Earthling album cover artworkRecorded: March-August 1996
Producers: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Mark Plati

Released: 3 February 1997

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, saxophone, samples, keyboards
Reeves Gabrels: guitar, programming, synthesizers, vocals
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar, vocals
Mike Garson: piano, keyboards
Zachary Alford: drums, drum loops, electronic percussion
Mark Plati: programming, samples, keyboards

Tracklisting:

  • ‘Little Wonder’
  • ‘Looking For Satellites’
  • ‘Battle For Britain (The Letter)’
  • ‘Seven Years In Tibet’
  • ‘Dead Man Walking’
  • ‘Telling Lies’
  • ‘The Last Thing You Should Do’
  • ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’
  • ‘Law (Earthlings On Fire)’

Earthling was David Bowie’s follow-up to 1995’s 1.Outside. It was Bowie’s first self-produced album since 1974’s Diamond Dogs, and continued his exploration of industrial and electronic music.

I wanted variety on Earthling, industrial pop, drum ’n’ bass, an aggression. Techno and electronica [reminded] me of the German music of the mid-70s.
David Bowie
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

1.Outside was released on 25 September 1995, eleven days after the Outside Tour began in Hartford, Connecticut. Opening the US dates were Nine Inch Nails, whose set segued with Bowie’s via a crossover set. After Nine Inch Nails’ set had concluded, the two acts played several songs together – typically ‘Subterraneans’, ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’, NIN’s ‘Reptile’, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, and NIN’s ‘Hurt’ – before Bowie’s own set began with ‘The Hearts Filthy Lesson’.

Bowie’s choice of predominantly new songs was notably devoid of crowd-pleasers, a calculation which risked alienating fans of his older work as he tried to reach out to a newer, younger audience. As he told USA Today on the opening date: “How do you commit commercial suicide? Well, you do this: play songs from an album that hasn’t been released yet, and complement it with obscure songs from the past that you’ve never done on stage.”

I like a lot of what happened to us on that tour. It became progressively better as we continued. And both [NIN’s] Trent Reznor and I felt we had really accomplished something by the end of the tour. We got off to a very shaky start. But it did help me understand a certain aesthetic that was needed to do live performance in front of younger crowds. Especially ones who expect harder music. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to lose the people who have stayed with me for years. Because they’re pretty bright people as well. You’ve gotta find a balance between not seeming to harness a young crowd and not trying to appease the older crowd.
David Bowie, 2004
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

The Outside Tour concluded in February 1996, and was followed four months later with the Outside Summer Festivals Tour, which visited Japan, Russia, Iceland, and a number of European festivals. Bowie was road-testing new material in this time. The songs ‘Little Wonder’, ‘Seven Years In Tibet’ and ‘Telling Lies’ were often played during the tour, and gave an indication of where his sound was heading.

What I really wanted to do was not so very dissimilar to what I did in the ’70s – and something I’ve repeatedly done – which is to take the technological and combine it with the organic. It was very important to me that we didn’t lose the feel of real musicianship working in conjunction with anything that was sampled or looped or worked out on the computer.
David Bowie
Modern Drummer, July 1997

In the years after the release of 1.Outside, Bowie spoke often about releasing a follow-up. 2.Contamination was to have been created from the many hours of recordings made in 1994, to be followed by at least one more album and even an operatic staging in Salzburg. However, the task of sifting through the tapes proved too daunting, and the project was finally abandoned after the release of 2002’s Heathen.

I can’t even get started doing the next stuff on it. All together we have 25, maybe 26, hours of recorded music from that period. I keep moving on too fast. Nobody would take Outside when we first recorded it. It was held back for a year until we could find somebody to distribute it in America and by that time my enthusiasm was pretty thin on the ground. By the time it did come out I’d already started writing for Earthling. My attention span is incredibly short.
David Bowie
New Zealand Herald, 26 June 1999