Made for the real world...
Among some of the end-of-year round-ups that almost passed me by, was a great appreciation of 'Heathen' in the November 2002 issue of the very trendy
In a four page article under the heading FOUR OF THE BEST, the magazine asks: "Do these three albums (and one live gig) represent the best arthouse music of 2002?" Actually it's a gig, two albums and a single, but we won't quibble. The three other artists included are:
A bit of Fischerspooner at David Bowie's Meltdown
at the RFH in London, 2002. Pic by Total Blam Blam.
Fischerspooner - Gig at The Bridge, London, June 1st 2002 (David had the foresight to book them for Meltdown for what was only their second UK gig... and what a great show it was, wasn't it Leeza?)
Mains Ignition - Turn On album on Tummy Touch Records (Haven't heard this yet, but I'm looking forward to it very much)
Rubicks - Midas/Move Away single on Balloon Records (Brilliant debut single, hope we hear much more from this exciting trio very soon)
And so onto David Bowie's 'Heathen'. It's great that a magazine so painfully hip as Contemporary can be honest enough to recognise the brilliance of a mainstream artist such as DB. The piece is written by a chap called Richard Dyer, and it's worth reproducing here in its entirety. I think Richard is on the button with most of what he says, though I have to say he did throw me with the last paragraph. I can only assume he was listening to a vinyl copy as I have heard no such sound effect on my good old-fashioned CD. };-)
David Bowie performs the title track of his most recent studio album at the
2002 Roseland Ballroom show in New York. Photograph by Total Blam Blam.
Anyway, well done with all of your achievements in 2002 David, I'm sure we'll be reading more of this kind of thing at the end of 2003:
David Bowie - Heathen ISO/Columbia
An epiphanic moment in a mountain retreat near Woodstock heralded the creation of Heathen, David Bowie's most brilliant and profound album since Scary Monsters of 1980. In a 40-foot-high wood-panelled recording studio, looking out over sweeping mountain ranges, Bowie found a suitably transcendental setting for the melancholic contemplation of his own mortality, a dying planet and the love and concern he feels for his new-born child.
From the first plaintive ripple of melody on the opening track, Sunday, the tone is set for the serious and solemn. Bowie's voice is sonorous and emotive as he carefully constructs an elegy for a broken world; and just as the piece threatens to open up into a rock ballad of gargantuan proportions with a bass line reminiscent of Stay (Station to Station), the sound is suddenly sucked away into nothing; the understatement is perfectly pitched for the mood of the album.
Later, Bowie lays down a Life on Mars for the post-millennial age with Slip Away; only Mr Jones could bring tears to our eyes by singing the line, 'Don't forget to keep your head warm'. Bowie's voice just sounds so good on this album, he could sing almost anything and have our spine tingling, but he doesn't sing just anything, the song writing is as good as his best, if not better, and his voice is rich, yearning, majestic. The following Slow Burn ? with Pete Townshend on cascading, fractal guitar ? although strongly reminiscent of Heroes, is darker, more sophisticated, compelling.
The anthemic I Would Be Your Slave, like all the key songs on this album, is really addressed not to the unseen lover, the 'You' so dominant in popular music writing of the last hundred years, but to none other than God himself. Producer Tony Visconti's bass line is a creamy octave slide, dropping depth charges of open E majors as Bowie's voice, unafraid to show itself emotionally naked, quavers and inflects to potent effect as he asks God to come clean and open his heart to us.
The sentiment is continued on 5:15 The Angels Have Gone, the most moving track on the album; Bowie's voice is elegiac, soaring ? 'We never talk anymore/Forever I will adore only you' ? almost operatic, in a Scott Walker sort of way, only better, less theatrical and melodramatic, more direct and affecting.
Even the apparently pop-driven Everyone Says 'Hi' develops from its Hunky Dory-esque playfulness into a bittersweet open letter addressed to the dear departed. The album closes with Heathen (The Rays); electronic mediaeval death music for the twenty-first century, not so much a song as a requiem for humankind, a prophetic, pre-9/11 vision of urban doom: 'Steel on the sky-line/Sky made of glass/Made for a real world/All things must pass.'
The last thing we hear is the click of a gramophone needle being lifted from a vinyl record, a knowing nod to the Tony Visconti-produced late seventies and early eighties classics in which Heathen is rooted ? Low, Heroes, Lodger, Scary Monsters ? and a crooked-smiled 'Hi' to the digital age. - Richard Dyer