by Tony Clayton-Lea / The Irish Times
2nd March 2013
Review That David Bowie has released a new album, his first since Reality in 2003, is surprising news; but that The Next Day is his most creatively cohesive collection of songs since his peerless 1970s output is something else altogether.
Indeed, it is something of a triumph, an album that will please not only those Bowie fans who gritted their teeth over the past 30 years and insisted their hero was still relevant, even though such ventures as Tin Machine suggested otherwise.
It’s clear from the new album that Bowie, who withdrew from touring after a heart attack in 2004, is in superb voice, his singing tested in songs that range widely from resonant ballads to starkly sculpted rock songs, with his and long-time producer Tony Visconti’s distaste for polished modern pop manifest throughout.
Everything here sounds like Bowie and nobody else: across the album’s 14 tracks there are no alter egos, no conceptual constructs, nothing that feels like a high-minded art project, nothing that aims to dazzle only to dull.
There’s also an obvious sense, as perhaps there should be from someone in his mid-60s, of a songwriter at peace with his place in the modern music firmament.
He makes personal and political points in the songs but there is no fraudulent grandstanding, just a man singing songs that happen to stand head and shoulders above most of what his contemporaries have been releasing over the past decade.
The album opens with the rather generic-rock title song but grows more interesting with each successive track.
Dirty Boys, new single The Stars (Are Out Tonight), Love is Lost, (You Will) Set the World On Fire and If You Could See Me are imbued with uncommon urgency.
The big surprise, however, is the calibre of Bowie’s slower songs: Where Are We Now?, Valentine’s Day, I’d Rather Be High, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die and Heat are among the best of his career.
You thought Bowie was rock star history? A cultural phantom? Listen to this album and think again.