When Earthling came out the critical consensus was that Bowie, once the most audacious of pioneers, had been reduced to a follower of musical fashion. And this narrative is not necessarily wrong: Earthling is clearly an echo, a couple years after the fact, of the great drum’n’bass/jungle/trip-hop boom of the mid-90s.1
At the same time, it reflects the Catholic tastes and ingrained idiosyncrasies of its maker, a man from another time and another planet. Earthling is an album that only David Bowie could have made, and he gives it his best effort. But try as he might — and his enthusiasm for the material is palpable — he can’t quite keep the ship afloat.
Earthling is not without its charms but dilutes them. Each individual song is too long, and the album as whole is waaaay too long. In fact it was originally slated to be an EP, and probably should have stayed one. I’d keep “I’m Afraid of Americans,” “Looking for Satellites,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” and maybe “The Last Thing You Should Do.” As a wise person once said, “Brevity is, in almost everything, a virtue.”
I think this is the last time he tried to cater to the trends of the moment or to appeal to a younger crowd. I find it unlistenable now. Of course, I was never a big fan of drum ‘n bass or jungle. I wish he had gone for a more trip-hop or house music sound.