David Bowie - The Next Day (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
DAVID Bowie’s comeback has been something to marvel at. A single suddenly appeared earlier this year, followed by news of a new album… and now here it is.
The Next Day is proof positive that you can’t put an iconic artist out to pasture. It’s a return that rolls back the years without necessarily attempting to revisit former glories.
The voice remains distinctive, of course, but it’s married to contemporary sounds, even if the dark themes that inhabit many Bowie standards remain intact.
Indeed, one of the most striking things about the album is the way in which it refuses to sit still. Where some older artists reach a point in their careers where they’re content to trot out cover albums of songs they’ve been inspired by, or slow the tempo, Bowie is continually striving to re-invent, surprise and push boundaries.
Hence, the 16 or so songs here seldom sit still in terms of style.
Where Are We Now?, the lead single, almost deliberately wrong-foots listeners in terms of expectation. An ode to time, it’s a sombre, thoughtful piece built around subtle piano and an aching chorus that finds Bowie adopting one of the album’s most fragile vocals.
But it’s far from the norm. Album opener and title track The Next Day, for instance, is positively bombastic by comparison, getting proceedings off to a rocking start that’s as rousing as it is despairing and angry (the song’s most notable lyric emerging as that of Bowie’s body being “left to rot in a hollow tree”).
But then anger is something that’s never far away, much like songs that explore death. On Love Is Lost, for instance, Bowie sounds anguished as he asks: “Oh what have you done?”
While I’d Rather Be High unfolds from the perspective of a reluctant soldier (a 17-year-old Squaddie in Egypt) and is one of the album’s undoubted highlights.
And there’s an aching despair surrounding You Feel So Lonely You Could Die, which almost sounds like a Meat Loaf offering during its epic chorus. The song itself is rich in downbeat imagery.
That’s not to say the album is completey despondent. Bowie also knows when to have some fun. Dirty Boys, for instance, combines a coming-of-age tale with some dirty sax and some frivolous hooks… while Boss Of Me offers a similarly glib tale of unlikely romance (“who’d have ever dreamed that a small town girl like you would be the boss of me?”) complete with more of that baritone sax.
Dancing Out In Space, meanwhile, is just an upbeat slice of disposable pop that is rife with toe-tapping beats and radio friendly melodies.
But one senses he’s more comfortable when exploring more weighty themes and issues. Hence, even a song like Valentine’s Day, which offers some romantic musical arrangements, is mired in darkness that speaks of scrawny hands and icy hearts.
While How Does The Grass Grow? laments “there will be no tomorrow” and talks of blood-soaked fields while mixing in livewire riffs from Gail Ann Dorsey and a vocal sample of The Shadows’ Apache.
And as hard rocking as (You Will) Set The World On Fire undoubtedly is, there’s a danger inherent in the lyrics (and the song’s title) that feels positivey incendiary (especially with lines like “I can hear the nation cry” to augment it).
Final track Heat, meanwhile, offers some musings on the nature of identity which serve as perhaps the album’s biggest contradiction, given the many identities that Bowie himself has inhabited over the years. But then the singer does declare throughout, “I don’t know who I am”, while also reflecting on the theft of love and a father who ran a prison. It’s a brooding finale, imbued with sinister string arrangements, that finds Bowie at his most thought-provoking, troubled and cinematic.
But then Bowie has long been a master of delivering music that makes you think as much as it entertains and The Next Day offers a fascinating and richly compelling next chapter in this artist’s musical odyssey.
Download picks: Dirty Boys, I’d Rather Be High, (You Will) Set The World On Fire, Valentine’s Day, Boss Of Me, Love Is Lost