Geoff's Earthling review

13 February 1997
by Geoffrey McNulty
(originally appeared in The Badger Herald)

One month has now passed since David Bowie's half-century mark, and the Thin Gray Duke shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.

Changing moods and styles incessantly comes naturally to Bowie. During the year and a half since the release of his 1995 concept album Outside, he has performed with Nine Inch Nails, Neil Young and Pearl Jam. His birthday party attracted artists such as Billy Corgan and Robert Smith, and he portrayed Andy Warhol in Basquiat.

Heavily beat-ridden and driven with synthesizers, Earthling jumps from electronica to ambient to industrial rock and back again. With the first single and opening track Little Wonder, Earthling is the first self-produced Bowie album since his 1974 classic Diamond Dogs. The music has never sounded more invigorating.

Little Wonder initially sounds like a carbon copy of the rhythms from the Prodigy's "Firestarter," but then takes on a quality that can only be called Bowiesque. Something rarely found in industrial-techno records shines through: melody.

Never afraid to break new ground, Bowie takes random words and strings them together in Looking for Satellites. The result is a stream-of-consciousness not often found in modern music. The placement of rhythms is reminiscent of Aphex Twin, yet Bowie makes the sound all his own.

I'm Afraid of Americans written by David Bowie and Brian Eno, is a sardonic expression of the invasion of homogenized culture. Says Bowie, "It strangles the indigenous culture and narrows expression of life."

With nine tracks and almost fifty minutes of all new music, Earthling shows that David Bowie isn't ready to give up yet. He's having too much fun. Besides, as such a continuously ground-breaking artist, other artists are still trying to catch up to where he has already been. With new sounds that are from beyond the future and melodies taken from his past, Bowie makes sure that he will never be forgotten. For every onstage persona reflected in his work, there are countless personas in the music itself.

David Bowie is now fifty years old, and fifty never sounded so good.

Geoffrey McNulty

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