RCA/BMG 7432144944 2 (49 mins) Dial-a-track code: 1531 The return of the Thin White Duke has been long overdue, but after more than a decade lost in his own space, Bowie has finally fallen back to earth.
Earthling is a true Bowie album in the vein of Heroes or Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, a little nine-track wonder which invades your psyche and plugs into that strange little alien chip in your brain. It's not Space Oddity or even Ziggy Stardust, but neither is it Tonight or Never Let Me Down, and compared with last year's convoluted "Gothic hypercycle", 1. Outside, this new album is a concise, direct, unpretentious gem.
When the first flurry of Little Wonder begins, you might think you've accidentally switched on The Prodigy's Firestarter, and the frantic drum'n'bass rhythms will make you wonder if CDs could possibly be played at the wrong speed. Do not adjust your headset, however, because Bowie has indeed gone "jungle"; but unlike Everything But The Girl's recent dalliance with this dance genre, Bowie seems to have an intuitive insight into its wired-up workings, hooking it up organically to his own complex musical vision.
Bowie has added one more ingredient to this experimental mix; real songs with real melodies and hooks that snatch you in their robotic arms and dangle you over a futuristic, molten landscape. Looking For Satellites, Dead Man Walking and I'm Afraid Of Americans are darkly addictive tunes which make the future look so bright you have to wear a visor. Earthling is the end result of a year-and-a-half of superhuman activity, during which Bowie and his band (which features former Tin Machine cohort Reeves Gabrels and Aladdin Sane ivory tinkler Mike Garson) toured the world, and the album was recorded in New York with the Earthling himself at the production helm. Eno's only input seems to be a co-writing credit on Dead Man Walking, but Bowie has done a fine job on his first self-produced album since Diamond Dogs.
The cover photo shows Bowie standing in a striking, slashed-up Union Jack coat, staring out across an English landscape with his back to the camera - it could be a symbolic rejection of the current trend towards Britpop, or it could be a reverse-jingoistic reassertion of Bowie sense of not belonging. One thing is certain, though: Bowie has not only found his form, he has also regained that alien narcissism which kept his work vital in the 1970s, and could well make it essential in the 21st century.