David Bowie’s incredible return: the greatest musical comeback ever?
Whether it was Lindsay Kemp’s mime tutelage, a freakbeat apprenticeship served nightly in half-empty scout hut hops, or simply the doting encouragement of his music-loving father, some lesson or other learned in David Bowie’s early life went on to serve him very well indeed.
It’s often remarked that, more than any other artist, David has a peculiarly strong gift for commanding his environment. He can walk into a room and instantly become the centre of attention. In the seventies and eighties people would talk about Bowie gigs as ‘events’, like what he was doing onstage was somehow more valuable than the work of his peers. It was music; but also a bit more than just music. We were fascinated by him, we wanted details – and he worked our hungry curiosity brilliantly.
Back in 1974, he stopped traffic with a pair of doggy bollocks on an LP cover. Where he lived and who he hung out with became important. David moved to Berlin for a brief period in 1977 – and years later somebody wrote a WHOLE BOOK about it.
And now, in 2013, he’s done it again. David Bowie has walked into a room and become the centre of attention. Or, more specifically, he’s taken the internet – pretty much the WHOLE of the internet – and owned that mofo.
We all know the story: a tour in 2004 ended suddenly with serious health problems and David went quiet on us. Fair enough. Poor bugger. He turned 65 last year and all was still quiet. As he reached pensionable age there seemed little hope that he could be tempted out of retirement. Interviews with his model wife Iman suggested a new role as a quiet family man, content to follow her and daughter Lexi around his New York apartment.His official website had no news for anybody – just occasional plugs for well-meaning but ultimately rubbish tribute bands. By January 7, 2013, the lights were switched off on Bowienet. It was game over.
But then came ‘The Next Day’. January 8, 2013. David turned 66 and there, at the stroke of a Brooklyn midnight, was ‘Where Are We Now’ – a new video, a new song to buy on iTunes and – most surprisingly of all – news of a brand new David Bowie album. All completely out of the blue, all magic-ed up seemingly out of thin air.
Relieved beyond measure, producer Tony Visconti blurted the story out to Facebook. Yes, there WAS a new album. All involved had been sworn (and legally bound) to complete secrecy but now – and only now – they could talk. Guitarist Earl Slick had it worst of all: he was the cover boy and detailed-interviewee of a global guitar magazine – the sort of exposure you don’t get every day. Even if you’re Earl Slick. But what could he say when they asked him what he’d been working on recently? Zip.
One by one, the musicians added their bits to the incredible story. Fans and the band joined in a mutual respect-fest for the new Bowie product and its surprise presentation to the world. Gerry Leonard, Gail Anne Dorsey, Zachary Alford and David Torn each expressed their own admiration for the album they had worked on in secret. All enthusiastically shared the links. They’re as excited about all this as we are – and they’re ON it.
Then came a brilliant new video and new download for The Stars (Are Out Tonight). Also a total surprise.
For the first time in David Bowie history, there were no promos issued to journalists. Music files were sent to radio stations by email. Journalists who wished to review the album had to attend a London PR company’s office to hear it. You can listen, if you will, but not touch.
This was all very new ground – for David, at least. And then came the latest and greatest twist: the album, all of it, appeared on iTunes as a free stream. And there it remains – you can listen to the new David Bowie album right now, if you want. And if you want to buy it, well, you can do that in a week or so.
It’s an astonishing comeback. And you know the most interesting thing of all? What has the MainMan himself had to say about it all? Nothing. Not one word. He’s keeping an intriguing distance. A more-than-dignified silence. Meanwhile, the album is turning heads and ears around the world. Social media are alight with it all. If you haven’t heard it, you should go to iTunes and listen to The Next Day. It really is a GREAT record.