimentation, not that this album is lacking of fine musical research, just listen to the wonderful keyboards from "I've Been Waiting For You" to be convinced (this is a Neil Young cover).

Now, there are also some blunder here. The first one being the awful "Gemini Spacecraft" from the "Legendary Stardust Cowboy (reminds you something, no)? But the appearance of these electronic beats are just too much here and could have been avoided.

Even if the final part of this work is too much on the mellowish side ("Everyone Says Hi"), it remains enjoyable; almost all the way through. Of course, I guess that very few of you will depict "A Better Future" as a masterpiece and I am not thrilled with the title track either.

In all, "Heathen" is a good album. On top of Townsend, there are some well-known guests (Tony Levin, Jordan Rudess). Seven out of ten. Like "hours", but this time I will downgrade it temporarily (maybe) to three stars.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#175008)
Posted Monday, June 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
Slartibartfast
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars This album came out a few months after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. I can't help but think that the opening track, Sunday, was influenced by it an almost prescient in a way.

"Everything has changed

For in truth it's the beginning of nothing And nothing has changed"

What really made this album click with me (and I've only been a hard core Bowie fan since Outside) was how the David Torn opening guitar kicked it off. Plus the song seemed rather timely.

David does his best work when he's working with prog musicians and having Torn in a major role helped out a lot. Tony Levin was also along for the ride although he can really kind of blend in with any band, progressive or not Fortunately he's mostly prog bands, unless I am mistaken. Jordan Rudess was around, hadn't hear of Dream Theater at that time. Still haven't heard much of those guys. Also, Pete Townshend and David Grohl also each show up for a cameo. Tony Visconte also lends a major hand, production and instruments. He's back on board with Bowie for the first time since Scary Monsters And Super Creeps.

We have some well-done cover tunes here: "Cactus" (Black Francis), "I've Been Waiting for You" (Neil Young), "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship" (Norman Carl Odam) (OK a bit of a silly piece), "Heathen (The Rays)". All of those I heard for the first time first here.

Slip Away is a bit of an odd track. From what I've read Uncle Floyd is not pink. A few obscure lyrical references you can look up on the Internet. Slow Burn is the Townshend track, another original I really liked. I'm Afraid - hey Bowie believes in Beatles, so do I, not a frightening song in particular. I Would Be Your Slave - a nice gender neutral song with nice feelings for a partner. 5:15 The Angels Have Gone - lamentations on losing a partner. Everyone Says Hi - (Doo wap wap wa ooo) - about a significant other that has mysteriously disappeared. I Demand A Better Future - another one I feel was influence by events at the time (9/11) and a relationship gone bad.

So I don't know if it was just time, timing, or both. This remains an album that will go down reminding me of a particular time in my personal history. His more poppy efforts just fly on by. But for me, this one has legs.

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Send comments to Slartibartfast (BETA) | Report this review (#226929)
Posted Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Starting from '...hours.." there is Bowies newest musical period, I can name it MATURE. In fact, 30+ yrs Bowie traveled by music styles, and now just came to point of consolidation. Consolidation of many ideas, techniques and life experience.

May be some will be disappointed with this last "trilogy". Yes, there are no avantguarde here anymore. In fact nothing new at all. Just very strong,talented and professional combination of Bowie's life-long musical experience.

Tony Visconty is back, so you at once can understand, what is the basis of new Bowie's sound. Tony Levin/Jordan Rudess pair gave some new heavy prog technique, but not too much. Lisa Germano plays violine ( not sings).

Not too many traces from Eno/ later synth/noise/house period. Well played and produced rock music with strong melodies, classy arrangements. Bowie's voice became more deep, more specific, even a little bit more warm.Main strong point - atmosphere!

Don't try to find new vawes and new shock here. Mature album as a report of musical life lived.

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#238394)
Posted Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Review Permalink
Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
4 stars This album was the first David Bowie record that was released during the time when I officially considered myself a fan of his and therefore didn't hesitate much on whether or not I should consider purchasing it!

It's safe to say that I was not disappointed by this album since it pretty much took everything I loved about hours...' and polished it up to a much sharper album experience. Sunday is such an excellent album intro, but it must have been a very risky one as well since there was a big chance that it would have been dismissed as pretentious rambling of an old-timer if the the rest of the album didn't back it up. Fortunately, the tracks that follow are all of the same high quality and never even give me a hint of a disappointing moment.

Cactus is a cover of a Pixies song from their classic album Surfer Rosa and I would actually like to state that Bowie's version is superior to the original! I have unfortunately not heard the original versions of the two other covers but both I've Been Waiting For You and I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship are excellent performances on Bowie's part. The best thing about all these covers is how well they manage to merge with the rest of the material on this record and the final result is a very complete album experience.

Finally, we also get some amazing ballads like Slip Away and Everyone Says 'Hi' that complete the overall sound of Heathen to the smallest detail. David Bowie did an amazing comeback in this new century and although his previous album, 'hours...', did give me the feeling that Bowie was finally getting on the right track, this album actually is there. A highly recommended experience!

***** star songs: Sunday (4:45) Cactus (2:54) Slip Away (6:05) Everyone Says 'Hi' (3:59)

**** star songs: Slow Burn (4:41) Afraid (3:28) I've Been Waiting For You (3:00) I Would Be Your Slave (5:14) I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship (4:04) 5:15 The Angels Have Gone (5:00) A Better Future (4:11) Heathen (The Rays) (4:16)

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Send comments to Rune2000 (BETA) | Report this review (#307736)
Posted Sunday, October 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
tarkus1980
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars If Gabrels had known Bowie was going to do an album like this, maybe he wouldn't have left after Hours .... Then again, maybe this album wouldn't have happened if Gabrels hadn't left. While part of me feels a bit like a sheep for jumping on the "Best Bowie Album Since Scary Monsters" bandwagon, I can't get around the fact that, to my ears, Bowie actually sounds like he knows what he's doing again, and while Bowie sounding competent and in control may not be enough for me to worship one of his albums, it's definitely enough for me to like one of his albums a lot. Fact is, I enjoy and respect this album every bit as much as I do Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Low and Scary Monsters (and maybe more on a good day), and it would be silly for me to give this a lower grade than any of those.

The strongest parallel to Scary Monsters is that this album freely embraces elements of Bowie's past while not overly dwelling on any of them. He sounds mature, but he does not sound old; his vocals are far stronger than on Hours ..., and nothing screams out "mid-life crisis" like the worst elements of Earthling. The album sounds like a classic Bowie album, and yet it doesn't reject useful developments since his classic period. One major contributing factor to these positives is the return of producer Tony Visconti, back from his own ups and downs over the previous 20 years (like his uninspiring production work on late 80's Moody Blues albums) and who always seemed to have a knack for helping Bowie sort out his better ideas from his lesser ones. Not every song is fantastic, but there's not a single moment on the album where I go, "Huh, that's kinda stupid," and that's one hell of an accomplishment.

One terrific aspect of the album is how good the covers are. "Cactus" (by The Pixies) gets reborn as a decadent synth-heavy rocker, yet it still retains much the same atmosphere as before, and Bowie remains faithful to the spirit of the original when he spells out "D-A-V-I-D" in the appropriate place. "I've Been Waiting for You" (by Neil Young) has a guest appearance on guitar from Dave Grohl, but the sound is so thick that he doesn't really get emphasized. The song is great, anyway: it's an awfully obscure choice as far as Neil Young songs go, and I'm glad Bowie introduced it to me. The peak of the covers, though, comes in "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship," by The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (from whom David took the "Stardust" moniker so long ago). I've never heard the original, but if it had anything as breathtaking as the combination of uptempo electronic percussion and almost psychedelic string and saxophone parts to go with these silly and addictive lyrics, I'll be surprised. Welcome back, you great genre-smoosher you.

With the originals, I kinda feel like I need to go track by track. Just as "Thursday's Child" made it immediately clear that the last album was going to be a rather chill, rather straightforward affair, "Sunday" makes it clear that this album will be kinda disorienting. The only track in the previous few albums that really could surpass this on pure atmosphere would probably be "The Motel" from Outside, but as much as I like that one, it really just has the atmosphere, the lyrics and a rambling melody. This one has a more somber atmosphere (oh WOW that's a great keyboard sound), but it's a jittery atmosphere, full of nagging percussion and layers of Bowie backing vocals and lyrics centered around the troubling phrases, "Nothing has changed/everything has changed." Once it breaks into a more uptempo finish, it's practically a relief; there's no optimism, but at least there's some tension release.

After "Cactus" comes my first favorite of the album, the glorious nostalgia piece "Slip Away." The absolute key to this track is the way the piano sounds like something out of an old movie, like in that part of The Godfather after Michael's killed Solozzo and the police chief and all the various newspaper headlines are shown while a piano part plays underneath it. Of course, as important of a foundation as that piano part lays, it wouldn't matter much without the Ziggy-like orchestrations in the sweeping climaxes of the parts with lines like, "Sailing over Coney Island/Twinkle twinkle, Uncle Floyd." The track is absolutely gorgeous, and I would argue that it even goes so far as to surpass "Life on Mars?" from so many years ago.

"Slow Burn" is a clear nod to ""Heroes"" and "Teenage Wildlife," and the clearly derivative nature of the track might be annoying if it weren't for (a) that bassline being so danged marvelous, (b) the vocal melody being so catchy and moving and (c) having such fantastic guitar lines from Pete Townshend. Did Tony just have an old rolodex somewhere that had Pete's number in it? Whatever inspired Tony and David to call up Pete for the first time since Scary Monsters, it was heaven-sent. Another good rocker (unfortunately with no Pete on it) immediately follows in "Afraid," and while David's vocals sound a little weak on it (one of the few times), it has a good enough guitar line, good enough orchestration and a weird enough synth line in some of the breaks to make the song worth it.

Sandwiched between "I've Been Waiting for You" and "Gemini Spaceship" comes "I Would Be Your Slave," an uptempo string-laden pop ballad that has way more emotional oomph than I would have imagined from a song with that title. Bowie's singing is almost incidental in the track: the arrangement (especially once the quiet guitar line becomes prominent) overshadows him, in a good way. After "Gemini Spaceship" comes another surprisingly good song in "5:15 The Angels Are Gone." At first the keyboard line makes it seem like we're going to have something as adult-contemporaryish as much of Hours ..., but the drums and bassline do enough to mitigate those concerns until the track explodes into an alternate part that's clearly more complex (musically and emotionally) than average AC.

"Everyone Says Hi" has a wonderfully hokey brief orchestral theme that pops up repeatedly near the beginning, but the song shouldn't be defined solely by that. It has this great habit of unfolding one nice idea after another, climaxing with some great simple guitar lines and silly Bowie backing vocals around the verse starting with, "If the money is lousy/You can always come home/We can do the old things/We can do all the bad things." "A Better Future" starts off sounding like a menacing noise piece, but it quickly turns into a fascinatingly catchy uptempo pop song (full of great guitar lines!!) with a midsection that's noisy and atmospheric while still fitting in with the poppiness of the rest.

Yet it's ultimately the closing "Heathen (The Rays)" that fascinates and thrills me enough to consider giving this an even higher grade. Mostly, I just find it amazing that Bowie, even with Visconti at his side, would have had any interest in making tracks like this anymore. It's semi-directionless, almost solely relying on atmosphere and fantastic old-school keyboard sounds (with grumbly guitars as needed), with lyrics that don't have meaning but are dripping with imagery, and it would have been a clear highlight even on Low or "Heroes". Interestingly, my wife (not a Bowie fan by any means) observed that the track sounded in parts similar to one of the tracks from the soundtrack to The Labyrinth, but she agreed with me that it sounded way better than anything from there.

Now, there are some drawbacks that make me hold back some enthusiasm. The album runs a little long for me not to feel a little tired near the end (I always love the closer, but "Everyone Says Hi" and "A Better Future" sound way better to me out of context than in it), and I'm not sure it couldn't have been sequenced in a better way. Not every track is fantastic, either. And yet, it's a remarkable album, and I don't see why any David Bowie fan wouldn't enjoy it a lot.

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Send comments to tarkus1980 (BETA) | Report this review (#362106)
Posted Thursday, December 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Rating: 9/10

Bowie starts a new decade totally refreshed in musical terms and artistic aspirations.

The album also serves as a conjunction between the "industrial" and "corrosive" machines- based sound he was developing from the previous "Outside" and a kind of "gothic" and "dark" atmosphere of this heathen, that traduces itself into sound characteristics and songwriting style.

"Sunday" is a very low and almost depressive but also beautiful start.

"Cactus", "Slow burn", "Afraid" and "I've been waiting for you" are the rockiest numbers performed by a kick-ass band in which bassist (a woman, by the way...) makes an outstanding work- sounding tremendous.

Along with "Cactus", the darkest ones here are "Slip away" (what a bass lines, my god!!!), "5:15 The angels have gone" and the great ending "Heathen (the rays)"; Bowie seems to be a perfect conjunction of Morrissey, Robert Smith and Trent Reznor.

But David also reinvents himself on the masterpieces "I would be your slave" and "I took a trip on a gemini spaceship" in which he mixes electronic music, rhythm beats and incredible machines-based arrangements.

At last, "Everyone says 'hi'" is the typical Bowie's pop singer that at certain point seems like if it was out of place or from another album.

And "A better future" is the most accessible "electronic" Bowie and with a more "dance" beat, but it has a fine rhythm.

David shows once again -as in the '70s- and reaffirms that he is one of the most vanguard and influential artist of all time. His best studio work from, at least, the last 25 years.

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Send comments to Mattiias (BETA) | Report this review (#459202)
Posted Saturday, June 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Before recording Heathen, David Bowie and Tony Visconti had been tinkering away at Toy, an attempt to produce an album in the style of Bowie's mid-60s recording as a combination of old material and new songs written in that sixties pop style. In the end, they decided to make this much more modern-sounding album instead, but some of the songs from Toy were reused for this one with updated music - so you end up having this curious juxtaposition of sixties pop rhythms to the lyrics whilst musically we're in a sort of mildly industrial slightly glammy version of then-current post-Radiohead art rock.

To be honest, this is a style which suits Bowie down to the ground. He'd ceased being a trendsetter since Scary Monsters and had spent most of the subsequent decades chasing fashion instead of blazing a trail for it, but finally fashion ended up coming up with something that played to Bowie's strengths. With cover versions of selected songs by The Pixies, Neil Young and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Bowie acknowledges some unexpected influences on his music, whilst the original material is some of his strongest for a long, long time. It's not a new classic, but it's certainly his best album since Scary Monsters and a pretty artistically successful piece in its own right.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#655468)
Posted Monday, March 12, 2012 | Review Permalink

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