David Bowie: The Next Day
Just when we thought David Bowie had gracefully slipped into retirement, the sixty-six year old has thrown us all the screwiest of screwballs and released his first album in ten years. Unlike so many comebacks and reunions, though, Bowie has made a return of the utmost grace – one befitting of his age and his already cemented status as one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the 20th century.
The Next Day is an album that, in varying degrees, pops and crackles with a trademark flamboyancy and panache, with a little sprinkle of seventies rock-effeminacy.
Opening tracks, ‘The Next Day’ and ‘Dirty Boys’ announce the album with force, but it’s not till ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ that Bowie slips back into his flow like the proverbial old slipper; raw acoustics underline the track, before ‘Love is Lost’ strips it all back for a masterful vocal performance – one that sees Bowie dip in and out with a sense of dramatic timing. The album’s first single, ‘Where Are We Now?’ is the first of several ballads; Bowie teases with John Lennon-esque vocals, which threaten to break out into a dramatic crescendo, only to root itself in typical Bowie brood.
On the other hand, ‘If You Can See Me’ ignites Bowies more experimental phases with polyrhythmic guitar lines carrying strained vocals at breakneck speed. Several ballads and a few rock thrashes later, The Next Day finishes on a fade-out that trickles the man’s trademark haunts.
Hardcore Bowie fans have and will continue to gush at the very fact that that their musical messiah has returned with gusto. But for most, the fact that Bowie has resisted stepping outside of his comfort zone serves up relief and regret in equal measures. No one does Bowie like Bowie, and his firm grip of his own musical identity is commendable. But what this ultimately translates to is a body of work that is a little too familiar. The album sleeve cover is an adapted version of 1977 album, Heroes, apparently signalling a break from the past. But whether deliberate or not, The Next Day actually fits his eclectic back catalogue, touching on various tangents of his career.
But this is a collection of songs that need to be delved into deeper for maximum appreciation. The most significant element of The Next Day is that Bowie’s words in no way show any yearning for the days of Ziggy Stardust, face paint and leather trousers. Lyrics touch on the fleeting nature of fame and his humble beginnings, amongst other things, though through a completely intangible perspective.
And so in the end, it’s a catch twenty-two situation; this is a refreshing release that stands alone in this still relatively young year; but Bowie has been such an innovator that you can’t help but feel a twinge of defeat. At his age, though, maybe it’s for the best. Either way, like so many of Bowie’s albums, The Next Day has been conceived and executed in an ethereal bubble, unconcerned with the world around it.