Earthling

  1. Little Wonder [6.02]

  2. Looking For Satellites [5.21]

  3. Battle For Britain (The Letter) [4.49]

  4. Seven Years In Tibet [6.22]

  5. Dead Man Walking [6.50]

  6. Telling Lies [4.50]

  7. The Last Thing You Should Do [4.58]

  8. I'm Afraid Of Americans [ 5.00]

  9. Law (Earthlings On Fire) [4.48]

Bonus tracks on 2004 reissue:

  • Little Wonder (Censored Video Edit) [4.10]

  • Little Wonder (Junior Vasquez Club Mix) [8.10]

  • Little Wonder (Danny Saber Dance Mix) [ 5.30]

  • Seven Years In Tibet (Mandarin Version) [3.58]

  • Dead Man Walking (Moby Mix 1) [7.31]

  • Dead Man Walking (Moby Mix 2) [5.25]

  • Telling Lies (Feelgood Mix) [5.07]

  • Telling Lies (Paradox Mix) [5.10]

  • I'm Afraid Of Americans (Showgirls OST Version) [5.13]

  • I'm Afraid Of Americans (Nine Inch Nails V1 Mix) [5.31]

  • I'm Afraid Of Americans (Nine Inch Nails V1 Clean Edit) [4.12]

  • V-2 Schneider (Tao Jones Index) [7.16]

  • Pallas Athena (Tao Jones Index) [8.19]

Earthling

Released:

  • RCA 74321 449442 - February 1997 (CD)

  • RCA 74321 449441 - February 1997 (LP)

  • Columbia 511935 2 - September 2003

  • Columbia 511935 9 - September 2004 (2CD Limited Edition)

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Guitar, Vocals, Alto Sax, Samples, Keyboards

  • Reeves Gabrels: Programming, Synthesizers, Real & Sampled Guitar, Vocals

  • Zachary Alford: Drum Loops, Acoustic Drums, Electronic Percussion

  • Gail Ann Dorsey: Bass, Vocals

  • Mike Garson: Keyboards, Piano

  • Mark Plati: Programming Loops, Samples, Keyboards

Recorded:

  • Looking Glass Studios, New York/Mountain Studios, Montreux

Producers:

  • David Bowie

Earthling was a celebration of Bowie's exceptional relationship with the band he had gathered together for the Outside tour. "They're probably the most enjoyable set of musicians I've worked with," he told Alan Yentob in 1996. "It's the greatest fun and satisfaction I've had with a band since The Spiders." In April of that year he recorded "Telling Lies" alone in Montreux as a template for the sound he wanted, and the song was premiered during the Summer Festivals tour. In late August Bowie took the band to Looking Glass, the Manhattan studio owned by Philip Glass where, incidentally, the Low and "Heroes" symphonies were also recorded.

 

An important new arrival was engineer Mark Plati, a New Yorker who had cut his teeth at Arthur Baker's Shakedown Studios before working with Prince on Graffiti Bridge and, at Looking Glass, with artists such as Deee-Lite. In addition to engineering and co-writing several tracks, he and Reeves Gabrels took second billing as co-producers - behind Bowie himself, for whom Earthling was the first self-produced album since Diamond Dogs. "I knew exactly what I wanted," David explained. "We didn't have any time to pull in a co-producer...so I just sort of went for it." Speed and spontaneity were the keynotes of the sessions: "There was no aforethought. It was very immediate, very spontaneous, and it virtually put itself together. Writing and recording, two and a half weeks, and then a couple of weeks of mixing...it was really very fast."

 

Earthling was a development of the techno stylings that had emerged on 1.Outside tracks like "I'm Deranged" and "We Prick You", which Bowie described as "almost a quite moderate version of jungle", alongside the Outside tour's experimental realignments of numbers like "Andy Warhol" and "The Man Who Sold The World". The new songs pushed further into a territory that had first captured his attention in 1993 when a friend sent him a tape of "the original Caribbean London guys like General Levy...I found it so exciting, as exciting as any new rhythm that's going to become the vocabulary of that time." As ever, Bowie was intent on adapting and subverting his source material: "We came into the studio specifically with the idea of trying to juxtapose all the dance styles that we'd been working with live," he explained. "Jungle, aggressive rock and industrial." Also back in force were the computer-randomised cut-ups of 1.Outside. David had now co-designed the Verbasizer, a refinement of his previous program which formulated random but actual sentences out of the words fed into it.

 

The experimental spirit of the 1.Outside sessions fed directly into the new work, as David later explained: "Back when we did 1.Outside [Gabrels and I] had the idea of transferring little bits of guitar to sampling keyboards and constructing riffs from those pieces. It's real guitar but constructed in a synthetic way. But Brian Eno got in the way - in the nicest possible way - so we didn't get to that until this album." Zachary Alford's percussion samples were similarly home-made, as Bowie told Modern Drummer: "He would take, like, half a day and work out loops of his own on the snare, and create patterns at 120 bpm that we would then speed up to the requisite 160...And then over the top of that, he would improvise on a real kit. So what you had was a great combination of an almost robotic, automaton approach to fundamental rhythm, with really free interpretative playing over the top of it." In the same interview, he explained that "What I really wanted to do was not so very dissimilar to what I did in the seventies and something I've repeatedly done, which is to take the technological and combine it with the organic. It was very important to me that we didn't lose the feel of real musicianship working in conjunction with anything that was sampled or looped or worked out on the computer."

 

In addition to "Telling Lies" and an overhaul of the 1.Outside out-take "I'm Afraid Of Americans", seven new compositions emerged as album tracks. Also recorded during the Earthling sessions were a re-vamped (and as yet unreleased) version of "Baby Universal", which had been revived on stage earlier in the year, and a new acoustic rendition of "I Can't Read", originally intended for the album but ousted by "The Last Thing You Should Do". It later appeared as a single and featured in the soundtrack of The Ice Storm.

 

In early September "Little Wonder" and "Seven Years In Tibet" were added to the band's repertoire for the "East Coast Ballroom" tour, while "Telling Lies" was previewed on the Internet in the same month. Work on the album continued through October, interrupted only by Bowie's appearances at the Bridge School benefit concerts, where the spectacle of Neil Young's headlining set inspired the lyrics of "Dead Man Walking". "Telling Lies" was officially released as a single in November. The album was given a live preview in early January when all but two of the songs were included in Bowie's fiftieth birthday concert. The "Little Wonder" single followed on January 27th and, riding the wave of fiftieth birthday publicity, Earthling itself was released on February 3rd.

 

As usual, the overseas markets offered various alternative formats. The Japanese issue included a poster and lyric sheet and offered "Telling Lies (Adam F Mix)" as an extra track. In Hong Kong, the Mandarin version of "Seven Years In Tibet" was included on a bonus CD, while the French release came with a limited-edition promo disc featuring live versions of "The Hearts Filthy Lesson" and "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1996 Phoenix Festival. Sony's 2004 US reissue (LEGACY 092098) would later include "Telling Lies (Adam F Mix)", "Little Wonder (Danny Saber Dance Mix)", "I'm Afraid Of Americans (V1)" and "Dead Man Walking (Moby Mix 2)", while Columbia's 2004 two-disc UK edition featured no fewer than 13 remixes, alternate versions and live tracks from the 1997 tour.

 

Earthling garnered Bowie's best reviews for many years, surpassing even the widely favourable reaction to 1.Outside. "There is something about Bowie's perennial dilettante enthusiasm that's rather engaging this time around," wrote John Mulvey in the NME, "as he grafts careering backbeats onto his familiar portentous tracks...it's not the future, but it's pretty fine." Q found the album "shot through with a gnarly atmospheric chill not encountered since Scary Monsters," while Mojo commended Bowie for "offering refined mainstream applications of cutting-edge experimentation," noting that "the use to which he puts those pulsating jungle rhythms here is considerably more interesting than 90 per cent of purist drum N bass...Far from slowing down and mellowing out with age, Bowie seems more energised by the passing years, moving faster and faster to accommodate the ever-growing sum of influences and cultural contradictions operating on his muse. He'll undoubtedly come in for some stick for using young folks' musical forms, but wouldn't it be wonderful if all 50-year-old rockers retained such an interest in the future?"

 

There were indeed many who accused Bowie of merely jumping on the latest musical bandwagon as if this were something he'd never done before. Unhelpfully, both the mainstream press and the music papers elected on the strength of "Little Wonder" to brand Earthling a 'drum N bass' or 'jungle' album, a description that crystallised into a common consensus despite being demonstrably inaccurate. Certainly the sonic assaults of "Little Wonder" and "Battle For Britain" are heavily influenced by acts like Tricky, Goldie and in particular The Prodigy, but the album is firmly grounded in a conventional songwriting sensibility that can be heard just as clearly beneath the fashionable drum-loop trappings of "Little Wonder" as anywhere else. Nobody would describe "Looking For Satellites" or "Seven Years In Tibet" as jungle: they're just classic Bowie. "I'd hate the impression to be that its overridingly jungle," said David at the time, adding elsewhere that "This record owes a debt to drum N bass in the use of rhythm, but I don't have much interest in the top information; what we are doing is a million light years away from what, say, Goldie would be doing or any number of other drum N bass purist artists."

 

After the often brutal cynicism of 1.Outside, the lyrical content marks a cautious return to the spiritual realms of Station To Station: "Looking For Satellites" and "Dead Man Walking" in particular address man's universal predicament with a touching poignancy. "I guess the common ground with all the songs is this abiding need in me to vacillate between atheism or a kind of Gnosticism," Bowie told Q. "I keep going backwards and forwards between the two things because they mean a lot in my life. I mean, the church doesn't enter into my writing or my thoughts; I have no empathy with any organised religions. What I need to find is a balance, spiritually, with the way I live and my demise. And that period of time - from today until my demise - is the only thing that fascinates me." Of the music itself, he concluded that "it feels really good-hearted and uplifting...I get all happy when I hear it." As for the album's title: "it was supposed to describe the Earth; man and his pure habitat on Earth. And I suppose the irony isn't lost on me that it's sort of me in maybe my most worldly kind of human guise to date."

 

Even though it was recorded in New York with a band consisting entirely of Americans, Earthling is also arguably Bowie's most 'British' album since the 1970s. After years spent name-dropping American or European influences, David appeared to have turned his attention instead to young British artists, and the album's undercurrent of transatlantic friction is by no means restricted to "I'm Afraid Of Americans". Since 1993 there had been a growing sense that Bowie was a homecoming hero of British rock, and with the release of Earthling timed to coincide with his fiftieth birthday, his critical rehabilitation by the British music papers was all but complete. Asked in late 1996 whether he still felt British, Bowie replied, "More so than ever before." During the Summer Festivals tour, he had taken to wearing a Union Jack frock-coat he co-designed with Alexander McQueen, inspired by Gavin Turk's exhibit Indoor Flag. It was hardly an original gesture; the Union Jack was already a standard accessory of the music papers' 'Britpop' hype, and more than one band had draped itself in the flag for Melody Maker or the NME. Post-Earthling the trend would become a craze, with everyone from The Spice Girls to Eurythmics turning up at the Brit Awards in tailor-made Union Jack outfits.

 

Earlier in the decade, Morrissey had courted controversy with his ambivalent flag-waving, but Bowie was not about to repeat the mistakes of 1976. In its own quiet way, Earthling's sleeve artwork puts a twist on his revised sense of national identity. Back to the camera in his Union Jack coat, he gazes out over the garishly tinted rolling fields of a pastoral England, a Blakeian 'green and pleasant land' nostalgically evoking cricket, cream teas and the last night of the Proms. His Colossus-of-Rhodes stance suggests both the proud eighteenth-century landowner in a Gainsborough portrait and, simultaneously, the isolated visitor in an alien landscape evoked many years earlier by the Ziggy Stardust sleeve. "Frank Ockenfels took the photograph," explained Bowie, "And then Dave De Angelis, who's a really good computer designer in England, squeezed in a bit of England in front of me, as I was in New York when I shot that." Amid the inner sleeve's distorted band portraits are images that hark back to Bowie's Los Angeles exile in the mid-1970s. The blurred George Pal-style flying saucer is, David explained, "a satellite made out of silver foil from a Marlboro packet...part of an art movie I made in 1974," while the swirling pattern also used on the sleeve of the "Little Wonder" single is a Kirlian photograph of David's fingertip and crucifix, also dating from the Los Angeles period. Kirlian Energy, he explained, is "a force that you find around the whole body, and may help to explain the idea of auras and healers, the energy that they have. There was a woman doctor called Dr Thelma Moss who had a research department at UCLA which was backed by the Pentagon to fund the exploration of Kirlian Energy because they'd heard the Russians were investigating it. So she developed a machine, and made me one." This particular experiment had involved the taking of two Kirlian photographs. The first, shot just before David set to work on a particularly large helping of cocaine, shows the fingertip and crucifix in simple outline. The second, taken thirty minutes later, is the sizzling image that appears on the Earthling sleeve.

 

Earthling is a faster, rockier, more exuberant album than its predecessor, and its immediacy and ostensible lack of pretension proved more critic-friendly and more commercial. It out-performed 1.Outside with a number 6 peak in the UK chart, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Performance (which it lost to Radiohead's OK Computer). "There's nothing complex about the album at all," said Bowie at the time. "This one is pretty primitive in a way." The studied artistry of 1.Outside remains arguably a more substantial feast, but there's no denying that the furious broadside offered by Earthling makes for a very fine album indeed. Both are essential purchases for those willing to partake of Bowie's creative rebirth.