Essentials: David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’

David Bowie's The Next Day

Time takes another cigarette. In a way, David Bowie is history. Even after 10 years away from the spotlight, David Bowie – pop’s most influential innovator – still commands unrivalled levels of fascination. Recorded over the past two or three years in complete secrecy, and heralded by the sudden appearance in January of the single “Where Are We Now?”, David Bowie’s The Next Day may be the greatest comeback album ever.

“It’s a triumphant moment on a triumphant album,” Rolling Stone said, and we believe for sure. Bowie’s 24th studio album is the comeback Bowie fans feared would never happen before. After a health scare ended his 2004 tour, it’s been pretty much silence, he kept his distance, and most of us figured the Thin White Duke had finally rocked his last roll. Thank God that has elongate age, this musical chameleon’s return to rock ‘n’ roll.

Produced by longtime collaborator Tony Visconti, The Next Day features 14 magnetic work with a packed of vivid Bowie-isms. This is the sound of a man reborn, sounding urgent, vital and full of life – and while there are plenty of nods back to previous Bowie eras throughout the record, both musically and lyrically, the overwhelming sense is one of an artist moving forward, embracing everything that’s made him so iconic to create an album that stands up there with his best.

Like all of Bowie’s best material (‘Heroes’ and ‘Scary Monsters And Super Creeps’), The Next Day is strange, otherworldly and eccentric, but imbued with some gorgeous melodies. The album-opening title track wastes no time in renewing Bowie’s flirtation with the infinite. “The Next Day” employs a stalking funk-rock groove striated with angular, rocking out as Bowie snarls, “Here I am, not quite died/My body left to rot in a hollow tree.” Followed by rudely honking baritone sax track “Dirty Boy”, Bowie 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.

“The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is a prime example of how Bowie can throw a twist into a song two-plus minutes in and make it melodically pleasant as he reflects on the eternal status of celebrity. “Love Is Lost” is an organ-heavy rock grind on the subject of doomed youth, make the past seem ominous while “Valentine’s Day” lingers on mass murder, attempting to reconstruct the workings of a homicidal man. This track is beautifully soaring 60s pop which sounds like Bowie’s stepped into a time machine just to revisit his heyday. Loveliest of all though is “Dancing Out In Space”, whose shimmying rhythms and warm, Bowie shows how he can pivot off a dissonant chord and swing right back to a happy place.

The album’s penultimate track “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” could be an important part of the Bowie mythos, waiting to be torn apart by fans: a classically styled rock ballad that ends unmistakably with the opening drums of “Five Years” from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. The most intimate and sentimental song on The Next Day is “Where Are We Now?” It’s the somber first single that reflecting a key landmark where the Berlin Wall formerly divided the city. The song could be not only Bowie’s emotional revisiting of a landscape that’s changed so much, but a return to that bold young couple “standing by the wall” in 1977.

It may well be that a change is as good as a rest, but David Bowie’s gone through more than his fair share of changes over the years. This may have been a particularly long rest, but he’s come back sounding like a new man. The release of The Next Day would have been one of the biggest stories of the year no matter what its quality – the fact that it also happens to be one of the best records of Bowie’s career to date just makes the comeback that much more triumphant. (Text Teuku Ajie)

Essential Tracks:

1. Where Are We Now?

2. The Stars (Are Out Tonight)

3. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die

4. Valentine’s Day

5. Love Is Lost

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