This album was the start of Bowie’s twilight years – the subject matter had become quite moody and melancholic, and somehow you get the feeling that Bowie knew his time was up on this planet.
Does that make this album dreary and boring? Absolutely not. This is a huge breath of fresh air after a slight lull in the 90s (and 80s), and with long-time friend Tony Visconti returning to produce, Bowie managed to construct one of his best creative outings since “Scary Monsters”. How would I rank these fine songs?
You can check out some of my other Bowie lists below:
12 – Afraid
There has to be a last place, and I don’t find this song interesting at all.
For some reason, the melodies / vocals / instrumentation just feel off straight from the start, and there’s nothing in particular that I can latch onto. At least the chorus is kinda catchy I guess?
11 – Cactus
I was actually mildly surprised when I placed this one so low, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think “Cactus” is particularly stand-out.
It’s a huge step up from “Afraid” – every song from now on is at least interesting in some aspect, and “Cactus” is a decent second song that keeps the themes and tone of the album going.
10 – Everyone Says “Hi”
Is this the most popular song on the album? It has the most plays on Spotify, and I don’t really understand why – I guess it’s more upbeat and “mainstream” than the other songs, but is it really good enough to eclipse the others?
I suppose it’s almost too jarringly upbeat of a song to include on “Heathen”, which is probably why I ranked it so low. Still, a completely passable song that I’d be glad to listen to on any day.
9 – I’ve Been Waiting for You
A great rocker of a track, and the intro in particular hooked me straight away.
The rest of the song is pretty good too, and while I can’t imagine most people ranking it highly, I still have a sort of soft spot for it.
8 – Slow Burn
This is a track that seemingly gets better with every listen, and it’s crept its way up my list over the past few days.
Boasting some excellent lyrics and a great vocal performance, it’s ironic that “Slow Burn” is actually one of the more exciting tracks on “Heathen”.
7 – A Better Future
I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if this was way down on most people’s list – heck, it could probably even be at the bottom of the majority of rankings.
What can I say? On such a downbeat album, it’s nice to have an optimistic and jovial track in the mix. I guess this is my guilty pleasure track on “Heathen”.
6 – I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship
Definitely … the weirdest track on “Heathen”.
The lyrics and instrumentation are completely wacky and zany, and that’s why I like it so much. There are so many odd creative choices here, but it leads to one of the most memorable and creative outings on the record – and you can tell Bowie had a blast doing it.
5 – I Would Be Your Slave
A hauntingly beautiful track, I love the unsettling yet charming string arrangements and vocal performance.
I think Bowie was a kinda underrated love song writer, you can always tell that when he writes a song like this (which isn’t often) it always comes from the heart, and he puts his own unique spin on the lyrics.
4 – 5:15 the Angels Have Gone
Apparently this was one of Bowie’s favourites from the album, and I can definitely see why.
The opening drum and guitar riffs are instantly catchy, and there’s something so sombre and melancholic about the lyrics. Definitely one of the most underrated tracks on here.
3 – Slip Away
The top 3 songs on my list are all very similar – each track has a downbeat, almost sinister feel to them, and “Slip Away” is no exception.
This is probably the track that sounds the most like Bowie’s later albums (“The Next Day” and “Blackstar” come to mind), and the theme of the fragility of life makes “Heathen” a unique and rewarding experience from start to finish.
2 – Sunday
This album was released not soon after the tragedy of 9/11, so this opening track definitely felt like it was alluding to that fateful day.
Bowie claims that the events that unfolded on that day had no impact on the songwriting of “Sunday”, but I find that hard to believe – the lyrics “nothing remains” seem to be more than coincidental, and the moody production certainly doesn’t help to change my mind about it.
That being said, this is a really excellent opening track that perfectly sets up the sombre and almost deathly themes of “Heathen”.
1 – Heathen (The Rays)
If “Sunday” was an excellent opening track, then the closer “Heathen (The Rays)” was everything I was hoping for and more. I wasn’t too impressed on first listen, but every time I listen to this album I’m always struck by how emotional and raw this incredible finale is.
Bowie said that the lyrics to this one just started flowing out of him one day, and that he felt deeply afraid of what would happen to his family should he ever die and leave them behind. These deep, tragic undertones make this track a must-listen, and the live version in Berlin 2002 (linked above) is one of the most heartfelt, emotional live performances I’ve ever seen. Truly one of Bowie’s best.
Aaand that’s my list. Only 3 albums to go now (wow!), and until then you should check out my latest blog posts:
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