The cyberpad's all-girl swingformation bureau

This part of my site is a weblog, in other words a kind of online journal, with comments on my latest purchases, films I've seen recently, and random thoughts. Hopefully this will become a regular feature, unless either you or me get bored...

Wednesday 12 June 02

Yesterday I bought "heathen", the new David Bowie album. I tried to avoid reading too many reviews - every David Bowie album since "Black Tie White Noise" in 1993 gets described as a "return to form", and "his best album since Scary Monsters/Let's Dance", before the writer goes on to slag off the previous album. Not only is it a cliched comment, it's also annoyingly inconsistent These kind of comments are usually made by critics who obviously haven't listened to any of Bowie's albums in the last decade, an amazingly prolific and fruitful period in which each Bowie album has featured a handful of fine songs worthy of his impressive back catalogue (eg "Seven Years In Tibet", "The Buddha Of Suburbia", "Something In The Air", "Night Flights"); but their commercial success, and lack of receptive reviews mean that outside of a dedicated fanbase and a few open-minded music lovers, the general public will never get to discover this body of work. Good - I can have it all to myself!

Anyway, after that rant, back to the album... "Heathen" has been touted as being cut from the same cloth as "Scary Monsters", but any similarities end with the fact that both records are produced by Tony Visconti and feature a song with Pete Townshend on guitar which sounds like "Heroes"!!! In this case, the song is "Slow Burn", the song that has been chosen to trail the album. It instantly marks itself out as a Bowie classic in the mould of "Teenage Wildlife" and "Strangers When we Meet" - those familiar chord sequences, a classic guitar line, hypnotic backing vocals ("on and on...").

The opener, "Sunday", is more akin to something from 1995's very fine but experimental "1.Outside", an opaque sound tapestry that suggests Bowie has been listening to Radiohead's last two albums. It's a definite grower, only kicking in towards the end and leaving you wanting you more. My favourite track is "I Would Be Your Slave", a moody ballad with a quirky, unpredictable backing track, a la "Never Let Me Down", and mournful strings and a slinky bassline. Fans will love the self-referencing on "Everyone Says Hi", with a verse reminiscent of "Kooks" middle eight about throwing the homework on the fire, and a reprise of the "Absolute Beginners" doo-wop vocals, it's naff but irresistable!

"Heathen" features three covers. The first, "Cactus", is a brilliant cover of an old Pixies song (DB has been a fan since "Surfer Rosa", and Tin Machine covered "Debaser" live in 1991) and has a great 'live band' sound a la "Boys Keep Swinging". Bowie plays all the instruments, and it even has a cheeky 'D-A-V-I-D' vocal cry in the middle (a pisstake of the intro to "The Groover" by T.Rex methinks) to labour the point! "I've Been Waiting For You" is a song from Neil Young's second album, and is also a song Bowie has performed live with Tin Machine. It's a good arrangement, with shades of both Tin Machine and Bowie's work circa "Scary Monsters". Finally, "I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spacecraft" is by country and western singer Legendary Stardust Cowboy (where DB got the name Stardust from), but Bowie makes it entirely his own, and is the album's obligatory 'space song' (see also "Baby Universal", "Hallo Spaceboy"). It's a bit like something off "Earthling", or "We Prick You" from "Outside", and has that awesome "V2 Schneider" saxophone sound! it's also nice to hear Bowie having fun and taking the piss out of himself slightly, as the heavyweight stuff can get a bit much sometimes!

Of the remaining tracks, whether or not you will like them depends entirely on what you thought of his last album, "Hours...", an album that didn't impress me too much at the time, forsaking the offbeat montage-of-styles of "Earthling" and "Outside" for conventional song structures. "Afraid" and "5.15 The Angels Have Gone" hold promise for future listening, although the latter sounds like an inferior remake of "Something In The Air", the "Hours" song used for American Pyscho.

It's hard to come up with a verdict so soon, as Bowie albums often take a few listens before one can fully appreciate them - indeed, some of his 'classics' have taken years to be duly acknowledged - but on first impressions, six out of ten... I prefer my Bowie wierd and dramatic, and this record hasn't got enough of either qualities. Strangely enough, it has made me feel rather hasty in dismissing "hours..." and I quite fancy giving that album a re-appraisal before coming back to "Heathen".

Week ending Sunday 09 June 02

I've been working on my home page practically ever since I arrived back in Wales on 11th May, about a month ago. During that time I've been listening to two mix CDs, the 2 Many DJs album, a mindboggling mash-up throwing together such unlikely bedfellows as The Stooges and Salt'N'Pepa, Destiny's Child and 10cc, and also including my current favourites Felix da Housecat, Peaches (the brilliant "Fuck The Pain Away", and Royksopp, not so much a DJ album, more a work of art; and City Rockers' Futurism compilation, which features a great cross-selection of electroclash artists. Electroclash is a style of modern electro-pop (influenced by Human League, Kraftwerk, Gary Numan), usually European, and some of the highlights are "Statdkind" by Ellen Allien, "Paco!" by Ladytron, "Lovertits" by Peaches, and the single "Sunglasses at Night" by Tiga and Zyntherius, "Hand To Phone" by Adult, "Missy Queen's Gonna Die", and Miss Kittin and the Ripper. One track, "Burning Up Again" by Alpinestars, could almost be classified as alternative/indie.