Davie Bowie: King of the wild frontier

by Spencer Doar / Minnesota Daily

5th March 2013

Bowie is back with a vengeance.  Well not so much vengeance, as the Thin White Duke doesn’t have a reason to have a chip on his shoulder, but he definitely stormed the familiar gates of studio releases with zeal.

That’s the kind of overdone response to David Bowie’s 24th studio album which seems to be the prevailing opinion.

To be fair, it is the Goblin King’s first foray in ten years. To have all the latent Bowie fanaticism in music critics pop up its androgynous head is far from surprising.

The reality is that Bowie is one of the greatest of all time, a talented person, a living symbol of sex, success and doing things your own way.

Since the album is good and it’s a Bowie album, it’s all too easy to fall in love with it, to bump its status up to excellent.

Caveats complete, “The Next Day” will sate those who have felt starved by his decade long absence.

There are all the characteristics that have made Bowie stand out these last 40 years: that Talking Heads funkiness, occasional Jim Morrison vocal moments and tight riffy guitar that combine to form a distinct whole that could be generalized as “Oh so Bowie.”

There was an initial worry, not immediately crushed, that Bowie would go the way of older stars—into straight incoherence.  While there are some Bob Dylan moments, his vocals are crisp and cut through the arrangements.  This is made easier by the predominance of sparse arrangements, which is to the benefit of the whole release.

Some songs are destined to join the aforementioned canon of good stuff from a great, but “The Next Day” sports its standouts.

There’s something about kicking off the album with the titular song, an up-tempo pop number that could fit seamlessly into one of his older records or a release from some of the indie groups of today.  To follow it with “Dirty Boys,” a deeply syncopated funk track worthy of a scene in a diamond caper sets up a thematic interplay that continues for the duration of the album.

This means that there is plenty of variety.  “How Does the Grass Grow” presents an almost trademark, trance-like, monosyllabic chorus.  The vocals on “Valentine’s Day” are quintessential Bowie.  “If You Can See Me” possesses the frenetic air befitting its subject matter.  “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is another song that benefits from the sparse arrangements, which is general trait of the more stand-out compositions on the record.

The subject matter ranges from up-to-the-listeners’-interpretation to more autobiographical material to, surprise, surprise, space and star stuff.

The songs don’t morph into some mighty Power Ranger; they present a coherent album though not a uniform vision.

The current version available for streaming has 14 tracks.  The official release will have three bonus songs.

 

2.5 out of 4 stars

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