David Bowie - The Next Day

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

 Ten years, a whole decade, is a long time for someone as talented as David Bowie to go without producing music. After his heart attack in 2004, many of us thought that maybe that was it. That Mr. Bowie would spend the rest of his days in quiet retirement and we would be left with a very impressive body of work to marvel at.

David Bowie has always been a singer that fascinated me. He took the trappings of pop, the image of the rock star and turned it on it’s head. It is no superlative to say that he is one the most important composers in a post-Beatles world. There was nothing of his I didn’t like, but I was always fascinated by his image and his chameleon like ability to change it.
In January, Bowie released the single, “Where Are We Now?” with the statement that his twenty-fourth studio album would be coming out in March. Recorded in top secret, Bowie surprised and delighted the rock world with his return. Needless to say, I played “Where Are We Now?” repeatedly. 

I came of age musically during the Berlin Trilogy, and the first single was a definite call back to that very productive phase of his career. Plaintive and phrased as only Bowie can, it moved me. There is no other way to describe it. I brought back my own teenage feelings about the mysterious and intriguing world that was Berlin in the seventies.

As Jason Heller writes in his review on AV Club; “He makes vacuums feel lavish; he threads melodies through mazes. But all of that rests on his voice.” “The Next Day’ is perhaps his greatest example of this. Older, wiser but still the rock star he was and always has been, Bowie weaves his voice through a fourteen song album that at once recalls past glories and new visions of pop music.

 Jude Clark at the BBC says; “With all the opacity and lack of easy answers that you would hope for from this most stylish and creative of artists, this is a triumphant, almost defiant, return. Innovative, dark, bold and creative, it’s an album only David Bowie could make.” I can’t sum it up any better. 
The album features a white square over the famous Heroes album cover with the words, The Next Day. It is provocative and compelling. It signals what Bowie was and what he is, a man comfortable in his changes, recalling the past but not dwelling on it.

The album opens with eponymous song “The Next Day” with Bowie singing “The can’t get enough of that doomsday song”, at once an accusation and an admission, with the chorus of “Here I am not quite dying”. “Dirty Boys” features a riff reminiscent of “Fame” and a saxophone in the end swirling around the rhythm like quiet wail recalling David’s vocal.
“The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is a meditation on fame, casting the famous as sad tragic figures in a digital world. Another standout, “How Does The Grass Grow” is nightmarish view of ethnic genocide. It’s disorienting la-la-la chorus makes this song even more disconcerting, but it is Bowie expressing complex images through the filter of pop music.

The album reaches it’s climax with the closer, “Heat” is a spacey, lyrical and musically perfect song. Bowie hasn’t been marking time, he has been etching his legend across the universe. For the spaceman who evokes an other worldly image and grounded in the color palette of rock, this is a perfect answer to a career of outstanding music. A continuation of stylish pop music.

This album only re-affirms my fascination with Bowie, his talent and his image. I have been a loving appreciator of pop music for 45 years, and Mr. Bowie is a big part of that. To echo the BBC review, this is, indeed, an album only David Bowie could make. Bowie is at the top of his powers, not that it ever left, but after ten years it is the only album I would expect Bowie to make.

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