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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… David Bowie – Earthling July 10, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

Here, something a little askew from one of the greats. Or is it a little something great from one of the askews?

For it is David Bowie, and perhaps his last truly interesting album, Earthling, from 1997, where he decided to integrate more clearly dance based sounds, a snippet of industrial here, some techno there and a great big dollop of drum and bass all over. And the cover? Mr. Bowie in a long Union Flag coat. None more britpop, none more zeitgeist. Sort of.

I’ve always liked Bowie, but I rarely found much to love, to my ears at least, in any of the albums he released say from 1980 onwards. Before that? Well, so many songs that are canonical. After that… not so much. On the other hand there’s also the small point that he has made a career of treading a line between opportunistic chancer and genius.

But Earthling, seemingly opportunistic to some in locking directly into dance culture without ever being quite genius transcends that. It’s good stuff, sometimes great, witty, self-referential (Eno helps out, needless to say) but with some fine bits of electronica. That may be telling for it probably doesn’t gel entirely, but, it sort of does for the most part. And where it does it provides a fusion of that voice and melodies that are familiar but not overly so.

Little Wonder is a truly great song, a deserved hit. But it’s far from the only one.

The Last thing You Should Do sounds like the perfect lash up of traditional Bowie and contemporary (or then contemporary) electronica, at least until the industrial guitars surge in. Dead Man Walking, likewise (with the great line ‘now I’m older than movies’ – I think I know what he means), and sure, it sounds easy, but any of us who’ve ever tried to put together a song know just how difficult that can be. And it brings back memories of other periods of genuine experimentation in his career.


Telling Lies

Dead Man Walking

The Last Thing You Should Do

Little Wonder

Battle for Britain (The Letter)

And that played live in The Olympia from 1997


1. DublinDilettante - July 10, 2010

Left-field choice there, WBS! To me, this is the most ephemeral and dated of Bowie’s works, and the hardest to defend from accusations of bandwagon-hopping. Unlike his real nineties classic, 1.Outside, which is possibly his greatest album after Low.

Battle for Britain is the only track I have any time for here, I’m afraid. Maybe Seven Years in Tibet, too.The funniest (as in bathos-funny) bit is the beginning of Law (Earthlings on Fire), where he does a treated vocal intro which sounds exactly like Alan Partridge.


2. WorldbyStorm - July 10, 2010

Fair points, Although obviously I disagree! …
but more ephemeral than the mid 80s? Hmmmm. 🙂

Outside is okay. Heathen which Ive always read as heat hen for some reason not great.


3. WorldbyStorm - July 10, 2010

Actually the point was just made to me that while good it was a sign of him slowing down and getting older since here he wasn’t on or ahead of the curve as he used to be. But in fairness to him considering some abominations during that period where people discovered their ‘dance’ side it’s good stuff.

Btw glad it’s leftfield was worried it might be a little mainstream!


DublinDilettante - July 10, 2010

The genius of the selection is that it’s a forgotten, though relatively recent, album by a massive star which was neither good enough nor bad enough to be remembered. Top nichemanship!

I just think the whole album has a horrible, tawdry sound to it, which is partly an unhappy marriage of classic Bowie melodies and structures with a contemporary genre of music. If he’d gone the whole hog it might have worked.

I wouldn’t be one of those who write off his eighties work, although it’s far from brilliant. Even Tin Machine had redeeming features. Baby Universal and You Belong in Rock ‘n’ Roll are two classic Bowie tracks, IMO.


WorldbyStorm - July 12, 2010

Don’t get me wrong, there are 80s songs of his which are fantastic, just as bodies of work the albums don’t stand up for me.


4. Eder R M - July 10, 2010

Hello! Earthling is my favorite Bowie album form the 90’s. DublinDilettante up here criticize it for being a “mash-up”, let’s say, of Bowie songwritting with then-modern music. Instead, I highly praise Bowie for that. He was not just “jumping on the bandwagon”, he was doing HIS kind of lovely weird music (mostly 😀 ) with new technologies.

‘Little Wonder’ is, in fact, a Great Wonder. Genius songwritting coupled with production clever tricks everywhere make it addicting and compelling. And all the other songs two, I must say, except the last 2 that do sound somewhat staple. ‘Looking for Satellites’ is another of my favorites, its riff in the second part never cease to amaze me. Also, it remembers me a bit of Moonage Daydream. 🙂

Well, I could go on all day saying why I adore this record so much. I do like Outside too, but, overall, I’d say that Earthling is the best thing, creatively speaking, that Bowie put out since Scary Monsters. The textures here are awesome.

His 80’s work was so… forgotable to me. Every album from that period had 2 songs I enjoy hearing, and that’s it. And for me, Tin Machine had a “tawdry sound to it”. I barely, if ever, have any desire to listen to this side-project (at best), again.


5. Paul Wilson - July 12, 2010

I think this was his swan song, you could not keep up the incredible pace or quality of his earlier work. Still love his stuff, a good Brixton boy.


6. sonofstan - July 12, 2010

Was a big Bowie boy in the early/ mid 70s, but drifted away after “Heroes” and never really drifted back. One thing I admire though – his refusal to take the inevitable old rocker knighthood.

Here’s an alternative honours list of those who’ve turned one down: Benjamin Zephaniah’s withering opinion on becoming a ‘Companion’ of the British Empire is worth reading…



7. WorldbyStorm - July 12, 2010

I’d forgotten that he eschewed a knighthood. Isn’t that remarkable under the circumstances?

Brixton. Good on him

Eder R M. Moonage Daydream, I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right.


8. ReJoyce - July 16, 2010


What a fantastic observation re the song Law (Earthlings On Fire)! I don’t think I will ever be able to listen it again ever with a straight face!

I utterly loved this album when it came out and the subsequent tour that followed. What a band he had then – Garson, Gabrels and the eternally amazing Gail-Ann Dorsey. Check out any DVD’s you can get a hold of from then (The 50th birthday bash, the countless festival appearances, etc.). I highly recommend them.

I can still enjoy many of the great tunes here till this day. It was certainly an album that really re-ignited my interest in him again (well, after the sublime Hallo Spaceboy) after his confused, uncertain post-Tin Machine phase. To me this was a return of the Bowie we all knew and loved and you could tell he was having an absolute blast with Earthling and Outside.

Yep, WorldByStorm, you could certainly listen to much worse over the weekend. Enjoy.


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