Ranked: David Bowie Albums from Worst to Best

With the release of the first David Bowie album in ten years, we take a look back on his ever-changing sights and sounds.

by nick keppler

David Bowie, once the most reliably retired major rock star, returns after a ten-year absence this week with the album "The Next Day." To celebrate, we are taking a look back at the dozens of incarnations of the ever-changing art-rocker that have come and gone through the years. 

24. Never Let Me Down (1987)
Bowie tries to say something about Chernobyl (on "Time Will Crawl"), street life (on "Day-In, Day-Out") and diminished ’60s ideals (on "Zeroes") but all is lost beneath that ridiculous aerobics-video beat. Two other things to note about this album: the mid-song rap in "Shining Star" was done by Mickey Rourke (yeah, the actor) and "Too Dizzy" is so awful Bowie had it removed from the CD and MP3 album.

Listen: "Day-In, Day-Out" 


23. Tonight (1984)
Iggy Pop has writing credits on five songs on the Tonight, one a cover, two Bowie’s take on songs they co-wrote for Pop ’s album Lust for Life and two new collaborations. Maybe he was trying to add some teeth to an otherwise banal album but Bowie channels Pop with such little menace it only underlines that he’d lost his edge. The single "Blue Jean" has been salvaged on compilations. There is nothing else for us here. 

Listen: "Blue Jean"


22. David Bowie (1967)
The musical equivalent of a horrible yearbook photo, Bowie’s debut recalls whimsical pre-rock British pop. "Rubber Band" and "Come and Buy Me Toys" are almost fun in a precious, Syd Barrett-ish way, but most of this album is just intolerably cheeky (with cringe-inducing uses of sound effects). One thing sets this  incarnation of Bowie apart from all the others: It is in no way cool.

Listen: "Come and Buy My Toys"

21. "Hours…" (1999)
Maybe he was going for minimalism, but the songs on "Hours…" are so plain they’re boring. The older Bowie is reflective, but opaquely so. On "Seven" he sings, "I got seven days to live my life or seven ways to die." Um, what does that even mean? Ace guitarist Reeves Gabrels gets to shine on "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell."

Listen: "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell"

20. Earthling (1997)
As an idol to Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, Bowie had a right to partake in the  industrial rock scene, despite being too old to blend in at a club that hosts it. But he overdoes it on Earthling with a secession of five-minute tracks that are almost all throb. The social satire of "Looking for the Satellites" and "I'm Afraid of Americans" make for the high points. 

Listen: "I’m Afraid of Americans"

 

19. Reality (2003)
In the late '90s, Bowie settled into a basic, theatrics-free sound that never did much for me. This continues on Reality but the album is not without its moments. "New Killer Star" and "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon" have serious rhythm, and the melancholy "The Loneliest Guy" has his most heartfelt vocal performance in years.

Listen: "The Loneliest Guy"

18. Black Tie, White Noise (1993)
Decent but scatterbrained, Black Tie, White Noise has Cream and Morrissey covers next to a foray into house music next to the maniac funk of "Jump They Say" and the title track. On the latter, he connects the LA riots and his wedding to Iman. Apparently, there was hope for racial harmony because David Bowie was boning a Somali supermodel.

Listen: "Black Tie, White Noise"

17. Heathen (2002)
Heathen is the same meh mix of electric textures, crooned lyrics and middling tempos that made up Bowie’s latter work. He does finally turn these elements into a fine single on "Slow Burn" (with some help from Pete Townsend). Also superb are the covers; Bowie sinks his teeth into songs by Neil Young, The Pixies and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. 

Listen: "Slow Burn"

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