David Bowie: The Next Day – album review
The Next Day
David Bowie. My first true musical hero. Close behind comes the raw brutality of Iggy Pop and the drugged-up street cool of Lou Reed; my other two main idols in music. But whilst they both sit on their thrones, neither can truly match the calculated genius of Bowie. He may have pinched and magpied from both of the aforementioned men for the sake of his characters and guises, but he repaid the favour on both counts by saving the pair of them and relaunching their careers. I go through phases, constantly, of worshipping all three in different intervals, but when it comes down to it, Bowie is the king. And he is back after a 10 year break, with his 24th studio album, curiously titled The Next Day.
People didn’t really know what to expect upon the release of the first single and the bizarre, revolutionary album artwork, but thankfully the album is a triumph. And I am as relieved as anyone. A notable point to make is the way that Bowie chose his band for this album: there are no guests, only people that he has worked with before, such as the insanely good guitar player Earl Slick, producer/collaborator Tony Visconti, saxophonist Steve Elson, bassist (and backing vocalist) Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer Sterling Campbell. By choosing familiar musicians to surround himself with, there is already a strong connection present between the band, which can only be a positive.
‘The Next Day’ is a strong opener and throws you straight into the album, almost like a sped-up version of ‘It’s No Game (Part 1)’ from Scary Monsters with Bowie giving a sharp, poisonous vocal delivery. So we kick off with a foot-stomper, the best move really considering this is Bowie’s first album in 10 years.
‘Dirty Boys’ is as sleazy and sexual as the title suggests with fantastic slashes of erotic guitar that hark back to the Bowie-produced ‘Sixteen’ (from Iggy’s album Lust For Life). There’s even a little hint of ‘China Girl’ during some of the riffs, which says a lot about the album as a whole: this is the new Bowie, but he isn’t afraid of being nostalgic. For a man so defined by his incredible achievements in the 70’s, it would be almost impossible to escape the sounds he created and ultimately pioneered 40 years ago.
Next comes the 2nd single released so far, ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, which comes with a really great video starring Bowie himself alongside the diverse British actress Tilda Swinton. It’s no coincidence that she was chosen for the film; she is very similar to Bowie with her androgynous appearance and crazily high cheekbones. The song is good, a real rocker with a memorable chorus, the kind that Visconti was referring to in his media interviews prior to the single’s release. Bowie’s voice sounds amazing, crooning his way through the funky and upbeat number so well that it’s almost hilarious to think of the rumours of poor health that were uttered about the man over the past decade.
‘Love is Lost’ has a chilling, gothic feel to it which makes it another highlight. The pounding drums really stand out, and Bowie’s high screeching keyboards stab above the rest of the band with an intense velocity. ‘Where Are We Now?’ is a warm ballad, and was a clever song to release as the first single as it doesn’t represent the album as a whole in terms of style or feel. Personally, I love it, and find myself singing along to it all the time. The chorus is stunning, the key changes are wonderful and I just think it’s a nice, unusual piece of music. Bowie’s voice has aged beautifully and this song proves that. The lyrics romanticise Bowie’s time in Berlin (“had to get the train from Potsdamer Platz”) and the rhetorical chorus is really pleasant, as the singer looks back on his past.
‘Valentine’s Day’ is probably my favourite song on the album. The way Bowie sings takes me back to being a kid and constantly listening to his albums on my CD player, becoming obsessed and bewildered by him all through my teens. It’s one of those songs when you just go “fuck, this is why I fell in love with him in the first place”. It almost reminds me of ‘Kooks’, the way he delivers his words, it really takes you to another place. It sounds cheesy as fuck, but as a young boy I found Bowie’s music truly magical, and this particular song reminded me of that. The qualities in his voice cause him to sound much younger on this number, hence the reference to ‘Kooks’ from Hunky Dory. The guitars sound massive, really anthemic, right from the start.
The first half of the album is pretty much flawless in my opinion, and the only tracks I don’t agree with are in the second half. ‘If You Can See Me’ is a little bit unexpected in its execution. The seldom splashes of guitar sound wonderful, and remind me of the kind of vibe that Julian Casablancas created on his debut solo album. But Bowie’s vocals don’t seem to fit the song very well on this occasion. I love the musicality of the song, but at the end of the day Bowie is the star of the show, so his dodgy vocals kind of dampen it a bit for me.
‘Dancing Out in Space’ is kind of like a weak Morrissey number. Plus the daft lyrical content isn’t even good if it was looked at from a trippy, psychedelic angle. But weak songs aren’t a common occurrence on The Next Day, in fact they are far from it. And even the king gets it wrong sometimes. Thankfully ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’ is a strong ballad, which cheekily ends with the same drumbeat from ‘Five Years’ (from the Ziggy Stardust album) and brings the album to the final track, ‘Heat’, a slow-burner. It has to be said that it isn’t the most exciting of songs to be chosen for an album closer, but it is a calm way to finish the LP and offers the listener an opportunity to reflect upon what they have just heard.
Parts of The Next Day are less predictable than I expected, and there are some really sweet, poignant moments that have stayed with me after a handful of listens. It isn’t a Bowie album that I would just play purely because it has his name on it; I will definitely be playing it for some time and will also revisit it in the future. Bowie fans will appreciate it and will recognise it’s self-referential nature. And if you’re new to Bowie, give it a shot. But if you’re new to Bowie, you need to have a good long word with yourself. After that, listen to his music. And all hail the king…