Earthling (album)

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Earthling (album).jpg
Studio album by David Bowie
Released 3 February 1997 (1997-02-03)
Recorded March – August 1996
Studio recorded at
The Looking Glass Studios,
in NoHo, Manhattan [1] [2]
mixed at
Right Track Recording,
Midtown Manhattan
engineered & mixed by
Mark Plati [3]
Length 48:57
David Bowie chronology
Singles from Earthling
  1. "Telling Lies"
    Released: November 1996
  2. "Little Wonder"
    Released: January 1997
  3. "Dead Man Walking"
    Released: 14 April 1997
  4. "Seven Years in Tibet"
    Released: 18 August 1997 [8]
  5. "I'm Afraid of Americans"
    Released: October 1997

Earthling (stylised as EART HL I NG) is the twentieth studio album by David Bowie, released in February 1997, by Virgin Records, later reissued on BMG Rights Management. The album showcases an electronica-influenced sound partly inspired by the industrial and drum and bass culture of the 1990s.[9] This was the first album Bowie self-produced since his 1974 album Diamond Dogs.[10] Shortly after the release of this album, Bowie received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[11]

Album background and development[edit]

David Bowie returned to the studio five days after finishing up his tour for his previous album, Outside (1995). Bowie said "I really thought it would be great if we could do a photo, almost a sonic photograph of what we were like at that time. So, Reeves [Gabrels] and I started writing immediately after we finished on the road."[12] Despite going into the studio with no material ready,[13] the album took only 2 1/2 weeks to record[12] (typical for a Bowie album).[14] Bowie compared this album with his 1980 album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), saying "I think there's quite a link between Scary Monsters and this album, to a certain extent. Certainly, the same intensity of aggression."[15] Bowie described the album as an effort "to produce some really dynamic, aggressive-sounding material."[12]

On the production of the drum 'n bass sound of the album, Bowie said, "Unlike most drum and bass things, we didn't just take parts from other people's records and sample them. On the snare drum stuff, Zac [Alford] went away and did his own loops and worked out all kinds of strange timings and rhythms. Then we speeded those up to your regular 160 beats per minute. That's very much how we treat the album. We kept all sampling in-house and created our own soundscape in a way."[12]

Earthling was the first Bowie album recorded entirely digitally, "entirely on hard disk."[9] During interviews promoting the album, Bowie stated "I did nearly everything on the guitar. A lot of screechy-scrawly stuff was done on saxophone, then transferred to sampler, and then distorted and worked on on the synthesizer."[15]

Bowie and Gabrels used a technique they'd started while working on Bowie's previous album Outside, where they'd transfer bits of guitar to a sampling keyboard and construct riffs from those pieces. "It's real guitar," said Bowie, "but constructed in a synthetic way. But Brian Eno got in the way - in the nicest possible way - so we didn't get to that until this album. We want to go further with that, because it's a very exciting idea."[9] Bowie considered this album, along with its predecessor, to be a "textural diary" of what the last few years of the millennium felt like.[16]

Bowie's and Gabrels' musical influences at the time had a big impact on the sound of the album: Bowie was influenced by a "euro" sound and bands like The Prodigy, while Gabrels was still into the American industrial sound and bands like Underworld.[9]

Bowie said that he approached the production of this album similarly to how he approached Young Americans (1974), saying, "[For Young Americans,] I wanted to work within the Philadelphia soul experience, and the only way that I knew was to bring what's thoroughly European about me to this intrinsically black American format. And this [album was] not a dissimilar situation. It was the hybridizing of the European and the American sensibilities, and for me, that's exciting. That's what I do best. I'm a synthesist.[17]

Bowie summed up the meaning of the songs on the album by saying, "I guess the common ground with all the songs is this abiding need in me to vacillate between atheism or a kind of gnosticism. I keep going backwards and forwards between the two things, because they mean a lot in my life. I mean, the church doesn't enter into my writing, or my thought; I have no empathy with any organised religions. What I need is to find a balance, spiritually, with the way I live and my demise. And that period of time - from today until my demise - is the only thing that fascinates me.[18]

The album's cover features a photograph of Bowie wearing a Union Jack-based coat designed by Alexander McQueen, who had previously designed stage costumes for Bowie and his band.[19] Before the album was released, Bowie considered using Earthlings (plural) for the album's title.[20]

Song development[edit]

Bowie and the band continued their experimental approach to making music, first used in the Berlin Trilogy: for the track "Looking for Satellites", Bowie told guitarist Gabrels that he "only wanted him to play on one string at a time. ... He was hemmed in by the chord until it changed, and that made his run-up most unorthodox." The guitar riff used for the track "Dead Man Walking" was based on a pattern Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin) had played for Bowie back in the '60s. According to Gabrels, part of the bass track on "Little Wonder" was a recording of bassist Gail Ann Dorsey as she tried to get a sound from her pedalboard while not knowing she was being recorded. For "Battle for Britain", Bowie challenged Mike Garson to play based on "the idea from a piece of Stravinsky wrote called "Ragtime for Eleven Instruments". I said 'If you could kind of get into the character of that...' and he did it immediately."[15]

"Little Wonder" was one of the first tracks Bowie and Gabrels wrote for the album,[15] and Bowie called writing the track a "ridiculous" exercise in pure stream of consciousness. "I just picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and made a line for each of the dwarves' names. And that's the song [laughs]. And then I ran out of dwarves' names, so there's new dwarves in it like 'Stinky'."[13]

"I'm Afraid of Americans" was an unused track from the Outside sessions: Bowie said "That was something that Eno and I put together, and I just didn't feel it fit Outside, so it didn't go on it. It just got left behind. So then we took just the embryo of it, and restructured it with this band."[15]

Bowie re-recorded Tin Machine's song "Baby Universal" for inclusion on Earthling. Bowie said "I thought [it] was a really good song and I don't think it got heard. I didn't really want that to happen to it, so I put in on this album. I really like this. I think this version is very good."[10] "Baby Universal" was ultimately not included on the final release of Earthling.

Album reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 2.5/5 stars[7]
Chicago Tribune 2.5/4 stars[21]
Robert Christgau (dud)[22]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[23]
Pitchfork 8.0/10[24]
Entertainment Weekly A[5]
Trouser Press generally favourable[25]

Though not a major commercial success, the album scored a number of positive reviews[12] with one reviewer calling it a "richly textured" "return to excellence"[26] and another saying the album represented "some of his [Bowie's] finest music in a decade".[21] In the 1998 Grammy awards Earthling was nominated for Best Alternative Music Performance and the song "Dead Man Walking" was nominated for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. The album performed better than its highly experimental predecessor, Outside, reaching number 6 in the UK charts and number 39 in the US.[27] Rolling Stone magazine praised the album, noting that exposure to Nine Inch Nails on Bowie's previous tour had apparently influenced him on this album, and they called it "his best since 1980's Scary Monsters."[28] The album scored a minor hit with a Trent Reznor remix of "I'm Afraid of Americans".

Remixes and videos[edit]

Bowie's enthusiasm for remixing reached its peak when this album was released and the numerous singles from it were also issued to clubs, as well as online: three versions of "Telling Lies" were released on Bowie's official website months prior to the album's release, constituting the first ever downloadable single by a major artist.[29] "Little Wonder" was the album's biggest hit, reaching number 14 in the UK.

Three more singles — "Dead Man Walking", "Seven Years in Tibet", and "I'm Afraid of Americans" (with participation of Trent Reznor) — did not fare so well, although the latter did remain in the US charts for 16 weeks, peaking at number 66.[27]

The music videos for Earthling were elaborate. Artist and director Floria Sigismondi directed the short films for "Little Wonder" and "Dead Man Walking", while Dom and Nic directed "I'm Afraid of Americans", the latter being nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. A video was also made for "Seven Years in Tibet", composed largely of concert footage.

Live performances[edit]

Bowie took songs from this album on the road in September 1996, performing four US east coast "club" shows, including one at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, to positive reviews. Prior to taking the stage for the shows, Bowie would play his new song ("Telling Lies") over the loudspeaker, but as the single was only available for download over the Internet, most fans did not recognize the song. The set list for these shows was similar to the set list he'd use during the upcoming 1997 Earthling Tour.[30][31]

On 9 January 1997, the day after he turned 50, Bowie held a 50th birthday concert for himself, performing tracks off the album, as well as a selection of songs from his back catalogue. He played to nearly 15,000 fans at New York's Madison Square Garden.[32] Bowie was joined onstage by artists including Billy Corgan, Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, Frank Black, Robert Smith and Lou Reed, to perform many of his songs.[32] Other non-performing guests included Beck, Moby, Julian Schnabel, Prince, Charlie Sexton, Fred Schneider, Christopher Walken, Matt Dillon and Bowie's wife Iman. Artist Tony Oursler designed some of the artwork for the video backdrop that played behind the band onstage. The event was recorded for a pay-per-view special commemorating the event,[33][34] and a portion of the proceeds from the event were donated to the charity Save the Children.[32] Tim Pope, who had previously worked with Bowie directing his 1987 video for "Time Will Crawl", directed the 50th Anniversary video.[35]

At the Phoenix Festival in 1997, Bowie and his band played in the Radio 1 Dance tent as "Tao Jones Index". They performed in darkness with dry ice and strobe lights. Tao Jones Index was a pun based on Bowie's real name, David Jones, and the 1997 Bowie Bond issue (Tao is pronounced "Dow", as in Dow Jones Index from the US stock market).[36]

Bowie went back on the road in support of this album, with his Earthling Tour taking place between May 1997 and the end of the year.[12]

Some songs from the album's various live performances were released on the promotional-only album Earthling in the City (1997).

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by David Bowie.
All music composed by Bowie, Reeves Gabrels and Mark Plati, except Track 4, 5 and 9 by Bowie and Gabrels, Track 6 by Bowie, Track 8 by Bowie and Brian Eno.

  1. "Little Wonder" – 6:02
  2. "Looking for Satellites" – 5:21
  3. "Battle for Britain (The Letter)" – 4:48
  4. "Seven Years in Tibet" – 6:22
  5. "Dead Man Walking" – 6:50
  6. "Telling Lies" – 4:49
  7. "The Last Thing You Should Do" – 4:57
  8. "I'm Afraid of Americans" – 5:00
  9. "Law (Earthlings on Fire)" – 4:48
  • "I'm Afraid of Americans" first appeared in 1995 on the soundtrack for the movie Showgirls, in a version that was extremely rough compared to the Earthling recording.
Bonus tracks on 2004 reissue
  • "Little Wonder" (Danny Saber dance mix)
  • "I'm Afraid of Americans" (Nine Inch Nails V1 mix)
  • "Dead Man Walking" (Moby Mix 2 US promo 12")
  • "Telling Lies" (Adam F mix) (This version is not on the Digibook Expanded Edition.)
Bonus disc for 2005 Digibook expanded edition
  1. "Little Wonder" (Censored video edit)
  2. "Little Wonder" (Junior Vasquez club mix)
  3. "Little Wonder" (Danny Saber dance mix)
  4. "Seven Years in Tibet" (Mandarin version) (Chinese: 剎那天地; literally: "A Fleeting Moment") (Mandarin lyric interpretation: Lin Xi; project concept: Elvin Wong)
  5. "Dead Man Walking" (Moby Mix 1)"
  6. "Dead Man Walking" (Moby Mix 2 US Promo 12")
  7. "Telling Lies" (Feelgood mix)
  8. "Telling Lies" (Paradox mix)
  9. "I'm Afraid of Americans" (Showgirls soundtrack version)
  10. "I'm Afraid of Americans" (Nine Inch Nails V1 mix)
  11. "I'm Afraid of Americans" (Nine Inch Nails V1 clean edit)
  12. "V-2 Schneider" (Tao Jones Index) (Live at the Paradiso, Amsterdam in June 1997)
  13. "Pallas Athena" (Tao Jones Index) (Live at the Paradiso, Amsterdam in June 1997)
  • Track 11 is mistakenly labeled as the V1 edit. Apparently, it is an edited album version, which previously only appeared on the 1997 promotional CD "The Radio Edits", along with the edits of "Seven Years in Tibet" (which was later released as a single) and a unique edit of "Looking for Satellites", which has never been released in any other form. Disc 1 in this edition contains a pregap of 36 seconds of silence between "Dead Man Walking" and "Telling Lies".[37][38]




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External links[edit]