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With a birth and death day to mark each January, there’s plenty of reason to dip into archives for anything on David Bowie. So, let’s.

In retrospect – which is the best ‘spect of all, of course - this review from 2002 of the album, Heathen, has some real connections to the final two, often-challenging, albums he made a decade later, as well as the more obviously documented historical albums of the early ‘70s. Not least the presence of Heathen’s producer, Tony Visconti.

Note well though: while it may have felt like something of a revival, it would be 11 year until Bowie’s next release. And only three more after that before his death.


DAVID BOWIE Heathen (ISO/Sony)

Unlike recent career revivals, such as Elton John's, David Bowie hasn't been faffing about in crud for two decades since his last great album, 1980's Scary Monsters.

Admittedly, the '80s are best forgotten but in the past decade Bowie has made many a challenging album of vicious rock (the brace of Tin Machine albums), drum 'n' bass (Earthling), emotionally wrought avant-garde (Outside) and something approaching pop (hours ...).

They all were flawed but they proved he wasn't standing still just because he was listed on the sharemarket.

The expectation, however, is that Heathen (produced by old pal Tony Visconti) will change the albums' pattern of low sales and it's easy to see why: while not a great album, this is probably the most Bowie-sounding Bowie album for 22 years.

For example, Slip Away sits somewhere between the creaky spaciness of Space Oddity and the spacey creepiness of Lodger with piano that could have come from Hunky Dory.

Everyone Says Hi is Kooks updated, but still lovely, and Afraid has some of Ziggy Stardust's febrile quality with a suggestion of Station To Station's cold funkiness.

He even takes the venerable I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship and flips it to somewhere between Young Americans and something from Earthling.

Elsewhere, there's a strong sense of his late-'70s Berlin years, particularly in the gimlet-eyed version of Neil Young's I've Been Waiting For You, with Dave Grohl offering plangent guitar over a landscape of what you imagine are windswept city blocks.

But to spend too much time watching how Bowie has channelled Bowie - and why shouldn't he when every half-decent musician of the past 30 years already has? - would be to miss some telling points.

For one, there's the playful A Better Future, which has a little skipping rhythm, a lovely warm vocal and even when the guitar cuts across the melody it merely emphasises the prettiness.

The lyrics are more personal, or less elliptical, than his glory days. There are many examples here of a man uncertain about the future looking to move on from a damaged present.

Then again, Bowie always did move on, didn't he?


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