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Heathen (David Bowie album)

Studio album by
Released11 June 2002[1]
RecordedOctober 2000 – January 2002
David Bowie chronology
All Saints
Best of Bowie
David Bowie studio albums chronology
Singles from Heathen
  1. "Slow Burn"
    Released: 3 June 2002
  2. "Everyone Says 'Hi'"
    Released: 16 September 2002
  3. "I've Been Waiting for You"
    Released: October 2002
Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic3.5/5 stars[4]
Blender3/5 stars[5]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[6]
The Guardian4/5 stars[7]
Q4/5 stars[10]
Rolling Stone3.5/5 stars[11]
Spin3/5 stars[12]
The Village VoiceC+[13]

Heathen (stylised as uǝɥʇɐǝɥ) is the 22nd studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 11 June 2002 on his ISO Records label, in conjunction with Columbia Records. Although its production had started before the September 11 attacks in 2001, the album was finished after that date, which resulted in the influencing of its concept.[1][14][15] It was considered a comeback for him in the US market by becoming his highest charting album (number 14) since Tonight (1984). It also earned strong reviews. The BBC said the album's title track "shows that Bowie could still pen disarmingly direct, affecting pop of a very individual inclination 30-plus years after he started".[16] Worldwide, it sold one million copies[17] and experienced a four-month run on the UK charts. He supported the album on the Heathen Tour throughout 2002.

Recording and production

Heathen marked the return of record producer Tony Visconti,[1] who co-produced (with David Bowie himself) several of Bowie's classic albums. The last album Visconti had co-produced was Scary Monsters in 1980. This was Bowie's first album in over a decade to not include guitarist Reeves Gabrels, who debuted with the singer on Tin Machine (1989).

Originally, Bowie had recorded the album Toy for release in 2001. This album was meant to feature some new songs and remakes of some of his lesser-known songs from the 1960s. Although Toy remains officially unreleased, re-recordings of the tracks "Afraid" and "Slip Away" (then titled "Uncle Floyd"), appear on Heathen. Some other re-recordings of songs from the Toy sessions were included as B-sides to the singles from Heathen. The album was recorded at the mountain-top Allaire Studios in Shokan.[18] He told The Daily Beast:[18]

It's the last kind of place I'd expect to work, 'cause I'm a real city person. I love writing and working and recording and being and socialising in a city. All my life, I'm city-oriented. The studio was a paint industrialist’s summer estate, the only property on the top of this mountain overlooking, like, 50 miles, 180 degrees, everything. It was built in the 20s. It has a kind of nautical flavor to it. There's a lot of varnished wood like you see on those old yachts in that period. The ceilings are maybe 40 feet high, and maybe 25-foot windows. Looking up in those windows at six, seven in the morning—I get up incredibly early, I'm in there working at 6 in the morning, just playing the synthesizer, the piano, and working on what we’re going to do that day—and I'm looking out at the deer and I don’t believe this is happening to me, the serenity and the majesty of it. How beautiful the world is. And it all started coming in and I was honing in on what it is I really had to say about my life. It was magical. Now I've done that, I don't know if I could ever repeat that experience. I'm quite buoyant and cheerful and always on the go and I was suddenly—uh, oh—reflecting and it wasn’t really me. But I reflected with such intensity and it came over me like a wave. It really did. Some mornings I was literally crying when I was writing a song."

Early recording sessions for Heathen were by Bowie on guitars and keyboards, Visconti on bass, and Matt Chamberlain on drums.[19] The trio recorded about forty songs, ranging from brief sketches to nearly-complete compositions. Additional recording sessions took place at several studios, and featured performances from newcomers and previous Bowie collaborators. Bowie regulars Carlos Alomar (guitar) and Sterling Campbell (drums) returned, as did The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, who played the solo on "Slow Burn" and had earlier played guitar on "Because You're Young" from Scary Monsters. Newcomers included Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, pianist Kristeen Young, and prolific bassist Tony Levin of King Crimson.[20] The song "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship" contains the lowest note Bowie has ever sung on an album (G1).[21]

Style and themes

Although many of its songs were written for Toy, and some are cover versions, biographers and critics of the time claimed that Heathen deals with Bowie's impressions of the 9/11 September attacks.[14][15] The lyrics of songs such as "Slow Burn", "Afraid", "A Better Future" and "Heathen (The Rays)" focus on the degradation of mankind and the world in general, recalling his earlier album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and the song "Five Years".

Writing about the connection between the album and 9/11, Dave Thompson says:

Although we can probably credit nothing more spiritual than saturation-level television coverage for its visceral impact, 9/11 remains the single most resonant event in recent world history for many people, igniting so many thoughts, fears and conflicts within the minds of those who witnessed it that, even today, people who have never been to America, can still bond over those 102 terrifying minutes. At the time, and through the months of uncertainty that followed, the need for that bonding was even more pronounced. Heathen sounded like it understood how people felt. People automatically felt the need, then, to understand Heathen and, of all Bowie's albums of the nineties and beyond, it remains the one that is most frequently singled out as his best, because it is certainly his most direct. Even Tony Visconti referred to it as his magnum opus: "I told him, 'That was more like a symphony.'"[22]

Bowie denied that any of the album's songs were written after September 2001, though he admitted that the songs deal with the general feeling of anxiety that he'd had in America for a number of years, adding "it's not unlikely that you're going to have a sense of angst in anything that's recorded in New York or by New Yorkers."[1] He also said in a 2003 interview: "It was written as a deeply questioning album. Of course, it had one foot astride that awful event in September. So that was quite a traumatic album to finish. This one hints at that, but it's not really trying to resolve any trauma. [September 11] did affect me and my family very much. We live down here."[23]

The album contains cover versions of three songs: "Cactus" by Pixies, which features Bowie on all instruments except for bass and is his only recorded drum performance,[24] "I've Been Waiting for You" by Neil Young (which had also been recorded by Pixies as a B-side for 1990's "Velouria" single), and "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship" by Norman Odam, aka the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, from whom Bowie lifted part of his "Ziggy Stardust" moniker in 1972. The latter two songs were taken from a list of songs that Bowie compiled in the 1970s for his never-recorded Pin Ups 2 album.[25]

Music videos

Bowie, who was 55 at the time of the record's release, said, "I'm pretty much a realist. There's a certain age you get to when you're not really going to be shown [on TV] anymore. The young have to kill the old. ... That's how life works. ... It's how culture works."[1] For this reason there were no music videos released for any of the songs from this album.[1]

However, a music video for "Slow Burn" was uploaded to the official DavidBowieVEVO YouTube channel on 23 March 2011. The video shows Bowie dressed in white performing the vocals to the song in a recording studio booth, with a young girl wandering around the darkened control room and occasionally touching the equipment and mixing desk. The video is an edited version of the song and no directing or other credits are given.[26]

Live performances

Bowie took his album on the road for his Heathen Tour in the latter half of 2002 and several TV live performances.

Alternative versions

A remix of the song "Everyone Says 'Hi'" is featured in the PlayStation 2 rhythm game Amplitude.

In 2011, UK band Films of Colour released a cover of "Slow Burn".[27]

The song "Sunday" was played live at the Heathen Tour and A Reality Tour concerts. A live version recorded at The Point, Dublin in November 2003 was included on the A Reality Tour DVD. A Moby remix is available on the bonus disc of the 2-CD version of Heathen, and a Tony Visconti remix was released on the European version of the single "Everyone Says 'Hi'" and the single "I've Been Waiting for You".

Heathen has also been released in SACD format in a limited number of copies with slightly longer versions of five of the songs; the release is an SACD only, with no inner CD audio layer.[28]

Track listing

All tracks are written by David Bowie, and produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, except where noted[29].

Heathen – Standard edition
1."Sunday"  4:45
2."Cactus"Black Francis 2:54
3."Slip Away"  6:05
4."Slow Burn"  4:41
5."Afraid" 3:28
6."I've Been Waiting for You"Neil Young 3:00
7."I Would Be Your Slave"  5:14
8."I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship"Norman Carl Odam 4:04
9."5:15 The Angels Have Gone"  5:00
10."Everyone Says 'Hi'" 
11."A Better Future"  4:11
12."Heathen (The Rays)"  4:16
Total length:52:08
Heathen – Japanese edition
13."Wood Jackson"4:48
Total length:56:56
Heathen – Limited 2CD edition (disc 2)
1."Sunday" (Moby Remix)
  • Bowie
  • Visconti
  • Moby
2."A Better Future" (Remix by Air) 4:56
3."Conversation Piece" (written 1969, recorded 1970, 2001 re-recording)
  • Bowie
  • Plati
4."Panic in Detroit" (outtake from a 1979 recording) 2:57
Total length:16:53
Heathen – Japanese 2007 2CD edition (disc 2)
5."Wood Jackson" 4:48
6."When the Boys Come Marching Home" 4:46
7."Baby Loves That Way"
  • Bowie
  • Plati
8."You've Got a Habit of Leaving"
  • Bowie
  • Plati
9."Safe" 4:44
10."Shadow Man"
  • Bowie
  • Plati
Total length:45:36
Heathen – SACD edition
3."Slip Away"6:14
4."Slow Burn"5:04
6."I've Been Waiting for You"3:16
7."I Would Be Your Slave"5:09
8."I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship"4:05
9."5:15 The Angels Have Gone"5:25
10."Everyone Says 'Hi'"3:56
11."A Better Future"3:56
12."Heathen (The Rays)"4:13
13."When the Boys Come Marching Home"4:49
14."Wood Jackson"4:44
15."Conversation Piece"3:49
Total length:71:08


Additional personnel
Design credits

Charts and certifications


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