Earthling by David Bowie

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Earthling by David Bowie
Earthling by David Bowie

Album Released: 1997

Earthling ::: Artwork

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1.Little Wonder6:02
2.Looking For Satellites5:20
3.Battle For Britain (The Letter)4:49
4.Seven Years In Tibet6:21
5.Dead Man Walking7:26
6.Telling Lies4:50
7.The Last Thing You Should Do4:57
8.I'm Afraid Of Americans5:00
9.Law (Earthlings On Fire)4:48


The good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes the ugly is good, sometimes the bad is made good by wild distorted guitar layered over the top. And the good is just good, rarely excellent.

So, after the daring experiments of Buddha of Surburbia and 1.Outside, Bowie continues in much the same vein, although he arguably attempts to produce a more concise and focused record. For concise and focused, read 'commercial'.

1.Outside had been Bowie's best-selling album in America for years and years, so it made sense he'd want to build on that. Hence, although this album has been referred to as Bowie's Techno or drum'n'bass record, it isn't really. Some songs lean more towards Techno than others, but this is still a rock album at heart - industrial rock, the same as much of 1.Outside actually.

Whilst the production and general sound of Earthling is certainly glossier than the dark-hearted 1.Outside, Bowie still has interesting things to say lyrically.

Released during the last great year of Britpop, "Little Wonder" saw Bowie back in the UK singles charts with the most obviously drum'n'bass-influenced song on the entire album. A strong chorus and a few neat guitar parts gave comfort to more conservative middle-aged Bowie fans, such that Earthling peaked at an impressive No.6 in the UK album charts. No other hits were forthcoming though, as Bowie's days as a consistent hit maker were long behind him.

"Looking for Satellites" is the most awkward sounding song on the album, certainly the least commercial and the most experimental. Sandwiched between "Little Wonder" and the similarly poppy drum'n'bass workout "Battle for Britain", it sounds somewhat out of place.

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by Reviewer: Adrian Denning (blogging at Adrian's Album Reviews)

This is a disappointment so mammoth that it has hair all over it and two 10-foot tusks (man, five years out of geology school, and I still have paleontology on the brain).

While I wouldn't call The Buddha of Suburbia and 1. Outside great highlights of Bowie's career, they were at least enjoyable albums, and showed that he was able to successfully update his sound for the 1990's. In Earthling unfortunately, Bowie was still trying to sound hip, but he'd lost much of his songwriting spark. This constitutes a step backwards.

It's a good thing this album has “I'm Afraid of Americans” on it, or it might have been a serious contender as one of his career-worst. The song was a minor hit back in 1997 thanks partly to a remixed version by Nine Inch Nails (and not thanks to an early version featured in the 1995 film Showgirls). It's also a genuinely good song with a catchy blistering riff played in the chorus, and Bowie's awesome paranoid speak-singing vocal performance. I've been getting tired of listening to the drum machines on Bowie's 90's albums, but in that song they give it a driving pulse. The lyrics are pretty good too, expressing some discontent over the American-isation of the rest of the world.

Other than that, I sort of like “Little Wonder”, even though it has a synthesizer loop that sounds exactly like the high-pitched synthesizer loop in Kate Bush's “Wow”. The only difference is that Bowie sped his up! (not that I'm throwing accusations of plagiarism at him, since it's just a three-note loop, but I do find it distracting). Nevertheless, it's surely one of the better songs Bowie has to offer here, thanks to its bouncy melody and a subdued toe-tapping rhythm. Also, a bit of trivia ... it was the first song ever to be made available for purchase online by a major artist. So Bowie helped contribute to the slow death of the music industry as we knew it!

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by Reviewer: Don Ignacio (blogging at Don Ignacio's Album Reviews)

Clearly worse than its predecessor, Earthling is where Bowie continues shitting on his own legacy by grafting himself onto possibly the most short-lived trends he’d yet deemed worthy of musical interpretation, namely drum‘n’bass and something called 'jungle' (which I’d never heard of prior to reading about this album, and which apparently consists of a drum machine playing the same hyper-speed rhythm over and over and nothing else).

The super-fast and super-loud electronic percussion and heavily distorted guitar mucus that infests this album makes it a very hectic-sounding listen. There's a lot going on, and much of it seems patently unnecessary, and makes what may've been decent songs sound like messy, loud, self-consciously 'modern' trash.

That's a shame, because there are a few songs here that may've been good had Bowie left them alone, instead of layering 500 pounds of ultra-distorted electronic soup over everything (perhaps because he was afraid they weren't good enough to sell without slathering everything with whatever the editors of Spin happen to be listening to at the time).

Much of that 'good' material is at the start of the album. Take the opener “Little Wonder” for instance ... remove the warp-speed electronic drums and whacked-out feedbacky distorted guitars, and leave just the keyboards and vocal melody. and it would be a nice simple song! Instead though, there's a galloping mess of a thing that you have to listen to five times before the decentness becomes apparent.

Likewise “Battle for Britain (The Letter)” ... the opening is (again) a drum machine on speed and some sort of cliched heavy distorted guitar mess that sounds not a little like that in the album's first track. But then, skip past that part and get to the opening vocal and pretend the drum machine isn’t there, and once again it's a nice simple song with pretty keyboard chords. I also dig the melody in the chorus Don’t you let my letter get you down! parts, but I’d like it a lot more if there was no drum machine, and if its recurrences later in the song weren’t enveloped in every kind of odious 90's studio trickery known to man (including the 'chop up the voice' thing, because who needs a vocal melody that sounds like a real person, right?).

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by Reviewer: BRAD