The Next Day is worth the wait

by Iain Shedden / The Australian

5th March 2013

  • The Next Day, David Bowie (RCA/Sony)
    Rating: 4 out of 5

ONE has to wonder what David Bowie has been doing with his time in the 10 years since his last album, Reality.

One has to be curious also as to whether the 66-year-old has been mischievous with his choice of teasers for Reality’s successor, the altogether more rewarding The Next Day. The two singles already released, the ballad Where Are We Now? and the more upbeat The Stars (Are Out Tonight) don’t rank among the best of the 14 songs he has put together here with producer Tony Visconti.

However, the good far outweighs the bad on this welcome return from the man of many guises. His 24th studio album sees him experimenting a little vocally, taking on a curiously Jim Morrison tone on the verses of Dirty Boys, a slow funk tune given a sexy undercurrent by an insistent sax motif. He presents a more rounded operatic vocal than we’re used to on the brooding closing track, Heat.
Lyrically Bowie seems to be referencing his past on the ode to youth, Love Is Lost, which pumps along on a delightful synth and bass pulse. “Say goodbye to the thrill of youth,” he sings.”Say goodbye to a life without pain.”

Mostly, however, Bowie is exploring mortality. There’s a vague sense of unease, of foreboding, of being at odds with a world in which some kind of Big Brother is never far away, particularly on the military rumble of You Feel So Lonely You Could Die. On the sprightly opening title track, which musically has shades of his Scary Monsters period, he sings: “Here I am not quite dying/ my body left to rot in a hollow tree.”

War is at the heart of the best song. I’d Rather Be High reeks of 1960s psychedlia (or is it, could it be, Oasis?) and an infectious chorus with lines such as “I’d rather be dead or out of my head than training these guns on the men in the sand.”

Mostly these are well structured pop songs. Just occasionally does Bowie take an unexpected turn. If You Could See Me pushes the envelope, but sadly only under the door of dispiriting prog rock.

Still, after a 10-year wait this could have been a disappointing appendage to a career that hit its peak a long time ago. It’s not that. It’s a largely rewarding comeback. Given how long it took, maybe we should have known it would be.

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