by Edna Gundersen / USA Today
11th March 2013
Returning after a 10-year absence that sparked rumors of retirement and illness, the rock chameleon delivers a four-star masterwork of beauty and complexity.
Too often, a rock veteran’s new work elicits a hopeful audit followed by a happy retreat to the fusty greatest-hits compilation.
Not so with David Bowie, whose golden years are overshadowing his golden oldies.
The glitter rock, plastic soul and electronica albums of the ’70s stand among Bowie’s tallest achievements, and the elegance, urgency and versatility of his 2013 return provide powerful proof that pop music’s craftiest chameleon has lost none of his sound vision.
The Next Day (* * * * out of four) arrives Tuesday, ending years of rumors that Bowie was retired or ill. (In 2011, the Flaming Lips and Neon Indian released the single Is David Bowie Dying?)
It’s Bowie’s first studio album since 2003’s Reality and his best since 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Secretly writing and recording for two years with longtime producer Tony Visconti, Bowie crafted an emotionally dramatic, stylistically diverse, sonically bold and lyrically complex song cycle tackling a chaotic, war-scarred, celebrity-driven world of bewildered souls.
The disc’s title and cover, with the 1977 Heroes album photo papered over, clearly telegraphs Bowie’s determination to look forward, and he’s succeeded in sculpting a bracingly modern collection. Some tunes fly off into experimental realms that would leave listeners disoriented if not for the solid melodies and Bowie’s emotionally rich vocals.
Yet his past echoes in the grooves of Next, whether it’s a sprinkling of Ziggy Stardust in the title track, a chunk of Hunky Dory in If You Can See Me or smidges of Lodger dirges in You Feel So Lonely You Could Die. Nothing feels like a throwback, however.
Single Where Are We Now?, the delicate, nostalgic ballad released Jan. 8, on Bowie’s 66th birthday, hinted at an introspective, autobiographical bent. Instead, Next leans toward observation (the pained ruminations of battle-weary soldiers in I’d Rather Be High and How Does the Grass Grow?) and uptempo bold strokes (The Next Day and the soulful, psychedelic Dancing Out in Space). The album peaks with the sax-driven, sensual Dirty Boys; bleakly beautiful Valentine’s Day; and The Stars (Are Out Tonight), a feverish rocker mocking celebrity culture.
The Next Day marks a glorious homecoming. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another decade for Day After Next.