Iso/Columbia - 2002 - 51 minutes

The sound of him wailing like a depressed choirboy on opening track 'Sunday' might send some Bowie fans scurrying back to 'Low' or 'Heroes' for shelter, but such an early exit would be a mistake because 'Heathen' is both resolutely downbeat and thoroughly enjoyable.

Continuing with the same gloom that enveloped 1999's 'Hours', Bowie's travels through loss and longing are made all the more compelling by the album's clinical sheen. He's 55 now and on most of the songs he sounds it, but in the best way possible - like Ferry and unlike Jagger, he's always comfortable with his years.

'Heathen' may contain nothing in the way of hit singles, but its songs are difficult to get out of your head and even the presence of two covers (The Pixies' 'Cactus' and Neil Young's 'I've Been Waiting for You' - also covered by Black Francis & Co in 1990) can't detract from the quality that pulses through the album.

On the likes of 'Everyone Says Hi', with its playful reference back to 'Absolute Beginners', and 'I Would Be Your Slave', he has songs to rank among his best moments of the last 20 years and the rest are close behind. More than enough to make anyone believe.

Harry Guerin

Tracklisting: Sunday - Cactus - Slip Away - Slow Burn - Afraid - I've Been Waiting for You - I Would Be Your Slave - I Took a Trip on A Gemini Spaceship - 5.15 the Angels Have Gone - Everyone Says 'Hi' - Heathen (The Rays)