Score: 9 (out of 10 possible)
For years it seemed as if anyone could make a good David Bowie album - except David Bowie. Outside (1995) had a glimmer of the old madness, but gems like Hallo Spaceboy ended up being buried in a rock-opera sprawl. Which is why Earthling is such a shock: The Thin White Duke has finally crashed the '90s pop party. We saw him posing for pictures with Tricky and Trent, but who could have guessed he was actually *listening* to them? The new concept is Bowie goes Jungle, and you're right to scoff; even Everything But the Girl beat him to that punch. But Bowie sounds like he was born to croon in the alienated cool of jungle; he slithers through these sinister grooves like a ghost who's found a new castle to haunt.
Bowie bravely produced Earthling himself instead of hiring a team of experts, but this is hardly generic jungle - too many rock guitars for that. And the futuristic beats have inspired his finest batch of tunes since Scary Monsters in 1980. Like all great Bowie, Earthling continues the Major Tom story; it also sounds like the '70s spaceboy has had a nervous fling with earthly love - and it's opened up a whole new galaxy for him to get lost in. Earthling's biggest surprise is that it burns with so much humanity."