The Next Day- David Bowie

The Next Day 

‘Here I am not quite dying’ is a fitting opening salvo for a man who on the 7th of January 2013 was plagued by rumours of extreme ill health and possibly even impending death. At that point the next headlines surrounding the alleged ailing former star many would assume to be his obituary. But as another  song says, what a difference a day makes; by the time most were waking up the next morning–his sixty sixth birthday- Bowie was once again global news having surprised the world at large by releasing a new single, his first new recorded material in a decade.

It wasn’t so much the song which was news-although it has revealed itself to be a slow burning melancholic classic reflecting on a happy and fruitful period of his life- but the fact that this arch manipulator had connived to dupe the world’s press and his own fan-base by managing to record not just the single but a whole album without anyone knowing. In an age when the private lives of the stars are only 140 characters away from their innermost  thoughts and movements this great star- probably greater than most of them combined- had managed to keep his comeback a total secret even from his record company thus throwing the world’s media into a state of confusion and flux as to how this could be.

The great flaw in this theory however is that a comeback suggests that Bowie had ever been away and though he has been low flying on the radar his DNA courses through our lives and the 21st century in ways in which we sometimes take for granted and are thus unaware of. We now live in the future he once imagined for us so it is more than fitting that he has decided to rejoin us and remind us all of this fact.

Unveiling his new single in the way he did was simply his way of showing up modern obsessions with celebrity for the sham they really are and for a man who built a career on artifice this was a double barrelled statement. By not making a fuss he created the biggest fuss of all. Ouch! Take that Lady Gaga et al.

So to the album then.

Opening with the title track ‘The Next Day’ which snarls, and sneers its way voraciously with haughty rock and roll attitude like only Bowie can. ‘You can’t get enough of that doomsday song’ he tells us over a beat which resembles a beefed up amphetamine rush through ‘Repetition’ from Lodger and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ from ‘Heroes’. Actually those two albums are the main constant reference points- along with other aspects of his backlog- throughout The Next Day and there is a sense, confirmed slightly by the cover sleeve art which is a debased cover of the aforementioned ‘Heroes’,that this album continues and returns to the state of mind and creativity which occupied him at this time. In a sense this is perhaps the album Lodger should have been rather than the disappointing work it eventually became which no-one, including its creator, was overly enamoured with.

The second track is the sax and sex driven space age chugger ‘Dirty Boys’ which will set the feet of all those not so young dudes tapping with delight with its skewed funky motifs. Up next is second single ‘Stars are out Tonight’ which even minus its Tilda Swinton assisted video which debunks his own myth whilst self referencing with reckless abandon rocks out on its own relentless terms and of course the reassurance  ‘Stars are never sleeping/ Dead ones or the living’ just in case anyone was still in any doubt.’ Love is Lost’ continues the pace before the swirling, melancholic, plaintive ‘Where are We Now’; the single which re-awakened the world to Bowie on that Tuesday morning in early January and which has him recollecting those halcyon days in the late seventies when he found himself in Berlin with little more than his disillusion with stardom and fame for company and Iggy Pop and artistic rehabilitation as his consorts. It is one of those great Bowie songs where he assumes the mantle of a space age crooning Sinatra and the melody and chord structure recalls Lodger’s ‘Fantastic Voyage’.

‘Valentines Day’ lightens the mood and occupies the space on the album that numbers such as ‘Kooks’, ‘The Prettiest Star’ and Everyone Says Hi’ did on previous collections. It is that lovely pop melody that Bowie despite all his haughty froideur cannot help inserting to create a little humanity and warmth amongst the detached chill which surrounds it. The least said about ‘If You Can See Me’,which makes an unwelcome return to the singing vicar does jungle of Earthling, the better although it is mercifully brief and perhaps the first misstep so far. Perhaps its main drawback is that it sounds like he is simply trying too hard whereas most of the material thus far has sounded rather effortless in comparison.

‘I’d Rather Be High’ is more of return to form and gets things back on track commendably as does ‘Boss of Me’ but ‘ Dancing Out In Space’ snaps us firmly out of our moonage daydreams and provides a new routine for our space faces ‘You move like water/ You’ve got stars on your head’ and is a quirky funky little number. ‘How Does the Grass Grow’ has Bowie incorporating the guitar lines form the Shadows’ ‘Apache’ as a sung cadence and it all works rather well  whilst ‘ (You Will) Set the World on Fire’ prepares us nicely for the two official closing tracks ;of course there is a deluxe version with a further three tracks.

The penultimate track ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’ filches the kiss off line from ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and revisits both ‘Drive In Saturday’ and ‘Five Years’ and is bound to be a firm favourite with long term Bowie enthusiasts. High melodrama, swirling crescendos and descending codas conspire to create a song of melancholy and beauty. Closing track ‘Heat’ is essentially a Bowie rewrite and retread of Scott Walker’s eerily spooky ‘The Electrician’ which has long been the song Bowie claims he wishes he had always written. Well here he does exactly that and it works as an update, refashioning and fitting finale to an album many thought they would never hear.

That is the album in full then and after several listens it has really taken root in my psyche in the way that vintage Bowie always also did. It is definitely his best and most consistent recording in several decades and shows that far from being washed up he was merely waiting until he had something worthwhile to give us all again.

2013 looks like being very much Bowie’s year  and his visage is everywhere from magazine covers and newspapers to television and the web almost on a daily basis whilst the upcoming V&A exhibition is already being reported as being their busiest ever. This album is  the cherry on the cake to all this attention and the fact we have a new David Bowie album at all is news in itself. The fact it is good and counts amongst some of his best is a bonus we couldn’t even have hoped for but then again when did he ever let us down? Apart from the eighties of course and as he had already created them for us in the seventies we can almost forgive him this artistically moribund era.

To hear the album in its entirety click the following link.

    • Mr Ker Milan
    • March 4th, 2013

    It’s wonderful to hear your alive and kicking, and a bonus you are releasing new material. We love you Mr Bowie XXX

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