Album release: Heathen

Heathen, David Bowie’s first studio album with producer Tony Visconti since 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), was released in Europe on 10 June 2002, and in America the following day.

The album was widely acclaimed as a return to form, and became Bowie’s highest charting US album since 1984’s Tonight.

According to Visconti, Bowie was “hurt terribly” by Virgin’s decision to not release the Toy album. Bowie chose instead to release Heathen on his own label, ISO.

On the morning of 13 December 2001, Bowie’s business representatives, RZO, sent a letter to Virgin, informing the label that their failure to release Toy was directly responsible for the decision. “We respectfully decline your attempts to negotiate a new contract in light of the missed option pick-up of a year ago,” it said.

I’ve had one too many years of bumping heads with corporate structure. Many times I’ve not been in agreement with how things are done and as a writer of some proliferation, frustrated at how slow and lumbering it all is. I’ve dreamed of embarking on my own set-up for such a long time and now is the perfect opportunity.

I want to keep the whole experience at a human level. To characterize ISO, I think I would use guitarist Robert Fripp’s phrase and describe it as aiming to be ‘a small, mobile, intelligent unit’.

David Bowie
13 December 2001

This was followed in March 2002 with an announcement that the marketing and distribution of Heathen would be handled by Columbia Records.

It’s terrific that David is so excited about Heathen and that he’s sharing that excitement with the public through all of the promotional work he’s doing. Heathen is not just a great David Bowie album: It’s a great album, period. The public will discover this for themselves very shortly, and I think they’ll be responding in a big way.
Will Botwin, Columbia president, 31 May 2002

Heathen album cover

Upon its release, Bowie expressed relief that Columbia made no effort to enforce changes to the album. “Absolutely no attempt was made on their part to guide me into making a chart-oriented record,” he said. “What I brought them is what they took – and with great enthusiasm.”

Heathen was released in Europe on 10 June 2002, and in America the following day. It received widespread acclaim, with Music Week described it as “a stunning return to form”, while Rolling Stone stated that Bowie was “back to playing Bowie, with class”.

In addition to the standard 12-song album, Heathen was initially also released as a two-CD digipak set, with a bonus disc containing four tracks: remixes of ‘Sunday’ and ‘A Better Future’ by Moby and Air respectively; the Toy version of the 1969 song ‘Conversation Piece’; and a 1979 studio re-recording of ‘Panic In Detroit’.

The two-disc set also had links to enhanced online content, including the album’s lyrics, rejected cover designs, and extracts of the Toy version of ‘The London Boys’ and the future b-side ‘Safe’.

A Japanese edition contained the bonus song ‘Wood Jackson’, which until a late stage was considered for inclusion on the standard album, and was later released as a b-side on some variants of the ‘Slow Burn’ and ‘Everyone Says ‘Hi” singles.

Last updated: 30 November 2018
Album release:
Live: Roseland Ballroom, New York City
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