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review added: 1/24/03

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David Bowie: Heathen
2002 (2002) - ISO Records (Sony Music)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Super Audio CDStereo/Multi-ChannelDirect Stream Digital

David Bowie: Heathen (SACD) Album Rating: B+

Audio Ratings (SACD 5.1/2.0): A/A-

Extras Rating: B+ (see details below)

Specs and Features

72 mins, single-sided, single-layered, CD jewel case packaging with plastic slip-sleeve, liner notes booklet, 4 bonus songs not found on CD (When the Boys Come Marching Home, Wood Jackson, Conversation Piece and Safe), track access (16 tracks - see track listing below), audio formats: SACD DSD 5.1 & 2.0

Produced by David Bowie & Tony Visconti

David Bowie (vocals/guitar/keyboards), Tony Visconti (bass/background vocals), David Torn (guitar/loops), Matt Chamberlain (drums/percussion/programming) and guests Pete Townshend, Dave Grohl, Carlos Alomar, Gerry Leonard, Tony Levin, The Scorchio Quartet, The Borneo Horns and others



With his new album, Heathen, David Bowie returns to his musical roots to a degree, crafting a release that both recalls the classic days of his Space Oddity and Heroes, and yet merges them with a new and more modern quality as well - a musical sensibility that seems delightfully older and wiser for its years.

Guest artists here include The Who's Pete Townshend, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Nirvana fame and session player Tony Levin, a long-time Peter Gabriel collaborator. Each adds their own unique contribution to the mix. And Bowie has reunited for this album with producer Tony Visconti, who served in the same capacity for many of his best LPs, including Scary Monsters.

Bowie has chosen to cover an eclectic batch of songs for this album (the Pixies' Cactus, Neil Young's I've Been Waiting for You and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy's I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship). But as good as the covers are, the highlights are all Bowie's, including the soulful I Would Be Your Slave, the melancholy longing of 5:15 The Angels Have Gone and the soaring Everyone Says 'Hi', which can best be described as a glittering and lazy afternoon flight through the stratosphere. The cumulative result is, by turns, electronically creepy, ethereal, lonely, haunting and always uniquely Bowie.

In terms of sonic quality, Heathen is the sort of album that gets under your skin, shimmies up your spine and infuses your brain with delight. Thankfully, both mixes included on this SACD deliver in top form. The 2.0 stereo mix is smooth, clean and well blended, and is very playful. The 5.1 surround mix feels simply like an extension of the stereo presentation, where the extreme left and right portions of the soundstage have been stretched out around and behind the listener. And the surround mix is nicely immersive, rather than degenerating into the sort of annoying, head-turning exercise that so often ruins the 5.1 experience. Here, the surrounds deliver subtle percussion, backing vocals and atmospheric electronic tones. Both mixes have a very natural, organic quality about them. And the transparency of DSD mastering, combined with the richness of SACD's superior resolution, allows for completely easy enjoyment of the music.

Interestingly, this is a rare case where I actually prefer the 5.1 mix. Music like Bowie's has an experiential quality that very much lends itself to surround presentation. And since this album is a new release, it's much easier to accept a surround mix than it would be on one of his classic releases.

Heathen comes in a standard CD jewel case, with the usual plastic slipcover that identifies the disc as an SACD and tells you it contains both stereo and multi-channel audio options. You also get four bonus songs (mixed in both 5.1 and 2.0) that were recorded for the Heathen album but were omitted from the standard CD release. That's a pretty nice reward for high-resolution fans.

As someone whose musical tastes came of age in the early 80s, I really love it when these old guys show today's younger musicians what's what. Like Peter Gabriel with Up and Elvis Costello' with When I Was Cruel, David Bowie proves with Heathen that his musical talents are still as vital and relevant as ever. And let me tell you, if you haven't heard Heathen in high-resolution... you haven't heard it at all. This is probably my favorite SACD release to date. Highly recommended.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Track Listing:

Sunday
Cactus
Slip Away
Slow Burn
Afraid
I've Been Waiting for You
I Would Be Your Slave
I Took a Trip On a Gemini Spaceship
5:15 The Angels Have Gone
Everyone Says 'Hi'
A Better Future
Heathen (The Rays)
When The Boys Come Marching Home
Wood Jackson
Conversation Piece
Safe


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