For all the years I had been a David Bowie fan it was the mid to late 1990s that, upon reflection, feels like it was the most exciting period.
I had become a ‘diehard’ in 1985. I can’t remember if I ever have told the story here… I probably have. Anyway, in case not, I’ll give you the quick one. My eldest brother, Roy, was moving house but there was a lag of time between moves. He’d be staying with his mother-in-law and she didn’t have a lot of room at her place so he asked my mum if he could keep some of his records at our place. He’d been keeping them in his car and weather was turning decidedly hot. Even at the best of times it’s not the best place to keep your records – in a car.
Mum says it’s fine, so he drops them off one afternoon and me, ever eager to be exposed to different music swoop on in and have a look through what he has. Lots of Bowie! And this was my first exposure to Bowie albums. I knew who David was, for sure. I mean, you couldn’t escape him in 1983 and into 1984 – he had got stratospheric by then. So I knew the stuff around Let’s Dance and Tonight well enough, but not really much from the past. Space Oddity, Sorrow (it got a lot of radio play in Oz for some reason), Starman, Fame, Young Americans, Heroes, DJ, Ashes To Ashes….that was about the extent of what I knew.
In the subsequent days, that all changed. In Roy’s collection there was The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, ChangesOneBowie, Stage, Low – perhaps he had everything? But I certainly remember playing Ziggy and Aladdin Sane. I played Stage as well. But the one that just blew my tiny mind was Low. It was warped to fuck and I could only really play one side of it. I think I could listen to all of Side A and then could play Warzawa and not the rest…something like that. Whichever way it was, I know I could play A New Career In A New Town – because I remember sitting there stunned, tears rolling down my cheeks. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard in my life. It was a revelation to me! Never thought I’d ever like an instrumental piece like that. I never really warmed to classical music. It just never did anything for me. And most instrumentals felt the same. I loved the lyrics. I loved the words that came with the music and when there were songs with no words? That all changed that day.
From that point on – MAD Bowie fan. I wanted to hear EVERYTHING. I built up a catalogue. I listened to all of it. When I became a diehard, not long after Never Let Me Down came out. I remember the hype of Day-In Day-Out being released. And I remember watching the video for the title track and liking that…but I was so engrossed in that back catalogue, the new album didn’t really make much of an impact.
It wasn’t until the release of Black Tie White Noise in 1992 did I truly feel the excitement surrounding a new release.
Fast forward to the mid 90s and David is being as prolific as ever. The Buddha Of Suburbia soundtrack is released in 1993, then 1. Outside is released in 1995, and then along comes Earthling in 1997.
We’re at the age of BowieNet. The song Telling Lies is co-written with a fan. Bowie is now subculture god! He is now in “for fans only” realm. Earthling is right bang in the middle of that. Ask a bunch of Bowie fans what their favourite albums of his are? Very few would have Earthling at the top. Rightly so! But few would have it in their Top 5 or even Top 10. Maybe I wouldn’t either…? But it might just be in the Top 10.
I loved it when it came out. I played it and played it.
In retrospect, it seems a rare time in which Bowie, musically, was behind the ball. The “drum n bass” sound was already huge by the time he hooked onto it. That didn’t matter to me. Not all drum n bass was for me. I love rhythm and most things that are percussively heavy win me round instantly. The album is hard on the ears at times. Heavy. Industrial. But I love that sound. It was all down to Zack Alford. Bowie always seemed to pick the best drummers to work with. The best of the best, actually.
Musically, I guess the album hasn’t aged very well, perhaps? But I still love that style of music – esp. in the way Bowie did it. He gave it that heaviness in style but kept it listenable, to my ears anyway. And I love the use of lyrics on Earthling. I find it lyrically very daring. Almost like it harks back to the Bowie of old. The man who’s penning stuff like the Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud, All The Madmen and The Bewlay Brothers.
Anyway, I am waffling somewhat and need to get on with my day. But I just wanted to give a nod to the anniversary of this album. Twenty five years on and I still love it and still listen to it.
A favourite track? It’s a toss up between several but I think just for the Zack Alford brutalist drum and percussion as well as the driving Reeves Gabrels guitar work and the almost sweet melancholy of the lyrics, it would be this…