While Outside lays as the more detailed and seemingly derailed uncle to Earthling, the approachability and synthetic grasp of Earthling becomes appealing in its own right.
The storytelling and adaption of a murder mystery draws the audience in with Outside, the basis of Earthling focuses on this rejuvenation of style and especially a reworking of excitement behind performance on the record.
Opening with “Little Wonder,” The drum and bass is a jungle for Bowie to navigate. At the helm of innovation, the footwork here on Earthling is immaculate to follow. While still having a driving rock style, the nine tracks on Earthling catch the eye of rave fans but also have something tied into the stems for older fans alike.
Reinvention becomes the theme for Bowie and over the six minutes on “Little Wonder” alone, there is enough meat to dive through for an entire thesis. The percussive beat which comes from a gospel sample, “Amen, Brother” more famously known as “Amen Break” by The Winstons is the direct bloodline for the track.
The drums which consist of this sampled break create and orchestrate a skeletal system for Bowie to hammer along. His vocals which illustrate more fantasy than reality fade over the instrumentation as if they were just a small fragment to this much larger and adequate puzzle.
He describes, “Stinky weather, fat shaky hands. Dopey morning Doc, grumpy gnomes. Little wonder then, little wonder, you little wonder, little wonder you.” Although nonsensical through a period of time, the following verse creates feelings of deconstruction to media.
Bowie says, “Big screen dolls, tits, and explosions. Sleepytime, bashful but nude. Little wonder then, little wonder, you little wonder, little wonder you.” While instrumentally most of Earthling the draw is from the breakneck footwork and agility, there are moments of utter bliss that bleed in through tracks like “Seven Years In Tibet.”
The roots of stadium rock introduce themselves and with “Seven Years In Tibet,” Bowie can be soulful in performance without losing this edge. The gentle build of synthetic climbs on the timpani-esque bass drums that collide underneath snaps of the snare. His voice appears almost ethereal as he creeps through the track, saying with these quoted lines, “Are you okay? You’ve been shot in the head and I’m holding your brains.”
Using this motion of shadowy figures and ambiguity, doubts slide into frame as lyrics illustrate, “I praise to you, nothing ever goes away, I praise to you, nothing ever goes, I praise to you.” Simultaneously, the once subdued instrumental melts away and reconstructs as monolithic.
As this grand use of power which floats above the audience in an awe-inspiring fashion, Bowie can manipulate the sound to decrease and become more translucent with time. This is also largely due to the fact of incorporating Reeves Gabrels as not just a producer of Earthling, but working on the programming and synthesizers of the record.
A large portion of Earthling’s sound is also in credit to Mark Plati who provides the programming, sampling, and keyboards with Zack Alford who covers the electronic percussion and acoustic drums.
Coming in straight from the work on Outside, Brian Eno returns to assist on the track “I’m Afraid Of Americans” which quickly resonates as one of Bowie’s best tracks both lyrically and instrumentally in his career.
Pieces of “I’m Afraid Of Americans” resemble the worst nightmare that Bowie can articulate as this horror show both emotion-based and as a play on the audience’s own imagination.
With an instrumental that is the best blend of electronic rock and harshness through mixing, “I’m Afraid Of Americans” quickly illustrates a story of Johnny, a character plagued by violence and surrounding paranoia.
Bowie begins seemingly harmless saying, “Johnny’s in America, Lo-Teks at the wheel. No one needs anyone, they don’t even just pretend. Johnny’s in America.” As the chorus marches in, Bowie shouts, “I’m afraid of Americans, I’m afraid of the world, I’m afraid I can’t help it. I’m afraid I can’t,” with a repeat of the chorus that follows.
With the words that stick out like a broken limb, “I’m afraid of Americans” continues on until reaching this bridge and interlude where Bowie calmly says, “God is an American. God is an American.” The percussion transitions authentic and eventually mixes both the synthetic and programmed drumming until both are locked in, screaming over each other.
Following becomes the final track for Earthling and with “Law (Earthlings On Fire),” there is this hellish notion as an undertone. The percussion resembles a futuristic Frankenstein with splashes of electricity that overpower the audience. Bowie reappears as this Oz figure with almost all-knowing power through sound.
With a chorus that describes, “I don’t want knowledge, I want certainty. I don’t want knowledge, want certainty. I don’t want knowledge, I want certainty.” Bowie uses this instrumental break to be blitzing as one last waltz for Earthling. The rambunctious nature controls and is aggressive enough to spin perfectly into “Little Wonder” once more.
While year 2000 was just on the brink for the rest of the world, it appears that Bowie was already interested in combining fusions of genres and pushing straight into something not from this planet. Interested already in space travel, Bowie was able to return to Earth for nearly an hour once again only to evaporate just as quickly as he came.