The next year marked a momentous occasion. Word filtered out that Bowie had once again taken up working with producer Tony Visconti, who had produced most of his “salad days” run on vinyl in the 70s. While the Eno reunion had failed to convince me, maybe this one would succeed? That Summer, the new album “Heathen” was to be released. I saw that it came in a 2xCD “special edition” with four extra songs on it on a bonus EP. Two of the tracks were definitely inferior Air/Moby remixes of songs that were much better on the main “Heathen” album, but I didn’t know that up front. For some reason, the 1979 version of “Panic In Detroit” from the Rykodisc “Lodger” CD which had been out of print for two years made a comeback here. I guess Bowie had changed his mind on that track. The main reason to buy the deluxe version was the re-recording of “A Conversation Piece” which was presumably from the tabled “Toy” sessions.
I couldn’t help but notice that Bowie was no longer associated with Virgin in The States. Maybe their heel-dragging on “Toy” made the Columbia offer look that much better to Bowie? At Any rate, I opted for the 2xCD version.I liked the Jonathan Barnbrook cover a lot. The disturbing, heavily retouched photos and the inverted typography caught my eye immediately. The inclusion of distressed artwork in the package would return with a vengeance in eleven years, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The opener, “Sunday” sounded like Bowie had been listening, very carefully, to Scott Walker’s “Tilt.” The use of David Torn on guitar here was appreciated. I had first noticed him playing with Mick Karn on the “Bestial Cluster” album of ’93. The program of material here was varied and strong. At the time, I still held a candle for “Hours…” but over the years, my love for this album firmly eclipsed that one. The Neil Young cover is perhaps the only odd move here, while awkward, it’s certainly not maladroit, but the other two covers were fantastic! I’m no fan of The Pixies but I had to admit that the cover of “Cactus” was superb. Even better was his cover of The Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s “I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship.” It was as sultry as The Dame ever got.
“Slipaway” was about the days in New York spent watching the Uncle Floyd show before performance of “The Elephant Man” and “Afraid” was the other song that was earlier earmarked for inclusion on “Toy.” Other “Toy” tracks would show up as B-sides to this album’s singles. Pete Townsend guested on the single “Slow Burn” and the result was as fine a song as Bowie had released in 22 years. The deceptively chipper “Everyone Says ‘Hi'” stuck out wildly from the second half of the album, not only for its saccharine tone but the chocolate box production; the only on the album not by Tony Visconti.
I especially liked the deadpan “A Better Future” where the new father himself saw the world looming ahead for his daughter and attempted to bargain with god to insure her health and happiness. This was a very well-rounded Bowie album and the return of Tony Visconti didn’t hurt it at all. Even Carlos Alomar; adrift in the Bowie-less universe* from 1987-2002, returned here for a spot of guitar overdubs on “Everyone Says ‘Hi’.”
- We all are, now.
That Fall, I happened to obtain the LP version of “Heathen” when my [wise] wife purchased the then rare LP version of the title as a birthday present for me.Nothing different from the regular CD, but the large scale artwork certainly yields a lot of disturbing detail when studied carefully. There was a time a few years back, before the hipster vinyl glut that’s seen every album you ever owned re-issued in vomit colored vinyl, when this album [never played by me – as if I would do such a thing] could have been sold for a solid three figures. 2011 saw it reissued in Europe and it appeared in a US blue vinyl copy last year. I’m pleased to see those selling for about a third of the initial pressing on this day.
Next: …I can wait for Reality
For a long time I wavered between Hours and Heathen as to which I preferred, but they are both signs that all was actually well in Bowie’s artistic world and greatness still resided there. Thursday’s Child is still my favorite Bowie song, pre 2013, from this era or renewal, but Everyone Says “Hi” comes damn close. Although he lost Gabrels by Heathen, he gained Visconti who always added that Beta touch to Bowie’s Alpha.
But I will lay it all out on the line and say before you get there that it was 2003’s release that I find the most satisfying from this era. More I’m sure will be written on that.
I love them both, but I will say “Slow Burn” and “Everyone Says Hi” are the two standouts for me, and the cover of “Everyone Says Hi” by Frau Brücken (horses whinny in background) gets me verklempt. I’m not sure I can re-listen to the original for a while yet. I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I can listen (or watch the video of) “Lazarus” yet, even.