Tuesday, February 23, 2016

29 Days of Bowie: Earthling

Released on February 3, 1997 by Virgin Records, Earthling is the 20th studio release from David Bowie that marks a milestone for the artist as he had turned 50 less than a month earlier. Produced with Reeves Gabrels and Mark Plati, the album is a continued exploration into the world of electronic music and its many sub-genres from dance and drum n’ bass as well as elements of rock and industrial. Featuring members of Bowie’s live band from his 1996 summer tour that includes guitarist Reeves Gabrels, pianist/keyboardist Mike Garson, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, and drummer Zachary Alford.

The drum n’ bass sub genre that features an array of pulsating, rapid beats, and bass grooves are key factors to two of the album’s singles in Little Wonder and Dead Man Walking. The former is a mixture of that sound with Gabrel’s driving guitars, Garson’s playful piano textures, and a thundering rhythm section from Alford’s drums and Dorsey’s bass with Bowie singing in a rapid tone with some very playful and offbeat lyrics. The latter is a more mid-tempo cut that features swirling drum and synthesizer loops with Bowie singing lyrics filled with eerie imagery as it is one of his finest singles in terms of its presentation as it shows Bowie providing his own spin to what was a hot genre at the time. The album cut Battle for Britain (The Letter) also play into the world of drum n’ bass with its rapid, pulsating beats that include some intense live drumming from Zachary Alford and warbling guitar textures from Reeves Gabrels while Bowie sings these dark yet blazing lyrics of chaos that is followed by these flourishing pianos from Mike Garson.

The other two singles in the drum n’ bass-inspired Telling Lies and the art-rock based Seven Years in Tibet as the former opens with rapid beats that is followed by more steady, hammering beats with Bowie singing some haunting lyrics with some vocal spurts in the background as he is accompanied by smooth keyboards and pianos with Gabrels’ wailing guitars The latter is this mid-tempo track with a mixture of warbling bass lines by Gail Ann Dorsey, smooth and steady beats, guitar textures, and Bowie on the saxophone as he sings calmly and detached at first to some great imagery until Alford’s drums kick in where Bowie sings loudly. Looking for Satellites showcase the fusion between rock and electronic music with some steady and bopping rhythms along with driving guitars and abstract lyrics by Bowie.

The album’s fourth single I’m Afraid of Americans which is co-written by Brian Eno from the sessions for Outside is this mid-tempo track with a bopping rhythm, warbling synthesizers, driving guitars, and Bowie singing about the sense of paranoia and fear about a European in America as it’s one of his best singles. The mixture of drum n’ bass and industrial-based beats for The Last Thing You Should Do is among the highlights of the album as it features calm vocals by Bowie on some somber lyrics that is followed by Gabrels’ swirling and driving guitars. The album closer Law (Earthlings on Fire) is this upbeat and intense track filled with warbling synthesizers, pulsating live drums, and squealing guitars with Bowie singing some lyrics of chaos and terror as it also features distorted vocals.

The 2004 bonus tracks edition of the album features four different remixes of some of the album’s singles as it includes a remix of I’m Afraid of Americans by the industrial act Nine Inch Nails with its mastermind Trent Reznor providing additional vocals as it include industrial beats, drum n’ bass beat loops, and grimy synthesizers as it’s one of the best remixes provided by NIN. Danny Saber’s dance mix of Little Wonder is a track filled with an array of wavy synthesizers, layers of pulsating beats and percussions, and playful takes on Bowie’s vocals as it is about dance and nothing else. Moby’s twelve-inch remix of Dead Man Walking for U.S. clubs is inspired by the world of rave with its warbling and wavy synthesizers as well as some hammering beats that give the track some punch. The fourth remix in the 2004 edition of the album is a remix of Telling Lies by English DJ Adam F. as it this ambient-trance mix that features wavy synthesizers with bopping beats as well as some swirls in the synthesizers.

The 2007 deluxe edition features a second disc of material including remixes, alternate takes, and a couple of live cuts. From the 2004 bonus track edition includes two versions of the NIN remix of I’m Afraid of Americans as the other version is a clean mix made for radio with a few added instrumentations as Moby’s twelve-inch mix of Dead Man Walking and Danny Saber’s dance mix of Little Wonder appear in the 2007 bonus disc. Two other mixes of Little Wonder include a single-edited version of the song for its music video as well as a club remix by Junior Vasquez that features swirling synthesizers and pulsating club beats that also feature some unique placements in the vocals and different ranges in its mix. A second remix of Dead Man Walking by Moby as it displays some hard-hitting, pulsating beats as well as wavy synthesizer textures as well as providing different pitches to Bowie’s vocals. The two remixes of Telling Lies as the first mix by producer Mark Plati emphasizes a lot on the drum n’ bass sub genre with an array of rapid beats from clanging metallic ones to driving dance beats as well as some synthesizer swirls in the background.

The second mix by Gerald Simpson under the A Guy Called Gerald moniker as it is this mix filled with pulsating break-beats and ambient-based synthesizer swirls as Bowie’s vocals warble through the instruments where it’s a track that owes a lot to the world of late 80s/early 90s rave music. An alternate version of Seven Years in Tibet is actually the same version as its original version but it is sung in Mandarin with translated lyrics by Lin Xi under a concept by Elvin Wong as it has Bowie providing some unique vocal flairs into the language while it’s also kind of superior to its original. An alternate version of I’m Afraid of Americans from the 1995 film soundtrack to Showgirls as it features more clanging beats, noisy guitars by Gabrels, and different vocals and lyrics from Bowie as it’s a version of the song that is unique though it sort of pales to eventual final version and the NIN remixes.

The last two cuts of the bonus disc are live tracks performed by Bowie and his live band under the moniker Tao Jones Index for a show at the Phoenix Festival in 1997 as it includes a performance of the instrumental V-2 Schneider from "Heroes" where it features throbbing beats, wavy synthesizers, and ambient-based synthesizers with Bowie singing the track’s lone lyrics and playing saxophone on the track. The performance of Pallas Antheas from Black Tie White Noise as it is led by ambient synthesizers from Bowie and Garson with some throbbing beats, low-groove bass lines by Dorsey, funky guitars by Gabrels, and an array of instrumentations from the original track to a mixture of distortion and ambient as it’s one of Bowie’s best reinterpretation of one of his great cuts.

Earthling is an incredible album from David Bowie that shows an artist at the age of 50 not only feeling vital and making music that is adventurous and daring. It’s an album that showcases Bowie making many of his contemporaries look older than they actually are while providing his own spin into a genre of music that he helped shape and make it his own. In the end, Earthling is a dazzling album from David Bowie.

Studio Releases: David Bowie (1967 album) - David Bowie (1969 album) - The Man Who Sold the World - Hunky Dory - The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - Aladdin Sane - Pin Ups - Diamond Dogs - Young Americans - Station to Station - Low - "Heroes" - Lodger - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) - Let’s Dance - Tonight - Never Let Me Down - Tin Machine - Tin Machine II - Black Tie White Noise - Outside - ‘Hours…’ - Heathen - Reality - The Next Day - *

Live Releases: David Live - Stage - Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars - Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby - Bowie at the Beeb - (Live at Fashion Rocks (w/ Arcade Fire)) - (Live Santa Monica ‘72) - (Glass Spider Live) - (VH1 Storytellers) - (A Reality Tour)

Soundtracks: Christiane F. - Labyrinth - The Buddha of Suburbia

Miscellaneous: Peter and the Wolf - Baal - Sound + Vision - (Early On (1964-1966)) - (All Saints) - Toy - (Nothing Has Changed)

© thevoid99 2016

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