Heathen

  1. Sunday [4.45]

  2. Cactus [2.55]

  3. Slip Away [6.04] (SACD: 6.14)

  4. Slow Burn [4.40] (SACD: 5.04)

  5. Afraid [3.28]

  6. I've Been Waiting For You [3.00] (SACD: 3.16)

  7. I Would Be Your Slave [5.14]

  8. I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship [4.05]

  9. 5.15 The Angels Have Gone [5.00] (SACD: 5.25)

  10. Everyone Says 'Hi' [3.59]

  11. A Better Future [4.11] (SACD: 3.56)

  12. Heathen (The Rays) [4.17]

Bonus Disc:

  • Sunday (Moby Remix) [5.09]

  • A Better Future (Remix by Air) [4.56]

  • Conversation Piece [3.52]

  • Panic In Detroit [3.00]

Bonus tracks on SACD Version:

  • When The Boys Come Marching Home [4.46]

  • Wood Jackson [4.48]

  • Conversation Piece [3.52]

  • Safe [5.53]

Heathen

Released:

  • ISO/Columbia 508222 9 - June 2002 (CD:Limited Edition Card Case with Bonus Disc)

  • ISO/Columbia 508222 2 - June 2002 (CD: Jewel Case)

  • ISO/Columbia 508222 1 - June 2002 (Vinyl)

  • ISO/Columbia 508222 6 - December 2002 (SACD)

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Saxophone, Stylophone, Drums

  • Tony Visconti: Bass, Guitars, Recorders, String Arrangements, Backing Vocals

  • Matt Chamberlain: Drums, Loop Programming, Percussion

  • David Torn: Guitars, Guitar Loops, Omnichord

  • The Scorchio Quartet: Greg Kitzis (First Violin), Meg Okura (Second Violin), Martha Mooke (Viola), Mary Wooten (Cello)

  • Carlos Alomar: Guitar

  • Sterling Campbell: Drums and Percussion

  • Lisa Germano: Violin

  • Gerry Leonard: Guitar

  • Tony Levin: Bass

  • Mark Plati: Guitar, Bass

  • Jordan Ruddess: Keyboards

  • The Borneo Horns: Lenny Pickett (Baritone Saxophone), Stan Harrison (Alto Saxophone), Steve Elson (Tenor Saxophone), Kristeen Young (Backing Vocals/Piano)

  • Pete Townshend: Guitar on "Slow Burn"

  • Dave Grohl: Guitar on "I've Been Waiting For You"

  • Gary Miller: Additional Guitar on "Everyone Says 'Hi'"

  • Dave Clayton: Keyboards on "Everyone Says 'Hi'"

  • John Read: Bass on "Everyone Says 'Hi'"

  • Sola Akingbola: Percussion on "Everyone Says 'Hi'"

  • Philip Sheppard: Electric Cello on "Everyone Says 'Hi'"

Recorded:

  • Allaire Studios, New York/Looking Glass Studios, New York/Sub Urban Studios, London

Producers:

  • Tony Visconti, David Bowie (except "Afraid" - David Bowie, Mark Plati and "Everyone Says 'Hi' - Brian Rawling, Gary Miller

While Virgin vacillated over the release of Toy, the early months of 2001 saw Bowie begin work on a new studio project which would reunite him with producer Tony Visconti for their first full-length album since Scary Monsters. After years of silence, apparently occasioned by Visconti's frankness with interviewers in the early 1980s, the two had become reconciled in 1998 and had already worked on various one-off studio projects including Placebo's "Without You I'm Nothing", The Rustic Overtones' Viva Nueva, and the 1998 Bowie recordings "Safe" and "Mother". Visconti, who had also contributed string arrangements during the Toy sessions, was delighted to be working with Bowie again. "It was only in very recent years, around the time he made contact again, that I realised how much I missed him," he said. "We had both grown and changed, so the time was right to open the channels again. However, I've discovered how sensitive he is about his privacy and I've learned to respect that."

 

Bowie was equally pleased by the long-awaited reunion. "Although we've been friends off and on forever, over the last few years we haven't actually done any work together," he said in October 2000, "so the beginning of next year's album will be critical for both of us, as I'm sure that we've both learnt a lot over the ensuing years. Maybe we've gotten into some bad recording habits as well. What Tony and I always found to be one of our major strengths is the ability to free each other up from getting into a rut. So no doubt there will be some huge challenges, but also some pretty joyous occasions."

 

Although writing and demoing began as early as January 2001, David's domestic life demanded that the new sessions proceed at a more leisurely pace than usual: his daughter Alexandria was now the undisputed centre of attention, and he assured journalists that he was not about to repeat the errors of the 1970s. "I don't want to start doing what I, unfortunately, did with my son, inasmuch as I spent an awful lot of time on tour when he was a young child," David later told The Observer. "I really missed those years, and I know he did too. Fortunately, we were together by the time he was six and I brought him up from that point on. It was a one-parent family. I don't want to repeat the same mistakes with Lexi." Speaking of becoming a father for the second time, he remarked elsewhere that "I really, really love it. To be honest, I really have to pull myself together weekly to focus on my music, that sometimes it almost feels like a distraction. The music, I mean. But I think I'm beginning to find a sense of balance between daddyfying and workifying. Mind you, the next album might have lyrics like 'the wheels on the bus go round and round...'"

 

Despite David's evident joy, it was sadly a period of mixed fortunes for the Bowie family. On April 2nd 2001 the news emerged that David's 88-year-old mother Peggy Jones had died peacefully at the St Albans nursing home where she had lived for some years. David attended the funeral, where Kenneth Pitt witnessed him hugging his aunt and one-time tabloid nemesis Pat Antoniou, later describing his conduct as "absolutely wonderful". Only a month later came the news that David's friend and colleague Freddi Buretti had died in Paris at the age of 49. The emotional upheavals of 2001 would be reflected in Bowie's new songs, many of which meditated on such weighty topics as bereavement, faith, mortality and the uncertainty of the future.

 

"In coming into this album," David later explained, "I thought, 'What's the best way of approaching big questions without being too grand?'" His solution was to approach the project with the aim of creating a collection "of serious songs to be sung". He also wanted to ensure that the reunion with Tony Visconti would not "smack of trying to recapture anything we'd done before", and as a result "it was very important to me to make sure that we had some very good musical structures" before the sessions began. "I went in with the idea of creating a personal, cultural restoration," David later explained to Interview magazine. "I wanted to capture everything - all the ideas, all the techniques that I've used over the years - while working within this prism called the zeitgeist. In the process, I wanted to create a timeless piece that didn't owe to the past, present or future, but just floated in its own autonomous kind of place."

 

Tony Visconti recognised a marked development in Bowie's approach to songwriting since the days of Scary Monsters: "His knowledge of harmonic and chordal structure had vastly improved," Visconti would say later. "This had already been good when I last worked with him, but now there was more depth to his melodic and harmonic writing. I had developed too, so we'd kind of moved in a parallel way along the same route. We were definitely on the same wavelength. A part of him wants commercial success, but there's a bigger part of him that has great artistic integrity, and it was, therefore, important to him for Heathen to make a great artistic statement."

 

For the first time since The Buddha Of Suburbia, all of the new material was written by David alone. "It's increasingly evident to me that my needs to make music change periodically," he said in 2002. "There's the narrative, crafted song type; then the experimental ideas and situational type; and thirdly a theatrical-motivated, scenario type. I guess Heathen owes a lot to the first type, with a little of the second as seasoning."

 

Preparatory work was carried out at New York's Looking Glass Studios, where David assembled "a lot of music that I really liked, almost 40 pieces, maybe even more. They were just sort of motifs; they weren't finished, established pieces of work." The intention of these initial sessions, he explained, was "to re-establish myself as a writer and a putter-together of sounds", and to establish a framework for the subsequent sessions. "Tony and I wanted to give each song its own identity and character without getting lost in a hailstorm of musical ideas."

 

A decisive moment in the album's development came in the Spring of 2001 when, as Bowie later recalled, guitarist David Torn recommended a new studio venue. "He said 'David, you must go and see this new place.' He said the atmosphere is unlike any other studio that he'd ever been to." The venue in question was Allaire Studios, a new facility created by photographer and musician Randall Wallace at Glen Tonche in the Catskill mountains, some two hours' drive north of New York City. "It was almost an epiphany that I had," Bowie told Interview of his first visit to Allaire. "Walking through the door, everything that my album should be about was galvanised for me into one focal point. Even though I couldn't express it in words right that second, I knew what the lyrics were already. they were all suddenly accumulated in my mind. It was an on-the-road-to-Damascus type of experience, you know? It was almost like my feet were lifted off the ground."

 

Glen Tonche is a luxury estate built in the 1920s by the wealthy industrialist Raymond Pitcairn. "He'd obviously knocked around a lot with nautical types," said Bowie, "because the whole place has a kind of yacht feel that you get from Eisenhower-era yachts - those very American but aristocratic pieces of work. The whole thing is wood, with great, vast main rooms, and the grounds are full of deer, pigs and bears. The dining room that we ended up using as our studio has 40-foot tall ceilings, with 25-foot windows that look out over a reservoir and the mountains." The picturesque but barren surroundings offered an unusual source of creative inspiration for Bowie, who generally prefers to work in urban settings like New York and Berlin, but he was keen to point out that "this is not cute, on top of this mountain: it's stark, and it has a Spartan quality about it. In this instance, the retreat atmosphere honed my thoughts...I don't know what happened up there, but something clicked for me as a writer."

 

Tony Visconti later revealed that Bowie was "writing furiously" within days of arriving at Allaire. "This studio was just amazing and it also had a vibe about it," he recalled. "We were really high, about 2000 feet above sea level, overlooking this big reservoir. And we'd see hawks in the sky, an eagle one day. We'd see deer and wild turkeys and all that. David would get up every morning at six and go in and write that day's work. He'd finish up some of his ideas. And then Matt [Chamberlain] and I would hit the studio about 10:30 or 11 in the morning and start recording the first song."

 

During his free time, David would listen to music as diverse as Moby, Air, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and the Comedian Harmonists, a six-part harmony group from the 1930s. Crucial lyrics like "Sunday" and "Heathen (The Rays)" were inspired directly by Bowie's new surroundings, and were among the first to be composed. "The heavier-weighted thing, the keystones to the album, were written in the earlier part," David explained later. "I wanted to get those done. And I got lighter after I felt that I'd made my breakthrough."

 

Recording continued in Allaire's Neve Room during August and September. "We're putting in a modest 10-hour day," revealed Tony Visconti at the time, "but we cut 19 tracks in two weeks." The initial recordings were laid down by Bowie and Visconti with input from two newcomers, percussionist Matt Chamberlain and guitarist David Torn. Chamberlain's extensive credits included Macy Gray's On How Life Is and Elton John's Songs From The West Coast, and he had also worked with the likes of Garbage, Peter Gabriel, Tori Amos and The Corrs. Most recently he had played on Natalie Merchant's 2001 album Motherland, which had also been recorded at Allaire. "I knew his work by reputation, and he had been working with Natalie when he had gone to look at the place, so I was able to meet and talk with him a little," Bowie later explained. Multi-instrumentalist and guitar 'texturalist' David Torn, who recorded his contributions to Heathen in September 2001, had twice won the Experimental category in Guitar Player's poll awards. His previous credits included work with Laurie Anderson, David Sylvian, kd lang and Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as his own Splattered Cell recordings and contributions to numerous film soundtracks including Three Kings, Velvet Goldmine and The Big Lebowski.

 

"I was keen to work with musicians neither of us had worked with before," Bowie explained to Time Out, "so I told my band, whom I've worked with for seven years now, 'You're all sacked, fuck off', haha. No, that's not true. I said: 'Listen, guys, for artistic reasons we won't be working together on the next album, but we'll pick up when I've finished and go back out as a band.'" It wasn't the first time that Bowie had chosen to wipe the slate clean and record with a fresh group of musicians, and Visconti would later express his admiration at David's ability to 'stage' an album by assembling an unpredictable and exciting combination of performers, "knowing what characters to put together to make something wonderful and odd." Bowie's own instrumental contribution was greater than on any album in recent memory, encompassing guitars, saxophone, Stylophone, keyboards (including Theremins and the EMS AKS briefcase synth previously featured on Low) and even drums. In October 2001 he declared excitedly that he had "played probably more on this album than any other that I've done since Diamond Dogs or maybe Low." This was a development actively encouraged by Visconti. "With most producers, I get the feeling I'm being judged when I play something," David explained. "If I have an option of playing something myself or turning it over to a qualified, card-carrying musician I'll usually opt for the latter. Then I'll kick myself because it never quite sounds the way I would have done it."

 

Visconti would later reveal that "On some tracks, like "Sunday" and "I Would Be Your Slave", we decided to resurrect the "Heroes" vocal sound." Just as he had done in Berlin 25 years earlier, Visconti set up three microphones at increasing distances from the singer, their gates adjusted to open only when David sang above a certain volume. "You need a big studio, and Allaire's room is huge and not treated - other than a few carpets and tapestries judiciously placed on the floors and walls."

 

In addition to the core band, a succession of guest musicians travelled to Allaire to provide overdubs. Among them was the Irish-born textural guitarist Gerry Leonard, who had previously contributed to the Toy sessions and would soon go on to become a key member of Bowie's live band, as would backing vocalist Catherine Russell, a jazz, gospel and R&B singer whose previous credits included a number of stage musicals and session work with Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Chaka Khan, Steely Dan and Paul Simon. St Louis-born singer-songwriter Kristeen Young had been contacted by Tony Visconti after he heard her 2000 album Enemy; having already arranged to record solo tracks with Visconti, she was delighted to be asked to work on the Bowie album, and in the wake of the Heathen sessions David would contribute a guest vocal on her Visconti-produced album Breasticles.

 

Keyboardist Jordan Ruddess, whose Heathen contributions were recorded in late August, had previously played on "Mother" and "Safe" and had more recently worked with Tony Visconti on Prefab Sprout's 2001 album The Gunman And Other Stories. "David Bowie doesn't like a lot of options," Ruddess revealed at the time of the Heathen sessions. "He has a good idea of how he wants the end result to sound, so practically what's on his demo is close to what he wants."

 

It appears that Jordan Ruddess may have replaced Bowie's original choice, jazz singer and pianist Annette Peacock. At the launch in October 2000 of her long-awaited comeback album An Acrobat's Heart, Peacock had told reporters that Bowie had asked her to record with him the following January and even suggested that she accompany him on tour. Bowie is known to be a long-time admirer of Peacock: back in 1973 she had turned down his invitation to play synthesisers on Aladdin Sane, but he had nevertheless been instrumental in getting her signed to MainMan, where her songs were covered by both The Astronettes and Mick Ronson. Another reunion that went no further than the planning stages was with guitarist Robert Fripp, who had met David in New York during the final stages of King Crimson's 2000 tour. In December 2000 Fripp's wife, Toyah Willcox, wrote in her online diary that "Robert is in talks to possibly do some work with David Bowie" - but, for the time being at least, this was not to be.

 

Heathen did, however, see Bowie reunited with no fewer than three of his former guitarists. Nirvana veteran and Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, who had backed Bowie at his fiftieth birthday concert, provided a suitably aggressive solo on "I've Been Waiting For You". "He just called and asked if I'd play guitar on a song," Grohl later recalled. "And I said yes, sure; he sent me the copy of the songs, I played guitar and sent it back." Meanwhile, Carlos Alomar, who had also worked with Visconti on the Prefab Sprout album, was reunited with Bowie for the first time since the Outside tour and recorded his overdubs in mid-October. The attention of most reviewers, however, was concentrated on Pete Townshend's contribution to "Slow Burn". Following Bowie's cover version of The Who's "Pictures Of Lily", recorded during the previous year's Toy sessions, the pair met in New York in October 2001 during preparations for the Concert For New York City. Armed with Bowie's backing tapes, Townshend recorded his "Slow Burn" overdubs later the same month, telling fans that Bowie's album was "surprising, moving, poetic, in a musical and visionary sense."

 

Mixing took place in October at Looking Glass Studios, where Tony Visconti reworked elements of the Mark Plati-produced "Afraid", originally recorded for Toy in 2000, to bring it in line with the new tracks. Another song from the Toy sessions, "Uncle Floyd", had been entirely re-recorded at Allaire under its new title "Slip Away". It was also at Looking Glass that vocals and guitars for "Everyone Says 'Hi" were recorded by Bowie, Visconti and Carlos Alomar before the track was completed at London's Sub Urban Studios by guest producers Brian Rawling and Garry Miller. B-sides from the sessions included "Wood Jackson", "When The Boys Come Marching Home" and a revamped "Safe". Bowie later intimated that the sessions had been very prolific, remarking that "the hard part was knowing which songs not to include."

 

Overdubbing continued on and off into the New Year, with Visconti adding work by the Scorchio Quartet, who had accompanied Bowie at the Tibet House Benefit Concert the previous February, and saxophone trio The Borneo Horns, returning to the Bowie stable for the first time since Never Let Me Down, who recorded their contribution to "Slow Burn" on January 29th 2002.

 

December 2001 saw two entirely separate but significant developments for David. Firstly, after a couple of false starts over the preceding two years, the lifelong smoker finally quit his 60-a-day habit, this time apparently for good. Secondly, on December 15th came an announcement which onlookers had been expecting for some time, as a press release revealed that David had parted company with Virgin Records. "On Thursday morning Bowie's business representatives, RZO, sent a letter to Virgin Records stating that 'We respectfully decline your attempts to negotiate a new contract in light of the missed option pick-up of a year ago'." Instead, Bowie had taken the step of forming his own independent label, ISO. "I've had one too many years of bumping heads with corporate structure," he explained. "Many times I've not been in agreement with how things are done and as a writer of some proliferation, frustrated at how slow and lumbering it all is. I've dreamed of embarking on my own set-up for such a long time and now is the perfect opportunity." It transpired that Bowie had registered ISO as a record label over a year earlier, and was now ready to begin operations at once. "I want to keep the whole experience at a human level," he said. "To characterise ISO, I think I would use guitarist Robert Fripp's phrase and describe it as aiming to be 'a small, mobile, intelligent unit'."

 

In March 2002 came the announcement that Columbia Records had entered into a multi-album deal with ISO for the marketing and distribution of Bowie's work, beginning with Heathen. Columbia chairman Don Ienner declared that "David Bowie is simply one of the most distinctive, influential and exciting artists of our time, and Heathen is a remarkable addition to his incredible body of work. The album is filled with amazing songs and performances that evoke vintage Bowie without ever looking backwards, and I think it's the album that his worldwide audience had been waiting for. Music needs David Bowie right now, and we couldn't be more proud that he has chosen Columbia as his new home." David later told Billboard that "Absolutely no attempt was made on their part to guide me into making a chart-oriented record. What I brought them is what they took - and with great enthusiasm."

 

Meanwhile, other influences were shaping the creative progress of Heathen. November 2001 had seen the publication of Iman's autobiographical portfolio I Am Iman, a fascinating visual essay on the politics of beauty and ethnicity in Western society. David wrote a touching foreword for the book, which was adorned by the work of photographers such as Annie Liebowitz, Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton and Norman Parkinson. Initial copies came with a limited-edition CD of tracks selected by David and Iman, offering an intriguing insight into the place David's work occupies in the couple's lives: "The Wedding", "Wild Is The Wind", "Loving The Alien", "As The World Falls Down" and "Abdulmajid". The book's stunning cover photograph was taken by the Swiss photographer Markus Klinko, a New York resident who would soon take his place in Bowie lore as Heathen's sleeve photographer. Klinko's striking Heathen portraits were shot in early 2002 and computer-enhanced by his partner Indrani. Bowie then enlisted Jonathan Barnbrook, the British designer of I Am Iman, to create the album's idiosyncratic upside-down typeface.

 

As its title suggests, Heathen continues to pursue the troubled spirituality of 1990s albums like 1.Outside, Earthling and 'hours...', and its core themes maintain a sense of strong continuity with Bowie's earlier work. "My entire career, I've only really worked with the same subject matter," he remarked in 2002. "The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I've always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety - all of the high points of one's life." Although Heathen's assertive tone seems considerably less weary and resigned than that of its immediate predecessor 'hours...', the sense of the darkness that comes with an ageing perspective is even stronger. "There are times in our quiet lives when we're very happy," Bowie told Interview, "but there comes a point where you're not growing anymore, and your body's strength is diminishing. Especially in one's mid-fifties, you're very aware that that's the moment you have to leave the idea of being young. You've got to let it go." But of the album, he explained that "I didn't want it to become pathetic either, like, you know, 'Here's an old man's recollections' or something. Still, I had no embarrassment about expressing the thoughts and experiences of an old man. There's a British nursery rhyme I carry with me. The first line is 'This is the way the young men ride - clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop,' and it ends with 'This is the way the old men ride - hobbledy, hobbledy, hobbledy, down into the ditch'. I had it in my mind that I'm in the 'This is the way the old men ride' part. I wanted to give some sense of what happens when you arrive at this age - do you still have doubts, do you still have questions and fears, and does everything burn with as much luminosity as it did when you were young? As a kickoff to get me going, I used the songs of Richard Strauss, which have influenced me for such a long time. There is a certain sense of universality in those songs that Strauss wrote at the end of his life when he was 84 [the Four Last Songs]: they're the most terribly romantic, sad, poignant pieces that I think have ever been written. I kind of used them as a template for songs on the new album like "Sunday", "Heathen (The Rays), "I Would Be Your Slave" and "5.15 The Angels Have Gone'." David would later describe Gundula Janowiz's 1973 recording of the Four Last Songs as "...transcendental. It aches with love for a life that is quietly fading. I know of no other piece of music, nor any performance, which moves me quite like this."

 

However, Bowie was at pains to stress that his interest in the pathos of age had nothing to do with self-pity. "I don't find it a problem being old and I don't mind not thinking like I used to think when I was young," he told Tim Cooper in The Observer. "I don't have that thing about 'I'm old but I feel like an 18-year-old inside!' I don't. I feel like exactly what I am, which is 55 going on 56, and it seems to be a pretty cool age to be. I've experienced a lot and have a sense of who I am that maybe I didn't have a few years ago." In another interview, he suggested that he now had "fewer and fewer questions about life", which in turned allowed him to concentrate on "the questions that are unresolvable. I'm approaching those questions in the new songs. At first, I thought, 'Well, if I write about this, I won't have anything left to write about.' But then I realised that what life is about is quite a subject to take on. And at the moment, I feel like I've only scratched the surface."

 

It is this continuing philosophical quest which invests Heathen with its overpowering atmosphere of darkness and despair. "Probably my greatest strength as a writer is an ability to capture transitory, nagging fear," David suggested. "I don't do political worldview very well, but I'm good at capturing ephemeral pockets of doubt and underlying anxiety." The air of world-weary reminiscence which had dominated 'hours...' is supplanted on Heathen by a more immediate sense of existential dread in songs like "Sunday", "Afraid", and in particular the mortal angst of the title track. "Obviously the idea of fear is very strong within the album," Bowie told Radio 4's Front Row. "I think one of the major fears actually, that underlines it all for me personally, is the fear that there is no spiritual life...I confront it every day of my life. It's something I've always thought about. I'm a very spiritual person, inasmuch as I've had this awful bloody journey searching for a spiritual life."

 

As so often in his work, Bowie subverts the traditional dialogue of the love song to create a series of philosophical meditations which tackle more profound and abstract concepts. "I Would Be Your Slave" is far from being the submissive love lyric it first appears to be, while "A Better Future" finds Bowie making demands not of a lover, but of God. "They're stubborn, they're naive declarations," he explained, "that if you're not going to do anything about our world, you know, you're not going to have any support for your plans in the future, God!" Even the ostensibly cheery "Everyone Says 'Hi" is a meditation on bereavement, while the title track addresses the moment when the narrator feels his life ebbing away. "anxiety and spiritual searching have been consistent themes with me, and that figures into my worldview," he said. "But I tend to make my songs sound like relationship songs."

 

"David was very jovial," Visconti later told The Guardian. "But he would go somewhere in the mornings when he was writing these songs. You could see he was really struggling with questions. After a few weeks, I said: 'It seems like you're addressing God himself.' The concept of Heathen is a godless century. He was addressing the bleakness of our soul...and maybe his own soul."

 

Another recurrent motif on the album, starkly expressed in tracks like "Slow Burn", was what Bowie described as "fear forward about my daughter, more than anything else. Since my daughter's been born I am changing as a writer. There has been a shift in the weight of my responsibilities, relinquishing my own concerns about myself and Iman as a couple, and thinking instead about Lexi and what her world is going to be like." This anxiety on behalf of his daughter's generation is nowhere more clearly expressed than in Bowie's demand for "A Better Future". "I had rosy expectations for the twenty-first century, I really did," David told The Observer. "The whole idea was lifting my spirits quite a lot during 1998 and 1999. But it has become something other than what I expected it to be. And it's obviously a pretty typical parental concern to wonder what type of a world you have brought your child into."

 

Given the timing of its release and the fact that Bowie lived and worked in New York, it was inevitable that many commentators would also suggest that Heathen's doom-laden subject matter was in part a response to the events of September 11th 2001. Although he acknowledged that a retrospective resonance was unavoidable, David denied that it was intentional. "It was all written before," he told Entertainment Weekly, "every single song...I don't want it to reflect that situation particularly at all, because in fact, that crock of songs came out of a general feeling of anxiety I've had in America for a number of years. It wasn't that localised - bang! - thing that happened in September." As Visconti later explained, the album was in the middle of recording on the day of the terrorist attacks. "For that whole day, we lost contact with our loved ones. Iman was very close to it. He got hold of her for 10 minutes and the phones went down. My son lived very close. His business partner lived across the street and managed to get out five minutes before the building collapsed. All of us have stories like that. Did it influence the album? Undoubtedly, but a lot of those lyrics are very prophetic. I swear to you only a few lines were amended after September 11." In another interview, Bowie remarked that "Probably a half-dozen of my albums you could have put out just after September 11 and people would have thought they were commenting on that tragedy. I think a general state of angst was there before anything happened in September, in all honesty. There's always disaster and near-disaster in life."

 

Indeed, Bowie's love of New York seemed to grow rather than to diminish in the aftermath of 9/11. Shortly after his daughter's birth, David had intimated that he and Iman were planning to relocate to London. "there is no way I'm bringing up my child in America," he had told GQ magazine in 2000. "No way. We'll be back over to London, without a doubt." A year later, he appeared to have changed his mind. "New York has always been a terrific place," he said in November 2001, "and we both really adore living here. Somehow, if it's possible, it seems to be an even tighter community than it was before. I don't think either of us would want to trade places with anywhere else at the moment." This was a point of view to which he would repeatedly return during promotional interviews in 2002. Echoing the sentiments he had expressed at the time of The Elephant Man over 20 years earlier, he compared London's paparazzi-infested streets with the relaxed atmosphere of New York: "There are certain cities - London, LA, Paris - where I don't have a good time. I have a great time here: we can go where we want, eat where we want, walk out with our child, go to the park, ride the subway, do the things that any other family does...In London, it's more excitable and becomes more event-oriented, but here the recognition is almost at a community level. It's like, 'Hi Dave, how ya doing!' It's a very friendly thing over here."

 

The anxiety expressed throughout Heathen is not, then, the same anxiety that had brought forth the paranoid eschatology of Diamond Dogs or the desperate clutching at spiritual straws of Station To Station. It is the anxiety of a happy, fulfilled mind struggling to come to terms with intimations of mortality. "It's a head-spinning dichotomy," David confessed to Ingrid Sischy in her excellent piece for Interview, "of the lust for life against the finality of everything. It's those two things racing against each other, you know? And that produces these moments that feel like real truth...It's like, how do you come to terms with that situation? Is there any comfort factor to be found in here at all? What is the point of all this? And that's kind of what Heathen is. I love this work. I love this life. I'm so greedy not to want to give it up. I just don't want to give it up. It's hard to give it up. This album is about that." In another statement, he defined the protagonist of Heathen as "One who does not see his world. He has no mental light. He destroys almost unwittingly. He cannot feel any of God's presence in his life. He is the 21st-century man."

 

The album's concerns are reflected in its richly allusive sleeve packaging, which ranks among the most beautiful and intriguing of any Bowie album. The trio of leather-bound books whose spines are prominently displayed offer a forthright announcement of the album's themes. The General Theory of Relativity was Albert Einstein's 1925 thesis on the nature of gravity and acceleration which paved the way for modern man's understanding of the nature of the universe. Similarly ground-breaking was Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation Of Dreams (written 1897, published 1900), which galvanised the whole notion of interpretation by suggesting that dreams were a form of wish-fulfilment whose "manifest content" disguised a "latent content". It would be difficult to imagine a more fundamental description of the process of reading David's lyrics; countless Bowie songs directly address the Freudian approach to dreams, from early compositions like "Did You Ever Have A Dream" and "When I Live My Dream" to 'hours...' tracks like "The Dreamers" and "If I'm Dreaming My Life". Most resonant of all is the inclusion of Die Frohliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science), the revolutionary 1882 work in which Bowie's long-time muse Friedrich Nietzsche set forth his famous proclamation that "God is dead" and proposed the doctrine of "eternal recurrence" - the idea that man may be fated to relive every moment in his life throughout eternity. Both proposals were motivated by Nietzsche's rejection of the idea of a divine, omniscient and judgemental authority, and his desire to redirect man's attention from the fantasy of an afterlife to the inherent freedom of the world in which he exists. The relevance of such proposals to the songwriting of Heathen speaks for itself. It's also worth noting that the title of Die Frohliche Wissenschaft was inspired by the troubadour songs of medieval Provence, some of which were included in the appendix of Nietzsche's 1887 edition, thus making it a doubly appropriate choice for Bowie's Heathen library.

 

More immediately striking than the literary references are the stark images of medieval and Renaissance paintings defaced by splatters of paint and knife-slashes. Given that the paintings are of specific and obviously relevant Christian subjects, the images offer a graphic and literal enactment of the iconoclasm proposed by Nietzsche's "murder of God". Bowie's fear for his child's future, and indeed the tragedy of September 11th, are inevitably reflected in the detail from Guido Reni's Massacre of the Innocents (1611), while Duccio di Buoninsegna's Madonna and Child with Six Angels (1300-05) suggests a similar theme (in the inverted detail used it's presumably no coincidence that, to coin a phrase, the angels have gone). the ripped canvases are an inverted detail from Carlo Dolci's Magdalene (1660-70) and an engraving copied from an undated Christ and St John with Angels by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), one of Bowie's favourite painters. The booklet in the standard jewel-case CD version included an additional ripped canvas, this time of Raffaello Sanzio's St Sebastian (1501-02). "I think one of the subtexts for the word 'heathen' is one that is barbaric or Philistine," David commented; hence "the idea of the iconoclastic pieces in it, like the ripping of paintings and destruction of religious things." In keeping with the defaced images, the album's idiosyncratic crossed-out typeface evokes the writings of Jacques Derrida, another of Bowie's favoured philosophers whose experiments with crossed-out text propose the cancellation of the written word and the end of discourse. Marcus Klinko's photographs reinforce the sense of spiritual and discursive negation: Bowie sits at a Spartan schoolroom desk, his pen hovering over a blank page, his face wiped clean from the picture. Close-up shots show him slicing through the pages and ripping them from the book, while his crucifix is scratched out of another photo. The cover portrait's blank, silvery eyes offer a multiplicity of interpretations, suggesting a state both human and celestial, of both blindness and transcendence. "It was a pun on Christianity," Bowie explained in a 2002 interview. "The idea is that they're a fish's eyes, and of course the fish was the symbol of the hidden Christians in the pagan days...but nobody actually picked up on that, so, oh look, he's got the same eyes as the Village Of The Damned, oh no, he's doing bloody science fiction again. It's got nothing to do with that!" In both style and subject matter, the photographs are also clearly indebted to the surrealists who had influenced Bowie's work since the days of Station To Station: "The actual imagery is nicked from Man Ray and Bunuel," he explained in another interview. "Those are the old Dali eyes in Un Chien Andalou and all that."

 

Heathen was released in Europe on June 10th 2002 and in America the following day. The initial limited-edition CD came in a deluxe cardboard digipak with a bonus disc featuring two remixes, the Toy re-recording of "Conversation Piece", and the 1979 version of "Panic In Detroit". This edition also boasted an enhanced PC feature offering online access to the album's lyrics, some of the rejected cover designs, and two otherwise unavailable audio tracks (an extract from the Toy version of "The London Boys" and the Heathen re-recording of "Safe", later a B-side). A standard jewel-case CD, minus the bonus disc and enhanced features, was released simultaneously. As usual, the Japanese release carried an extra track, in this case, the single B-side "Wood Jackson". Six months later, in December 2002, Heathen became the first Bowie album to be issued in the newfangled SACD format, Tony Visconti having remixed the album to 5.1 sound. The SACD version included slightly longer versions of four tracks, and also 5.1 remixes of "When The Boys Come Marching Home", "Wood Jackson", "Conversation Piece", and an extended "Safe" that was over a minute longer than the B-side version.

 

The album was hyped by the usual exhaustive round of TV appearances and interviews, a series of pre-release 'listening parties' organised by BowieNet, and an advertising campaign which promoted Heathen as Bowie's 25th studio album (which, accommodating the Tin Machine releases and The Buddha Of Suburbia, it was). In America there was even a specially-shot TV commercial featuring Bowie with a young girl: this, too, was later made available via the enhanced CD. "I use a parent-child situation," David explained. "The child wanders around as Dad sings in the booth. At the very end, the viewer is taken to the window and sees Earth in all its glory. There's a sense of abandonment on both the album and commercial." The campaign was a success, and Heathen matched its predecessor's performance with a number 5 peak in the UK chart. It fared well throughout Europe, reaching number 3 in France and Germany, number 2 in Norway and number 1 in Denmark and Malta. In America, it hit number 14, Bowie's best showing in the US chart since Tonight in 1984.

 

The reviews were noticeably better than for 'hours...', and indeed better than for any album of recent times. "Heathen achieves a balance noticeably lacking in Bowie's output of the past 20 years," said The Guardian, which found the album "strident, confident, lush with melodies...packed with fantastic songs, liberally sprinkled with intriguing touches, Heathen is the sound of a man who has finally worked out how to grow old with a fitting degree of style." Music Week called the album "a stunning return to form", while Vanity Fair rejoiced in "a real David Bowie album - his first collaboration in 20 years with producer Tony Visconti, and by far his best in ages." Rolling Stone praised the "splendid, often moving effect" of "his least affected album in a decade...A loose theme runs through these songs, covers included: the search for guiding light in godless night. But the real story is Heathen's perfect casting: Bowie playing Bowie, with class."

 

Naturally, there were a few dissenting voices, but even those who qualified their praise were largely won over. "Heathen is a return to form," conceded the Sunday Times, "but not quite a return to that form." Only Uncut's Ian MacDonald seemed wholly dissatisfied, complaining that, "none of the 12 tracks on Heathen displays anything memorable in the way of melody or chorus, their phrasing short-breathed and tired, their sequences energyless. There's no commanding feeling of arrival or departure. The album drifts in and drifts out, as do many of its tracks, without any evident conviction...It's a melancholy task to have to speak about a Bowie album in such terms of disappointment and dissatisfaction." So melancholy was MacDonald's task that he was alone in undertaking it: such opinions were heavily outnumbered. The Times hailed Heathen as "the artist's most cohesive album in a decade" and praised its "total attention to songs that come impressively arranged and brilliantly sung." The Daily Express described Heathen as "easily his best album for the best part of 20 years", while The Independent's David Gill noted that the return of Tony Visconti had resulted in "a much more assured sound than on recent albums, one reminiscent of, but not beholden to those earlier successes", and also found the time to praise Heathen's challenging subject matter: "Bowie is a pop icon from a time when stars weren't afraid to brandish their intellectual interests, rather than their ignorance. Don't bother searching for similar concerns on the new Oasis album." (In an unfortunate piece of timing, Oasis's similarly named Heathen Chemistry was released only three weeks after Heathen, to be greeted by more brickbats than bouquets.)

 

The Evening Standard's guest reviewer Boy George hailed "a real return to form", while the Daily Mail announced that "David Bowie harks back to the well-crafted songs of his golden era" and "sings impressively throughout." Time Out welcomed Bowie's "most enjoyable album since Scary Monsters - a collection of strong, melodic songs executed with playful primitivism and sung with a force and passion that would be remarkable in a man half his age." Q's David Quantick praised Heathen for offering "the beefiest sound of a Bowie record since 1980's Scary Monsters, which is the album it most resembles", and went on to rejoice in the fact that "David Bowie, always much more than just a Greatest Hits, still makes music that no-one else has heard before, and still does it well. And Heathen? A return to form. Definitely."

 

A combination of good omens (the return of Tony Visconti was the album's most talked-about feature) and good timing (its release coincided with widespread press coverage of the Meltdown Festival and the 30th anniversary of Ziggy Stardust) made Heathen the most hotly anticipated Bowie album in recent years. It swiftly garnered a nomination for the Mercury Music Award, and the acclaim continued with numerous appearances in 2002's 'albums of the year' lists and a Grammy nomination for "Slow Burn" in the 'Male Rock Vocal Performance' category. Its initial run of 20 consecutive weeks in the UK album chart was the longest sustained chart presence by any Bowie album since Let's Dance. "It's been very positively received," David noted happily, at the same time wryly noting the ubiquity of one particular critical cliché: "It seems to be traditional now that every album since Black Tie White Noise is the best album I've put out since Scary Monsters. Inevitably, that's what I get. But this one just seems to have caught people's imaginations."

 

Thankfully the enthusiastic reception accorded to Heathen was more than justified. Bowie's songwriting seems both more substantial and more committed than on 'hours...', and his vocal performance is a revelation. In place of the ironic distancing of 1.Outside or the studied cool of Black Tie White Noise (approaches which were nonetheless perfect for those albums), Heathen finds Bowie singing with genuine passion and depth, recalling his bravura performances on albums like "Heroes" and Scary Monsters. Apparently, without effort, he hits high notes whose like had rarely been heard on a Bowie album since the 1970s, while elsewhere his rich baritone suggests that he had once again turned for inspiration to the more experimental work of his idol Scott Walker, in particular, the textured atmospherics of 1995's Tilt. "Of course they recall Scott," Bowie declared. "I'm a huge fan." Tony Visconti's production reaps immediate rewards, investing Heathen with the richest, strongest sound of any Bowie album in years, striking a perfect balance between uncluttered space and the baroque additions for which the producer's work is justly noted. The sumptuous string arrangements in "Afraid" and "I Would Be Your Slave" are quintessential Visconti, as are the layered backing vocals and tightly controlled synthesisers and horns which permeate the album. The ominous electronics of the opening and closing tracks update the sinister ambience of Low without ever sounding retrogressive, and perhaps best of all, the majestic soundscape of the outstanding ballad "Slip Away" offers a virtual masterclass in how to capture a classic Bowie sound without chasing after past glories.

 

Heathen may not be Bowie's most obviously melodic album, but then neither are Low or "Heroes", and those few critics who dismissed it as lacking in tunes were making the same mistake as their counterparts 25 years earlier. After three or four hearings, Heathen's melodic subtlety and harmonic brilliance emerge to scintillating effect. Combined with superb performances, not to mention some of the finest and most probing lyrics Bowie ever wrote, the result is a positive triumph. The only remotely uncertain note is that when the new material is this good, the inclusion of three cover versions seems a trifle excessive. All three are excellent recordings, but the suitably spiky "Cactus" and the delightfully tongue-in-cheek "Gemini Spaceship" would have been ample, so perhaps Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You" might have been relegated to a B-side and replaced by one of Bowie's originals. But in the face of the album's other achievements, this is a minor cavil. Since the dissolution of Tin Machine in 1992, Bowie's decade of experimentation had resulted in some fine albums. But it is Heathen that finds him finally emerging from the shadow of his 1990s collaborators with an impressive collection of songs which evoke the classic Bowie of old but are at the same time convincingly modern in style, intent and execution. It's fitting, then, that Heathen appeared to have re-invigorated Bowie as an artist. "I know how good this album is," he said in 2002. "It's an incredibly successful album for me creatively. I wouldn't change a note of it. I really adore it. And it's given me an unbelievably buoyant kind of confidence about what I am as a writer. And I almost feel that I will be writing some of my very best work over the next few years."