Earthling Album Review

Colin McDonald sent in this informal review of Earthling. Colin is a professional music writer for various US music publications.

Bowie's Little Wonder

6 January 1997
by Colin McDonald

It's funny how David Bowie is regarded now to the public as just another rock god rather than the elder statesman of the future of music. I'm sure if one were to tell this to any Bowite circa 1979 (or pick your favorite period), the response would be met with a bit of overwhelming confusion. Contrary to popular belief, Bowie used to be considered a freak; if you were into Bowie, Roxy Music, the Velvets, Kraftwerk or anyone who didn't fit into the stadium cock-rock/singer songwriter genre, you were considered a freak yourself, a fag, or just plain clueless. Remember when people just laughed at Kraftwerk intricate techno pop and said that music would never be taken over by electronics?!?

But, thanks to the Let's Dance/Serious Moonlight tour, Bowie became bigger than ever before and, well, acceptable for the average person to like. With an overdose of stardom, cocaine, and bad musical choices, Bowie became everything he mocked: a rock star with too much stardom too quickly and little ideas. The Tin Machine thing was a step in the right direction, but Bowie pretending to be "one of the boys" was something that the Bowie of 1973 would have laughed at. Sure, Baby Universal, Prisoner of Love, and Amlapura were great, but the idea of Bowie writing statement songs about child prostitution and crack was laughable at best.

Since the end of Tin Machine, Bowie has slowly and found his muse again. Cool World was one of his most simple and killer singles in eons; Black Tie/White Noise was a 90's Young Americans filled with an uplifting energy that was missing on his more commericially successful 80's efforts. Then came the reunion with Brian Eno sans Tony Visconti. Outside caused the type of reaction Bowie loved: people loved it, people hated it, but no one had a lukewarm opinion. In this writers opinion, it stands as his best work since Let's Dance, but is not the type of album that hits you the first, fifth, or hundreth time. It seemed that, for the most part, Bowie was back.

Which brings us to Earthling. This is not the album people who liked Outside would have hoped for. One gets the impression that this album was done in the spirit of Pin Ups or Black Tie/White Noise: Bowie wanted to capture the feel of his current touring band on record and to have some fun and it shows.

But this is not to say this is a bad album. On the contrary, it's actually quite fun for the most part. Looking for Satellites is beautiful with a vocal mix that's quite unusual for Bowie; Little Wonder is a great pop single that effectively juxaposes the hard rock breaks and the jungle rhythm; Battle for Britain is somewhere between Goldie and Love You 'Til Tuesday.

Yet, the stumbling block for Earthling is Bowie's decision to put the Tin Machine rock alongside of the jungle/techno beats. On Little Wonder, it works; but on Seven Years in Tibet and I'm Afraid of Americans, it's more of an albatross that utimately undermines the song. Bowie doesn't mix it the way he did on songs like Hallo Spaceboy; it goes from one extreme to another as if Bowie wanted to satisfy Reeves Gabrels more than himself. I mean, the break in Americans where the big studio drums pound along with Bowie shouting "I'm afraid of Americans" sounds like something Bowie would have done in the mid 80's, but would make any card-carrying Bowie fan sick.

One hopes that Bowie will get back with Eno, Nathan Adler, Ramona A. Stone, and Baby Blue Grace and stop letting Reeves run the show. Outside may have been confusing, but it was a beautiful confusion at that.

Remember: Earthling will be released on February 11 in the USA and February 3 in the rest of the world.

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