David Bowie's Albums From Worst To Best

Heathen (2002)

Heathen sometimes gets bandied about as the “strongest” of the post Let’s Dance albums (i.e., the best of the worst) — at least until The Next Day came and we thought it blew our minds. Anyway. The curious thing about Heathen’s reception is that it has less to do with the actual record than this imaginary conflation of what the fans were desperately hoping for, especially on the heels of Hours…. There’s a misconception that this was another Bowie reinvention — this time as the aging, haunted crooner we see on the album cover: vaguely demonic, wholly sophisticated … and he is, for exactly one song. That song, “Sunday,” opens the album on a fantastically moody note, Bowie’s rich baritone reveling in the kind of reflective gloom you’d expect from mid-period Scott Walker. The mood is perfectly set … for an album that never actually arrives. “Sunday” is essentially a long intro — by the time the drums kick in we’re probably meant to get excited to hear the whole band bashing out awkward turn-of-the-century alt-rock. But the rock rarely sticks. Stripped down arrangements with quirky guitars on top, it comes off simplistic rather than simple, watery melodies adrift over stiff, stock rhythms. But when things slow down again, as they do on “Slip Away,” the somber, darker album we wish this was begins to write itself in our heads. Alas, only in dreams.

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