by Randall Roberts / Toledo Blade
7th March 2013
Between 1989 and 2003, David Bowie put out eight studio records. Parts were good. Much, though, failed to capture the public’s imagination. His final record before taking a decade off, “Reality,” peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. People seemed to have stopped caring.
“The Next Day” is the best album Bowie’s done in 30 years precisely because he’s stopped reacting. As though he’s spent the last 10 years accepting the lightning speed of modern-day culture without making efforts to mold it, he seems to have taken it in and responded by offering the most Bowie-esque Bowie album since “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).” His voice is still intact, an instrument whose bellowing days may be in the past, but whose ability to emotionally phrase a line for heavy impact has grown.
With 14 magnetic works, the album is so packed with vivid Bowie-isms that it seems like he’s been storing away one plump specimen per year so that in the proverbial wintertime he’d be ready for a glorious feast.
Produced by longtime collaborator Tony Visconti, “The Next Day” features Bowie’s typical double-tracked vocals throughout; he harmonizes with himself on the opening title song, a bloodied work in which he describes a woman “not quite dying” with “a body left to rot in a hollow tree.” The Jacques Brel-suggestive follow-up, “Dirty Boys,” offers a nostalgic look at growing up in working-class London. “When the die is cast and you have no choice/ We will run with the dirty boys,” he sings.
“Valentine’s Day” is a mid-tempo rocker with a seamless shiver-inducing hook and devastating lyrics about darkness, mourning, and antipathy. “I’d Rather Be High” is a new stoner anthem whether Bowie intended it that way or not. Bowie’s band throughout is typically tight, and features bass from both former King Crimson player Tony Levin and Gail Ann Dorsey, as well as nuanced, rich playing from ECM Records guitarist David Torn.
Bowie’s only human though, and his enthusiasm for a return clouded his judgment on a few songs. “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” sounds like a play for a sports highlight reel with its cliched refrain; “Boss of Me” sounds like a lesser outtake from 1984’s “Tonight.” But given that even his best records contain throwaways, “The Next Day” is a gem.