I just recently came back into Bowie after a year or two layoff. I'm not familiar with all total albums in full, but have my own personal favorites from here and there and am finding new (to me) gems when I dig deeper. You know, find a song then listen to it over and over again for days. I was just digging in when I found out that Heathen was coming out, so I was primed and ready to hear some new Bowie grab hold. And it did.
It has been awhile since I can remember a new album by one of the veterans grab hold of my head. I haven't heard Neil Young's latest yet, and the ethusiasm for Dylan's Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft seemed to be more like a pleasant suprise that he still had game.
For me, it seems that a fair way to judge a veteran artist's new albums is not just by innovation alone (you all try to stay fresh for 25+ years) but if they can still move you, if they still have the power of Soul. Soul doesn't need 10 million odd chord changes, or anything odd, for that matter. Just grab a guitar and sing about your life with a passion, and you can still move mountains.
Bowie, on this latest album, as another post or arcticle I read somewhere states, is a mood album - moody, even. Not in the weak ambient music way, but entrench-your-soul-in-the-album kind of way. It is dramatic in a strong, smothering sort of way - a slow burn. Yes, there are some chords and sounds that are throwbacks to the old days, but it seems to be purposeful and recognized by Bowie and Visconti - to use the trusty old tools to create a beast that is all strength and no bullshit, getting to the meat efficiently when you want to feed people now.
Cynicism is creeping back into the West, barely a year after 9/11. So it is already cliche to say that an album was influenced by the event. Bowie says no, but in either case, this is the right kind of music for the current unsteady societal climate.
Only a handful of high-profile artists in this world can make bold, questioning statements about today's faith-culture:
"I demand a better future
For I might just stop loving you" (A Better Future)
Bowie is only one of a handful of artists you can trust to make such a demand of your god. Not done for shock value, but a wise elder getting fed-up with not finding the answers as to why there is so much dreaded crap in the world, when there is such guidance and benevolence "within prayer's reach."
It's not just the lyrics, or the guitar loops, or the tech tricks that make this a standout album, but Bowie's masterful grasp of the dramatic. I just saw "Serious Moonlight" (which I enjoyed immensely) and you can see it, even the slightest gestures. At the beginning of "Heores" when the band kicks in, Bowie warmly smiles acknowledgingly, almost reassuringly, to the audience - sharing with them the knowledge that there is some incredible music lifting off right now.
I think the reason Bowie's lifelong musical experimentation works is because of one thing: he brings deep, rich soul to everything he does. It seems that Heathen is a definte return to the soul. Being that I haven't kept up with him for 10 years or so, please fill me in if I'm wrong and should check something out.
To really enjoy Heathen, at least smoke some herb first, if not some shrooms or something. It's not a drunken-bar listen. Definitely turn out the lights. And if you're like me and don't pay attention to the lyrics all the time, its great sex music! The deep kind, not the wham-bam-thankyou-ma'am.