Heathen album coverRecorded: October 2000 – January 2002
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti, Mark Plati, Gary Miller, Brian Rawling

Released: 10 June 2002

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, keyboards, saxophone, Stylophone, drums
Tony Visconti: guitar, bass guitar, recorder, backing vocals
David Torn: guitar, guitar loops, Omnichord
Carlos Alomar, Gerry Leonard, Pete Townshend, Dave Grohl, Gary Miller: guitar
Mark Plati: guitar, bass guitar
Tony Levin, John Read: bass guitar
Jordan Rudess, Dave Clayton: keyboards
Matt Chamberlain: drums, percussion, programming
Sterling Campbell: drums, percussion
Sola Akingbola: percussion
Greg Kitzis, Meg Okura, Lisa Germano: violin
Martha Mooke: viola
Mary Wooten: cello
Philip Sheppard: electric cello
Lenny Pickett: baritone saxophone
Stan Harrison: alto saxophone
Steve Elson: tenor saxophone
Kristeen Young: backing vocals, piano

Tracklisting:

Heathen was David Bowie’s first studio album with producer Tony Visconti since 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Upon its release, Heathen was widely acclaimed as a return to form, and became Bowie’s highest charting US album since 1984’s Tonight.

I don’t think it’s the best thing I’ve done. I think it’s been as good as some things that I’ve done in the past.

I like it very much as a stage piece; I like to play it on stage very much indeed. The songs seem to work very well.

I also have some quite genuine favourite albums that I made in the Nineties, and I would put it alongside them for sure. It’s one of the pieces that I’m most proud of.

David Bowie, 2002

Heathen was also Bowie’s first album since 1987 – with the exception of the Buddha Of Suburbia soundtrack – not to be a collaboration with Reeves Gabrels, who had worked with Bowie since the late 1980s.

In 2000–2001 Bowie had been working on the unreleased album Toy, a mix of new songs and re-recorded older compositions. The album was produced by Mark Plati, and intended for release in 2001, but frustrations with his label EMI/Virgin meant it was shelved.

I’m finding EMI/Virgin seem to have a lot of scheduling conflicts this year, which has put an awful lot on the back burner. Toy is finished and ready to go, and I will make an announcement as soon as I get a very real date. Meantime, I’m already started writing and recording for another album (untitled at the moment). So far I have to say it’s back to experimental. But knowing me, it doesn’t mean that’s how it’ll turn out. I shall be writing and recording throughout the summer, but daddyfying is really my priority at the moment.
David Bowie
BowieNet webchat, 4 June 2001

Two songs from Toy made it on to Heathen. ‘Uncle Floyd’ was re-recorded as ‘Slip Away’, while ‘Afraid’ was remixed for the new album. Other songs from the earlier sessions were released as b-sides or on the bonus disc which came with initial copies of Heathen.

Bowie had invited Tony Visconti to arrange string parts for several of the Toy songs, and to mix the album. This led to a rekindling of their professional relationship, which ended when Bowie chose to work with Nile Rodgers on Let’s Dance. Bowie and Visconti had reconciled in 1998 and had worked together on a handful of minor projects prior to Heathen.

David Bowie had begun working on a new album and had asked me to arrange several songs. David and Mark Plati, who had co-produced Bowie’s Earthling and ‘hours…’ albums, had co-produced the tracks, an interesting mixture of old and new Bowie songs. I was attending the Grammy Awards show in Los Angeles in February 2001 when David called me on my cell phone, ‘Would you like to mix the album?’ The album, which was to be called Toy, revisited some of David’s earliest songs, including some I had already produced in the 1960s (‘Conversation Piece’, ‘Let Me Sleep Beside You’). It was a great idea to give those old songs a fresh reading in the twenty-first century. But there wasn’t enough material, even though David had hundreds of his own compositions he could re-record, it was these particular songs he wanted to sing.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy

Ahead of the Heathen recording sessions, Bowie expressed optimism about working again with Visconti.

Although we’ve been friends off an on forever, over the last few years we haven’t actually done any work together, so the beginning of next year’s album will be critical for both of us, as I’m sure that we’ve both learnt a lot over the ensuing years. Maybe have gotten into some bad recording habits as well. What Tony and I always found to be one of our major strengths is the ability to free each other up from getting into a rut. So no doubt there will be some huge challenges, but also some pretty joyous occasions. In short, really looking forward to this.
David Bowie
BowieNet webchat, 16 August 2000