We will never be rid of these stars/ But I hope they are forever
So, everybody, pick your jaw up off the floor and put your panting tongue back in your mouth, we are recovering from that day in January, DAVID BOWIE’s 66th birthday to be exact, when a new single appeared for download and a new video popped up on his website. After a ten-year hiatus, where he stopped touring and kept largely out of the public eye (turning down a personal plea from Danny Boyle to perform at the London Olympics opening ceremony) the Thin White Duke is back, with a full-length of new songs. The question: is it good? The next question: if you are fan, do you really care?
After nineteen studio albums, several soundtracks and live records, countless collaborations, inventing brilliant stage personas and then killing them off, experimenting with soul (he calls it ‘plastic soul’), disco, atonal guitar rock combo (‘Tin Machine’) appearances and starring roles in many (often terrible) films, and even being featured in a documentary on creativity (Michael Apted’s 1997 film Inspirations), DAVID BOWIE has a fiercely loyal, borderline rabid fan base. We are going to buy the album regardless, he could record a whole hour of feedback and add a drum track and we would still buy it. When you have built up as much credibility and skill as BOWIE has, you can afford it.
So what does it sound like? Bittersweet nostalgia writ large. Where Are We Now? was written during his Berlin years but never recorded. Full of Berlin-spot references, the song is an introspective piano ballad, a title referencing not just geographic location but the existential question, full of ‘What-the-hell-am-I-doing?’ pathos. The video features DAVID BOWIE‘s melancholy face projected on a doll, with shots of street scenes around Berlin, and at points he has tears in his eyes. Maybe this was the song he was meant to save until old age, it adds a wistful dimension. His longtime collaborator Tony Visconti produced the album.
Clocking in at 51:16, the album is brief by DAVID BOWIE standards. With song titles like Love is Lost and You Feel So Lonely You Could Die we can assume the ten years of silence and reclusiveness have not been kind or easy for him. We know absolute power corrupts, and can we say the same for absolute celebrity? So if the albums Heroes, Low and Lodger were the Berlin trilogy, Young Americans was the product of a haze of cocaine addiction with side influence of Philadelphia soul, Let’s Dance was his stab at incorporating elements of R&B and disco, The Next Day is the lost record, the Atlantis that suddenly resurfaces. The album is not hopeful, and it is going to be interpreted many different ways. You hear a lot of the old soul influences: Boss of Me (strong female back up and saxophone feature throughout) along with the eighties era DAVID BOWIE (punchy drums and synths Dancing out in Space.)
The songs are stripped down, and his voice is inimitable, the hopeful track being (You Will) Set the World On Fire. Note the parentheses: all the songs point to this inner struggle, DAVID BOWIE hates celebrity but feeds on it, he knows he is loved yet he can’t fully appreciate it or embrace it. Second to last on the album is the best track, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die, which is reduced to operatic, backup singers building up slowly over strings and gripping piano. The track has DAVID BOWIE lamenting: “I can see you as a corpse/ hanging from a beam/ I can read you like a book.” The Next Day is an uneven chronicle of an identity crisis. Get yourself a front-row seat on its release day, March 12.
The whole album is currently for stream via iTunes – click right here.