In a demonstration of the philosophy that fast work equals better results, Earthling appeared with little warning. Recorded very quickly (for Bowie) with his touring band, it was released within a month of his 50th birthday. Apparently the new sound he liked was called “jungle”. While still steeped in modern dance culture, by sticking to songs he ended up with an album that didn’t need a lot of attention to enjoy.
“Little Wonder” was a striking first single, driven by all that speedy percussion, a great Cockney vocal and lyrics that mention all seven dwarves. “Looking For Satellites” doesn’t have much in the way of words, but it moves along with a typically out-there Reeves Gabrels guitar solo. More sped-up percussion drives “Battle For Britain (The Letter)”—there’s that good ol’ Cockney voice again—with a great chorus to match and another Mike Garson interlude. (Our favorite part is the high-speed digital scanning before the track catches up with the chorus.) “Seven Years In Tibet” finally gives us a slowish song, with elements of his past in the saxophone and what sounds like a stylophone.
With that driving F-to-G riff, “Dead Man Walking” is hypnotic enough, but particularly worth seeking out is the acoustic version as performed on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Unfortunately, “Telling Lies”, despite having been released early as an Internet-only single, sounds a little too much like some of the other jungle tracks. Similarly, “The Last Thing You Should Do” comes off as more of a groove than a song. “I’m Afraid Of Americans” got all the attention thanks to Trent Reznor’s appearance in the video (as well as his remixes of the song, some of which are naturally included on the expanded reissue). And yes, it’s a pretty catchy tune. The album ends strangely with the dated synths on “Law (Earthling On Fire)”, which does nothing so much as remind us of some of the less horrible moments on Black Tie White Noise.
Between recording, touring and running his own interactive website, Bowie was having the time of his life. His creativity is obvious on Earthling, leading back to that age-old question, “What’ll he do next?” Even if you didn’t like all the stops on his journey, at least he was keeping it interesting.
David Bowie Earthling (1997)—3
2005 limited 2CD edition: same as 1997, plus 13 extra tracks