Asked to name the most influen-tial artist of the rock era, fans and musicians still regularly place David Bowie at the head of the pack. That reputation rests squarely on the astonishing trajectory and restless invention of a dozen albums that blasted off in 1969 with Space Oddity and fell to earth after 1980's Scary Monsters. His every release since then has struggled to escape the G-force of his fans' expectations, be it the wilful dissonance of Tin Machine or the ill-fitting Techno clothes he donned for Earthling (1997).
For his latest, Heathen, Bowie, who admits to "no yearning ambitions anymore," has re-enlisted producer/bassist Tony Visconti, his co-pilot through most of the golden years. And sure enough,
Heathen is littered with spookily familiar echoes-of Space Oddity on Slip Away and Heroes on Slow Burn-that will put a smile of recognition on the face of 40-somethings everywhere. Cover versions of songs by The Pixies, Neil Young and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy sidestep nostalgia-creep but prove this is less a classic work, more a classy workout.
Best of all though, Bowie is rediscovering with Visconti the essentials that made his early albums so extraordinary-not the clothes, rocket ships or shifting personas but the musical craft. On Heathen you can hear again sublime, escalating arrangements, a voice in the finest fettle of his career and, on the best songs, much of the old melancholy for life in a scary universe. The pair plan to return to the studio in the next few months. For now, here's the sound. We await the vision.