by Adrian Thrills / Daily Mail
28th February 2013
Given David Bowie’s reputation as rock’s most cunning master of disguise, we should probably have twigged that the comeback single he released with no advance warning on his 66th birthday in January would turn out to be a red herring.
That song, Where Are We Now?, reflected on his time in Berlin in the late Seventies, when he recorded the landmark albums Low and Heroes.
Bizarrely premiered one morning on Radio 4’s Today programme, it was a melancholy ballad that had the air of a man looking back ruefully on life.
Where Are We Now? features prominently on the Thin White Duke’s forthcoming album, but it hardly sets the tone for a record that bristles with robust energy and rocking invention.
Out on Monday week, but being previewed on iTunes this weekend, The Next Day is a loud, triumphant return.
All the elements that make Bowie brilliant are here. There are memorable, sing-along choruses and slick arrangements. The vocals are varied and commanding, while the lyrics, which address everything from celebrity to the world’s war zones, are rarely short on substance.
Links to Bowie’s illustrious musical past abound, but they are celebratory rather than bittersweet. The black and white sleeve is an adaptation of the cover of 1977’s Heroes — with the original title and photo obscured — while the album itself was co-produced by long-term sidekick Tony Visconti.
With the guitar the dominant instrument — and some of the numbers boasting a raw, glam-rock feel — the echoes of Bowie’s golden years are hardly unexpected. What is surprising, though, is just how well the singer uses old influences to create something new.
Long-term fans can have fun playing spot-the-would-be-parent-album on songs such as the spring-loaded title track (1979’s Lodger), the poppy Valentine’s Day (1972’s Ziggy Stardust) and Dancing Out In Space (1983’s Let’s Dance), but Bowie skilfully avoids straying anywhere near pastiche.
The album opens with the title track, although that song’s upbeat, tuneful cut and thrust is at odds with a storyline that concerns a medieval tyrant who is hung, drawn and quartered by his rebellious subjects.
The brilliant Dirty Boys is similarly intriguing, being the historical account of a juvenile delinquent who runs amok with a cricket bat in at a North London fair. Musically, it is spine-tingling, all artful chord changes, a rousing chorus and honking sax solo.
Apart from Where Are We Now?, moments of personal reflection are few and far between. But then, it has never been the enigmatic Bowie’s style to reveal too much of himself in song — from the days of Ziggy Stardust, he made his name by toying with image and alter-ego.
It might be tempting to see The Next Day as a swansong. Bowie has, after all, kept a low profile since his heart attack in 2004. If that’s the case, it would be a fitting bookend.
But, with Visconti hinting that there are 12 unfinished songs in the pipeline, my hunch is that there’s life in the old diamond dog yet.