Picks and Pans Review: Earthling

updated 02/17/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

David Bowie

Next to Neil Young, Bowie may just be pop music's coolest fiftysomething superstar. While so many of his peers are living off the fat of their crusty catalogs and selling out sky-domes and stadiums, Bowie has steadfastly refused to mine the past (after his Sound + Vision tour in 1990, he said he would never perform oldies again, a vow that he has for the most part honored).

On Earthling, after 30-odd albums in a dazzling 30-year career, the former space oddity begins his reentry and winds up, of all places, in the jungle. Most of this collection's nine songs percolate to the fleet beats and cymbal clashes that characterize "jungle" (or drum 'n' bass, as it's also known), a burgeoning dance-music genre that Everything but the Girl and James have already flirted with. But so far no one as mainstream as Bowie, who tested the waters with his new sound recently at club appearances as well as at his 50th-birthday bash at New York City's Madison Square Garden, has made it as accessible. Trendy stuff—and from a card-carrying member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, no less.

Fortunately, Bowie doesn't allow the jungle boogie to consume him. Reeves Gabrels's screechingly artful guitar work evokes some of Bowie's innovative, hard-rock compositions on 1979's Lodger and 1980's Scary Monsters without sounding recycled. Major Tom has fallen to Earth, and it's good to have him back. (Virgin)

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