David Bowie – Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “Earthling” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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David Bowie – Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “Earthling”

The Album First Came Out on February 3, 1997

Feb 03, 2022
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Just over 20 years following the release of Low, David Bowie’s 21st studio album saw the artist informally harkening back to his innovative Berlin Trilogy, crafting a solid nine-track elaboration upon his art rock experimentation begun in the mid ’70s. Eschewing its predecessors’ era-appropriate prog and Krautrock persuasions in favor of cool industrial and electronica influences, 1997’s Earthling represented for Bowie a swift return to form, usurping the quality of 1995’s Outside and standing as his finest release since 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Recruiting co-writers and producers Reeves Gabrels and Mark Plati, the former Starman arrived once more to guide a new generation of fans through the cosmos, imparting upon them not an inconsiderate amount of imperative intergalactic wisdom.

Even 25 years later, the noisy, often disjointed nature of opening cut “Little Wonder” still reflects its decade’s fascination with the jungle, techno, and industrial scenes, having demonstrated to listeners Bowie’s creative reception to such intrigue. Against a throbbing grind-and-screech dance beat, Bowie sings of “big screen dolls, tits and explosions” in a tumbling, tongue-tied stream of consciousness doom prophecy. In its time, “Little Wonder” saw the grand chameleon coming to life in ways he had not since the early-’80s, penning the first line in a fresh chapter of his career. The subsequent “Looking for Satellites,” in its pristine Ziggy-esque melancholia, boasts some of Bowie’s finest lines, such as, “There’s nothing in our eyes/As lonely as a moon/Misty and far away,” while the mournful “Seven Years in Tibet” and standout Neil Young homage “Dead Man Walking”—by far Earthling’s top inclusion—observe societal decay and tragedy through an icily bionic lens, recalling the sentiment (or lack thereof) found within Bowie’s Thin White Duke persona. Similarly, the bubbling “The Last Thing You Should Do” resembles 1977’s “What in the World,” offering a charming throwback to Bowie’s golden era.

A triumphant repairing with Berlin Trilogy collaborator Brian Eno, focal point “I’m Afraid of Americans” sees Bowie following the lead of ’90s alt rock deity and longtime fan Trent Reznor—who appears as Bowie’s steely-eyed stalker in the track’s stylish, yet painfully timely music video—in crafting a crunching industrial rock anthem for the ages, becoming what is by far one of the most memorable moments of his later career. Closing dance number “Law (Earthlings on Fire)” sums the album’s politics up in a single declaration: “I don’t want knowledge/I want certainty,” reminding the listener that we are still haunting Bowie’s visionary dystopia of mass consumption and threats of obliteration, both local and extraterrestrial.

While Bowie would enjoy a decent amount of critical success throughout the final decades of his life, Earthling reveals itself to be one of his final truly great works. Its concision, solid composition, and unblemished production value ensure the album a place among rock’s great minor victories, its overall subtlety offset by Bowie’s colorful intensity and signature outsider’s wit. A quarter-century on, Earthling continues to stun, showcasing Bowie as a “rockstar’s” rockstar, his “warm impermanence” having permitted even his very memory the liberty of formlessness, morphing casually into shapes and sounds both alien and somehow familiar—a testament to the brilliant imagination of which Bowie was most certainly in lifelong possession.


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