Review: The Next Day – David Bowie

BowieNextDayUnless you have been hiding under a rock—and hey it is 2013 and this could be offputting to readers, so I can’t really fault you—you already know that, after a 10-year hiatus, David Bowie has reemerged with his 24th long player, iThe Next Day/i. iThe Next Day /iis unequivocally the finest project that Bowie has been associated with in perhaps the better part of three decades.

span over a period of roughly 24 months, Bowie and longtime associate, Tony Visconti, were able to assemble a compact cast of characters—many of whom began their working relationship with Bowie 20+ years ago. Notable participants include the talented Gerry Leonard (guitar), Gail Ann Dorsey (bass), Zachary Alford (drums), Earl Slick (guitar), Tony Levin (bass), Sterling Campbell (drums), David Torn (guitar), and Steve Elson (sax).

The roughly hour-long disc—if you count the three supplementary sides included within the iDeluxe Edition/i (note: Japanese pressings will include a fourth bonus track titled “God Bless The Girl”) —is 100 percent Bowie. It’s all here: the darkness, the humour, the distinct British gentility. In fact, this may be the most distinctive Bowie album that the artist has committed himself to since iScary Monsters (And Super Creeps)/i (1980). While that statement certainly shouldn’t intimate that he hasn’t done stellar work in the interim, enthusiasts who have carefully followed his career will undoubtedly be amazed at the artist’s solid return to form.

Many of his most ardent followers put Bowie on deathwatch after he suffered a full-blown acute myocardial infarction while on stage at the Hurricane Festival in Scheeßel, Germany, on June 25, 2004. Something obviously happened to the artist during the intervening decade. iThe Next Day/i is infinitely more than a contrived comeback. None of Bowie’s mid-‘70s contemporaries has crafted ianything/i as inspired in the better part of three decades. As for the music itself…it is sorely tempting to simply exclaim, “IT’S DAVID BOWIE! BUY THE DAMN THING AND THANK ME LATER!!” But I owe you (and the music) much more than simplistic, passionate praise.

The title track “The Next Day” suitably opens the proceedings with a hard and heavy crunch. The demonstrative chorus proves that the artist is more than alive. The audible seething in his voice is evidence that he might be stronger and more profound than ever before. The sax-heavy syncopation of “The Dirty Boys” expresses a different kind of underlying anger, tension, and even a hint of depravation, gilded in fear. Both Elson (sax) and Levin (bass) absolutely shine—and not only here, but throughout. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” was chosen as the second single, and, honestly, if this platter has a weak link, this might be it. Not because it is in any way inferior musically. But any song that dates itself by celeb name-dropping (read: “…Brigitte, Jack, and Kate and Brad…”) immediately loses points for creativity.

But all is forgiven as “Lost Is Love” kicks in with a relentless teutonic rhythm that recalls Bowie’s best work with Brian Eno. “Where Are We Now”—the single that initially heralded the return of the Thin White Duke—equals the likes of “Word On A Wing” or “Wild Is The Wind” in unadulterated spirit. The heartfelt ballad takes Bowie back to Berlin during what the artist has called the darkest time of his life. There are references to area landmarks as well as the denizens of what was, in the mid-1970s, a still deeply divided Germany. Levin (bass) has rarely sounded this majestic—outside the confines of his work with King Crimson or Peter Gabriel, that is.

The finger-snappin’ “Valentine’s Day”—with roots clearly entrenched in doo-wop—is a cryptic narrative that was perhaps inspired by the rash of deadly school shootings that have plagued the globe in recent memory. It is none other than good ol’ Bowie who could even conceive of the irony of naming the central character Valentine. Listen to his multi-layered harmony backing vocals for a sonic sweetness that adds even more tension to the topic. The effect is chilling.

We next find our hero out-Bono-ing U2 in the post-mod “If You Can See Me,” with its hard, anxious, unrelenting rhythm that provides a perfect bed for Bowie’s somewhat ‘stream-of-consciousness’ lyrical content. Another absolute highlight, “I’d Rather Be High,” is propelled by Levin’s pulsating, undulating bass lines and slightly off-kilter syncopation. The story line is seen from the vantage point of a 17-year-old British soldier during World War I. In typical teenage-angst fashion, his thoughts roam from “training these guns on those men in the sand” to teenage sex, drugs, and military authorities, who are quite rightly deemed “generals full of shit.”

“Boss Of Me” is an original that could have as easily been written about an adult love interest as about the demands afforded by a relationship with a child—specifically, a daughter, just like Alexandria Zahra Jones, the offspring of Bowie and his wife, Somali-born fashion model, actress, and entrepreneur Iman.

The upbeat, fun, and funky “Dancing Out In Space” returns to themes and motifs of both space and dancing. These have long been the subject matter within a myriad of the artist’s musical endeavors, dating back to Bowie’s international debut “Space Oddity.” The slightly disconcerting lines “something like a religion, dancing face to face/something like a drowning, dancing out in space” are Bowie at his most esoteric and inspired.

a href=”” rel=”attachment wp-att-1560″img class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-1560″ style=”border: 1px solid black;” alt=”Bowie” src=”×225.jpg” width=”300″ height=”225″ //aNothing short of hypnotically catchy, “How Does The Grass Grow” should be chosen as a single because it truly and succinctly demonstrates the power that Bowie still commands through his craft. The rhythm section of Dorsey (bass) and Alford (drums) locks into an impenetrable groove that rocks the song and listeners alike to the very core.

If iThe Next Day /ihas a token rocker, “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” is it. Its edginess recalls classics such as “Panic In Detroit” and “I’m Afraid Of Americans,” while presenting a combination of crispness and bite that has become one of Bowie’s sonic calling cards. Here is another side primed for release as a single.

With its name ripped out of the lyrics of “Heartbreak Hotel,” Bowie’s “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” is an emotive, mid-tempo ballad suitably of the vintage “Drive-In Saturday” mould. Of particular interest are the final 20 seconds or so as Alford (drums) plays the introduction to “Five Years” from Bowie’s seminal iThe Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars/i (1972).

iThe Next Day /iconcludes with “Heat,” arguably the darkest and most poignant selection. Because Bowie has vowed never to give another interview about his work, it is unlikely that the backstory will be revealed. However, the song’s moniker and the lines “My father ran the prison/I can only love you by hating him more” bring to mind the Einsatzgruppen and its role in The Holocaust. The motif of Germany as a backdrop locale runs throughout iThe Next Day/i, right down to the cover artwork—a perversion of the cover art on Bowie’s luminous “iHeroes”/i (1977) album—the centerpiece of his so-called Berlin Trilogy: iLow/i (1977), i“Heroes”/i (1977), and iLodger/i (1979). This bonus material is far from the typical throwaway fodder that many artists use to entice sales of overpriced “expanded editions” of their wares.

There are a trio of additional selections available on all non-Japanese-issued deluxe editions of iThe Next Day/i. The haunting “So She” is no doubt a play on the word Soshi, meaning an elder or patriarch within Zen Buddhism—of which Bowie is a practitioner. The grinding and somewhat abrasive instrumental “Plan” could easily have been a leftover from the Berlin Trilogy, specifically, the non-lyrical material circa “iLow”/i and i“Heroes.”/i The final extra on the non-Japanese versions is another single-worthy contender titled “I’ll Take You There.” This jaunty, upbeat rocker has just a touch of pop lilt and is the closest thing to pop on the entire project—just in case you thought Bowie might fizzle and eventually go the way of the vast majority of his colleaguesspan style=”font-size: xx-small;”!– What way is that? –/span.

As of this writing, iThe Next Day /ihas topped the ITunes download charts in more than 40 nations. This is no surprise because the return of The Thin White Duke is a gift to behold and revisit, and the experience truly gets better upon each revisitation.

strongRelease Date: March 12, 2013/strong
p style=”text-align: right;”strong–Lindsay Planer/strong/p