Thug Workout 102: David Bowie’s Earthling

Thug Workout 102: David Bowie’s Earthling

Week 3 Day 2: Hermes

Stage 1 – 2 x 20m sprints, 10 pushups, 30 second resting period, 2 x 20m sprints, 10 pushups 30 second resting period, 2 x 20m sprints.
Stage 2 – 2 x 20m sprints, 10 pushups, 30 second resting period, 2 x 20m sprints, 10 pushups 30 second resting period, 2 x 20m sprints.
Stage 3 – 2 x 20m sprints, 10 pushups, 30 second resting period, 2 x 20m sprints, 10 pushups 30 second resting period, 2 x 20m sprints.
Stage 4 – 2 x 20m sprints, 10 pushups, 30 second resting period, 2 x 20m sprints, 10 pushups 30 second resting period, 2 x 20m sprints.

Today was a welcome relief compared to the Aphrodite workout from the previous episode. Which worked out pretty well as I was sat about getting pissed until the small hours of the morning again whilst watching straight to DVD Pierce Brosnan motion pictures (now THERE is a body to die for.) Sprints are always a relatively easy one as I regularly do fairly sizeable distances running and the ten pushups was manageable as I usually do this amount before any workout. I was slightly surprised however at how difficult the press-ups became by round 4. All in all though a mercifully short (if a little underwhelming) workout… Although based on the record I selected for today complaining about the brevity of the physical activity would certainly not be cricket.

Workout Time: 12 minutes 25 seconds
Workout difficulty: 3 out of 10

Listening To: David Bowie’s Earthling (1997)

David Bowie’s jungle / d&b / industrial / techno / wot u call it album. Why the fuck have I chosen this? Regularly an easy target for taking the piss (particularity from myself) I felt, in light of my recent forays into educating myself in drum & bass history coupled with the sad passing of Mr Bowie it might warrant re-investigating. I was probably wrong.

Kicking off with some fairly standard breakbeat drum fills I’m not overwhelmed with enthusiasm about my decision to attempt this record in full, with no track skipping, once again. Credit where it’s due though these breaks were actually recorded by Bowie’s percussionist live then sampled and cut-up so technically these are authentic original breakbreats, alas they sound like they were played with chopsticks on Tupperware containers and then drenched in industrial grade feedback to cover how thin they sound, so maybe Dave and the gang would have been better served just nicking them out of old funk / other d&b tunes like normal producers usually do.

To make matters worse in this, the first tune, all the while Bowie’s reed thin vocal desperately tries to stay atop the mix; like some sort of sonic carrier bag desperately trying not to fall into the blades of a garden mower. It doesn’t really help that Bowie appears to just be repeating the title of the track (Little Wonder) interspersed lyrics loosely themed around the names of the seven dwarfs (I’m not even joking about this.) You can actually hear Bowie say “I’m getting it” just after the first verse… Perhaps this his first first foray into irony then? As right now (as in 1997) this whole industrial jungle / fairytale lyrics thing feels likes a bit of a car crash which absolutely no-one involved is “getting.” Apparently this was the only hit off the record too so I can assume, what with it being track one, things are only going to slide further off the deep-end into quality control meltdown.

And they do.

From the strangely banal “random list of things” delivery style on Looking For Satellites (where apparently Bowie also shouts out either Boy’s Own or Boyzone, its hard to decipher which) to the instantly forgettable rhythmic plod of filler like Dead Man Walking it becomes hard to know at this stage what the actual point of the record was save for someone, somewhere trying to make money. Bowie was obviously always keen to develop both his songwriting and production style but by ’97 most of the styles which Bowie is flirting with here were already on their way out and the lyrics, by and large, seem like nothing more than a mishmash of whatever a coked up middle aged Bowie was thinking about whilst holding a biro… To be honest in 1997 it might have been fair to say that was more or less a microcosm for Bowie’s output in general.

Battle For Britain is without doubt the pinnacle of this (bloody loose) concept: even Bowie doesn’t sound convinced by his own voice on this one and the breakbeats sound particularly sterile too. Droning puff & waffle like “My my the time to fly, when it’s in another pair of pants” doesn’t really help the case: Bowie literally sounds at points like he doesn’t even know what day it is, but in his defense I’ve heard personally from sources in the D&B scene that around this time he was hanging out in New York with chaps like Goldie and Dillinja just as they were reaching their D&B apex so he might actually not know what fucking day it is. There’s a nuts piano breakout in the middle which is bloody good fun though, why can’t we have more of that? Fun. Perhaps Bowie’s pose on the sleeve, with his back to his audience (whilst draped in an Alexander McQueen designed Union Jack trenchcoat) is an appropriate visual signifier of how much there is to connect with here for Bowie and fan alike.

Mercifully it was a really short workout today so I never had to listen to the latter half of the record but in all honesty I’m quite happy to leave that bit bogged down with all the other memories of my sixteen year old  self which will inevitably surface when my midlife crisis arrives to dredge up all the stuff I currently pray stays buried. See you in a about a decade late 90s Bowie!

Some reviewers at the time said this was Bowie’s best since 1980’s Scary Monsters. If that is the case it is probably only due to the simple fact that everything that came before Earthling was even more abysmal. A noble effort for sure but ultimately a hodge-podge of genre (bandwagon??) hopping ideas that never coalesce into a successful whole even on an individual song basis, let alone a whole album. Still if nothing more this is a great poster for the dangers of excessive drug use.

In summary: As bewildering as yesterday’s record but with none of the simple, self absorbed fun.

Beats: 3 out of 10 (they are all in time, I think)
Lyrics: Mostly it’s not even worth trying to fathom whether they are good, bad, serious, ironic or randomly generated in a William S Burroughs cut-up style.
Thugness: 2 out of 10 (it’s a bit aggy but Bowie never really made for a convincing exponent of that Thug Lyfe)
Chauvenism: 0 out of 10 (Come on people it’s Bowie he’s far too cultured for such savagery)
Geographical Shoutouts: 4 out of 10 (there’s a lot of anti-American sentiment throughout and one of the tracks has Tibet in the name

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