Erick Haight wrote this review based on an advance CD of Earthling from Virgin. Erick used to review music for Central Michigan University's newspaper CM Life, so in his own words "what I have to say will be kinda pretentious".
The predisposition for musical experimentation that has marked David Bowie's career for over two decades has taken him to places few artists half his age would dare to travel. He has dabbled in a myriad of styles and sounds, with his best works transcending the limits of the zeitgeist to ascend to a timeless space, a place that spawns countless imitators and detractors alike.
When he cuts a swath through the aural bullshit with a sonic revelation along the lines of Low or Ziggy Stardust, his work becomes an archetype to which all important musics afterwards can be traced to. However, when he nods to his caprice and walks the blind man's path, the results can be somewhat mixed. For every Young Americans and Let's Dance, there lurks a Pin Ups and Never Let Me Down, fallow fields where the roots of his musical endeavours never quite took hold.
Now comes Earthling, which finds Bowie dancing with the machine, rhythms rife with spastic jungle beats and dark, brooding electronica. While the new frontier of drum 'n' bass would seem simpatico with Bowie's muse, it's not always a perfect fit; the programmed "jungle" beats seem tossed off and generic, never quite meshing with Bowie's nuanced vocals. However, when he plays it straight, mixing Reeves Gabrels' sandpaper riffs and Mike Garson's casual virtuosity with techno and quasi-industrial flavors, the simple songs of Earthling sound right at home.
Some of the songs seem a bit bloated, with good hooks stretched thin; the kinetic jungle blasts of Little Wonder and the "Nightclubbing"-esque dirty crawl of Seven Years In Tibet cry out for a focused precision that Bowie the producer doesn't bring to the table (calling Jack Dangers, calling Jack Dangers...). However, the throbbing pulse of Dead Man Walking and I'm Afraid Of Americans offer glimpses of the commercial yet crucial Bowie that the 1990's have missed. Other charmers include a more traditional mix of the Internet fave Telling Lies as well as the understated The Last Thing You Should Do.
Earthling is the first of two promised 1997 releases, with the other a continuation of the intriguing Eno-produced Nathan Adler series called Contamination. If Bowie can somehow graft the contemporary and commercial leanings of Earthling with the intellectual fable world of Outside, then Contamination should get under the skin like no Bowie effort has in over a decade. Until then, however, Earthling is an entertaining if slight diversion.
Remember: Earthling will be released on February 11 in the USA and February 3 in the rest of the world..