Angels like them… thin on the ground…


As a technical point, the last Bowie album was released in 2003: Reality. But for me the gap extends back one year, to Heathen in 2002. Whether Bowie was indeed responding to 9/11 or not — he says no — the transcendent feeling of Heathen seems to reflect a global, rather than a personal, search for meaning. There are recurrent explorations of emptiness, but the kind of emptiness that is less rooted in despair than it is in a desire for something more.

Heathen, more than any other record, demonstrates the genius of Bowie’s voice as instrument. No other artist could effectively cover this music; with the exception (of course) of those parts of the album that are, themselves, covers. The vocal, in particular on the title track and this one, is part of the very composition of the song. It’s not simply the notes, it’s the tone, the tone that is unique to Bowie’s voice, in particular when he’s stating the benign fact of the time of day.