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The Next Day

March 2, 2013

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    A recent critique I read of this album was that it ought to be considered the “Bowie Sampler” due to no clear thematic path. The problem with this opinion is that Bowie hadn’t written a “themed” album for many, many years. The stark electroshock Earthling, the romantic ode of Black Tie White Noise, and industrial concept storyline of Outside are all far behind us; Bowie could have easily ended his career after any one of those albums. His body of work would have stood the test of time even if he retired after Scary Monsters (ever the eternally cliched benchmark from 1980 onwards), which was more of a “goodbye” to characters and a life lived in stark, drugged-out excess than any other album. After Scary Monsters began the downward spiral into “commercially viable” Niles Rogers productions and the all-time low of Never Let Me Down.

 

The Bowie of Hours and beyond would be the so-called “neo-classicist Bowie,” adapting to modern pop music and reinventing it in his own image. None of the past 3 albums ever really had an underlying theme, either–it was simply Bowie being Bowie, writing what he felt like, nothing left to prove besides his own artistic desires. That, thusly, is where The Next Day originated from: a release that was just barely kept secret for years, and then dropped without warning. An album which, it seemed, was created simply because Bowie wanted to start being creative again. In this case, The Next Day feels like the rock album Tin Machine wanted to create, or at least the “true” next step that Hours ought have been.

 

 

   David Bowie has always been a grand observer of the current trends and changing times; it’s allowed him to play chameleon well after his glam rock days were over and his wall-of-mirrors speculations were used up. Though not admittedly one to become a political commentator, Bowie has at times offered both scathing and empathetic responses towards currents events—past tracks like “New Killer Star” or “Fall Dog Bombs The Moon” have more than just a passing chance at being about post-9/11 New York and America at large. It comes as no surprise to me that Bowie has become more in touch with political dreck and adapted to a seemingly “American” paranoia, infected with celebrity worship and ultraviolence. From this soup, we get perhaps the two most anti-war lamentations in any Bowie collection, “How Does The Grass Grow” and “I’d Rather Be High.” If there is a truth to the objection of this album as a sampler, it does a fairly agreeable job in being a reaction to the decade or so Bowie saw unfold.

 

   From a purely objectionable standpoint, I find it difficult to gauge what specific tracks will become the standouts in the long run; general consensus has been mixed to a bewildering level, though I expect it’s due to the hodgepodge of elements Bowie covers in one record. In doing so, it’s possibly one of the most accessible albums in his catalogue now. Sonically, his choice in musicians doesn’t touch upon the guests of old—barring classic partner in crime, Earl Slick, and King Crimson’s bassist Tony Levin—but everyone involved has at least been working with Bowie for quite some time. Tony Visconti, mastermind producer behind Space Oddity, the Berlin Trilogy, and the last two efforts, gives excellent groundwork and mixing to Bowie’s overall writing.

 

 

 

 

    A few more interesting track-by-track notations grant us some wondrous callbacks to “previous” Bowies of yore: there’s a glimpse of the Nathan Adler droning on “If You Can See Me,” a solid retrospective on his Berlin days on “Where Are We Now,” and even a little bit of Iggy Pop glitz and grime on the sultry “Dirty Boys.” Perhaps the most mind-boggling contribution is the albums closer, “Heat,” which ebbs and oozes a kind of Scott Walker dread. Walker, Bowie fanatics will recall, was covered in Black Tie White Noise’s “Nite Flights,” and a man perhaps even more experimental than the former Thin White Duke. After the overall high-octane rush of the latter half, it seems unexpected to crawl back into the house of mirrors for a bit of nightmarish reflection, usually reserved for that of post-Berlin Major Tom in works like “Ashes To Ashes.”

 

 

Greatest comeback of all time” is a statement I’ve read many times in the past few days since the album’s unofficial release via a livestream event. In terms of comebacks, a successful one should encompass why the phoenix act in itself is actually relevant. David Bowie’s last record was about a decade ago; the largely agreeable Reality, which was a decent followup to Heathen, but not exactly something that set the world aflame with ruminations. The Next Day features all-original writing and finally a David Bowie that picks up the scrap metal from his tin machine, engineering it into a most unusual flare gun. We took notice, like moths to a flame, eager but wary of the past “Bowie is back” routines. Is David Bowie still relevant? I’d wager yes, and mainly because Bowie has embraced his new style with a fuller, rounder ambition. There are no covers, no Rebel Rebel reworks, no grandiose tour, no record company pressures—there was a purity in the composition, which certainly helped David Bowie craft some rich new statements.

 

 

8.9/10

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