11th March 2013
“Here I am, not quite dying!“, so cries David Bowie, ending months of speculation by The Flaming Lips and every second “rock journalist”. It’s a cheeky, but thrilling, opening salvo in the midst of “The Next Day”, the title track of Bowie’s 24th record. Well it’s nice to have him back, but is this much-hyped new album really worthy of the man? Better yet, is it actually worth our time?
The answer, for the most part, is yes.
The Next Day bristles with a restless creativity, the kind that surely comes from a self-imposed 10 year gap in record-making. And while initially it sounds as if Bowie’s used the opportunity to throw in everything with the kitchen sink, subsequent listens reveal a subtlety and carefully considered craft often missing from The Dame’s work in the past 30 years.
“Love is Lost” and “Where Are We Now” are two songs granted instant access to the Bowie canon. The former is a sinister and forceful creeper, every bit arresting as each of his former glories. The same could be said about the latter – a stately and affecting ballad that already captured the zeitgeist on January 8, being the first indication to the world that David Bowie Is Alive and Well and Still Making Music.
While the album is slickly produced by long time collaborator Tony Visconti, it still manages a few weird detours. “If You Can See Me” recalls the dire spoken word interludes from 1995′s Outside – only this time, fully developed into something altogether more threatening (and wholly more satisfying). “How Does The Grass Grow” takes it’s apocalyptic visions straight from Diamond Dogs, while musically it sounds like the sneering mutant offspring of Scary Monsters and the Labyrinth soundtrack. “Heat” on the other hand continues the dialog of inspiration and influence between Bowie and mentor Scott Walker, and “The Dirty Boys”, with it’s earthy bass and squelching horns, wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tom Waits album.
Elsewhere, “Valentine’s Day” and “Dancing Out in Space” are infectious enough to fit seamlessly into the pop radio landscape. And while “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” finds Bowie in a particularly self-effacing mood, shades of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” and echoes of “Five Years” ensure a beautifully majestic melodrama, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
The album is not without it’s misfires. Both “Boss Of Me” and “(You Could) Set The World On Fire” outstay their welcomes and could have easily been replaced by the whimsically gorgeous “So She” and the rollicking “I’ll Take You There” (2 “bonus tracks” on the “deluxe edition”). However, on a scale of questionable flirtations with fascism, to“Never Let Me Down”, these are relatively minor quibbles. The Next Day clearly indicates there’s still fight in the old Dame yet. And that, in itself, is a cause for celebration. (Sony / ISO)