Big, Swinging Beats (5/02/2003)
David Bowie, Heathen (Columbia 2002) - More than thirty years after "Space Oddity," David Bowie is still making interesting music. Having re-discovered big, swinging beats, Heathen holds up well.
I'm not going to trot out the obligatory references to Low and Lodger. Just say that Heathen marks a return to form for Bowie, as he works with more well known rock elements, instead of the beat band sound of his most recent albums.
Now past age 50, Bowie is the father of a young child with his wife, former model Iman. Fatherhood seems to have helped temper the Thin White Duke. Also, he was reunited with producer Tony Visconti, who worked on some of his most influential projects from the 70s.
Says Bowie, "Tony and I have been wanting to work together again for a few years now. Both of us had fairly large commitments and for a long time we couldn't see a space in which we could get anything together. As spring came around, things began to ease up. I told Mark Plati in my band that I was going to disappear for awhile and put this thing together with Tony. They were very understanding, they've worked with me long enough to know that we would be back together again before long."
Heathen was recorded outside of Woodstock, New York. Says Bowie, "I'd been told by guitarist David Torn of a new studio that was near completion called Allaire. Tony and I took a trip up a few weeks before we started to work there, just to suss it out. In fact, T-Bone Burnett was working there with Natalie Merchant at the time. It's remote, silent and inspirational. We couldn't believe what a find it was."
For his first studio recording in three years, Bowie reached into his whole bag of tricks for songs like "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship," which features growling horns, then to the danceable "Slow Burn," and on to the sparse guitar tension of "5:15."
In explaining the album, Bowie comments, "On the whole, I think they are just well-crafted songs. I haven't been scared of melody this time." And that comes through on tracks like "Everybody Says Hi," with its accessible hooks and inviting lyrics. In this way, Heathen has some of the feel of John Lennon's last albums, as he was settling into domestic life in New York.
Bowie now resides in the SoHo neighborhood in downtown Manhattan. Says he, "I'm still at home here. It seems like every body I use to know has ended up here. Julian Schnabel lives nearby and Moby is virtually my neighbor. It reminds me a little of Berlin, in that it's very easy to be anonymous down here. Nobody bothers me. To take a book and go sit at a sidewalk café is a real possibility."
For Heathen, Bowie worked with a new band, including drummer Matt Chamberlain, Tony Visconti on bass, and David Torn on guitar. Guest guitarist include Pete Townsend, Dave Grohl, and long time co-hort, Carlos Alomar.
Comments Bowie, "I've often changed musicians in the past. I don't feel much band loyalty. Friendship isn't part of the contract. Besides, I shall be working with many of my old people when I go back on the road again...It just comes to a point when you've worked with someone for a very long time, that you can almost predict what they are going to play if you ask them to approach something in a certain way. I just needed to approach this album in another way...I wanted to have another interpretation of who I am."
In addition to such positive songs as "A Better Future," Bowie also tackles three covers, including the Pixies' "Cactus," Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting for You," and "I Took a Trip on A Gemini Space Craft," written in 1969 by a character known as the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
Says Bowie, "He was my label mate in 1969 on Mercury Records, from whom I nicked the name 'Stardust' for Ziggy Stardust. He was a strange cowboy-type guy from Lubbock, Texas. He plays the guitar in his own way and doesn't really sing, but screams and yells and writes the most extraordinary lyrics."
As to former collaborator Brian Eno (who worked with Bowie on his late 70s albums, including Lodger, which at one point was going to be called Planned Accidents) Bowie says, "Brian's a brilliant little magpie. He routinely scours the avant-guard and drags what's interesting back into focus. I think that's what every artist worth his salt does - takes things that are too lean and slim and hard to grasp, and makes them accessible for a wide public."
Bowie knows that pop music has turned a corner. Says he, "I'm still bemused by the whole Robbie Williams aspect of British pop. Posh Spice? It all looks like cruise ship entertainment to me...There probably won't be a music business in two years. There won't be any copyright and nobody will be making any money from it. The move from analog digital has rendered everything we know completely useless...Analog costs money. Digital is free."
Bowie continues. "You know the Bible was very powerful when it was only in the hands of the priests. But it changed an awful lot once it was printed up and allowed out and everybody got to read it. People started adding to it and having their own opinions.
"I think a similar thing has happened to music as well. It's no longer some type of holy grail, as maybe it was when it first appeared in the streets in the 50s. Now it's a commodity, an everyday thing like any other product we use or eat. So it's value has changed an awful lot. It doesn't have the same place in our hearts that it had before. That's okay. But it will be treated in a different way."
Heathen, is good, accessible Bowie. Perhaps not groundbreaking, but a welcome refrain from this artist.
Club Nation America, Volume II - Al B. Rich (Ministry of Sound/MCA 2002) - Club Nation America is exactly as promised. Two discs filled with the dance beats, some familiar, some not.
The 24-track set includes "No More Drama" by Mary J. Blige (Thunderpuss Club Mix) "Breath In" by Frou Frou, and "You Got Me Burning Up" by Funky Green Dogs (Flatline Fifth Avenue Mix).
This is high-energy stuff. Long on beats, short on B.S. Also included is a club cover of "Like A Prayer" (Madonna) by Mad'house and "Heaven" (Bryan Adams) by B.J. Sammy & Yanou. In addition, the album includes a re-mix of "Lady Hear Me Tonight" by Modjo.
If you're looking for a high tempo club sound, Club Nation America is the place to come.
- Randy Krbechek © 2003
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