David Bowie

Heathen (ISO/Columbia)

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Ground control to Captain Ziggy. Hello, Zig, are you there? It would seem that with Heathen, David Bowie has invited not only old aliases like Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust to the party, but also familiar collaborators like producer Tony Visconti and Pete Townshend. Heathen is Bowie's most Bowie-sounding album since Scary Monsters and his least ambitious in nearly 20 years. He even revisits his Pin Ups days with a handful of covers -- by the Pixies, Neil Young, and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, of all people -- that somehow tie into the album's overall theme.

But damned if we know what that theme would be. It's typical Bowie sci-fi/alienation/masquerade fare. If anything, Heathen is about Bowie's return to being Bowie. And it's simultaneously a lazy and wise move. After 1999's Hours . . ., which was a labored attempt to revolutionize and contemporize the noise, Heathen plays like a comforting hug from his Thin White Duke days.

But except for a few Low-sounding space-age hums ("Sunday") and feedback-soaked guitar greetings ("Slow Burn"), Heathen's self-referential, self-contained ode to the name above the title is rather static. Ground control to David Bowie: It's time to leave the capsule, if you dare.

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