The first thing that stands out about David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, is the album cover – Bowie has taken the cover of Heroes, crossed out the title, and plastered a white square on the front. It’s stark, minimalist, and intended to make a statement. Bowie is 66 now and what’s there to do for a titan of rock, a hero who’s done it all? By stamping on the title “The Next Day”, Bowie is addressing the present while giving due to the past. Here Bowie returns to producer by Tony Visconti who also produced Low, Heroes, The Man Who Sold The World and other classics, and this retrospective approach gives listeners a chance to revisit classic Bowie.
The album cover is grey and colorless, and some of the songs sound empty and unsettling, but there will always be something unsettling about Bowie’s work. Since his early days a thread of cynicism has ran through his music, a sense of disillusion and detachment. But Bowie took this cynicism and turned it into a sort of celebration; As Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane he gave people a chance to boogie over their troubles like glittering space creatures. People turned to him as an alien hero who was not afraid to shake up and shock. But musically, the Berlin Era may be Bowie’s golden age. As the debonair and stylish Berlin Bowie, he entered a great creative period, producing the slick kraut-rock inspired albums and we see this side of him here too, as well nods to his other incarnations.
The first standout track is “Dirty Boys.” It’s bluesy, gritty and evocative, with saxophone throughout, and the chorus contains one of the albums best hooks, “When the die is cast and you have no choice/We will run with Dirty Boys”, in which Bowie is likely referring to his fellow glam rockers.
Another standout is “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” a mid-tempo rocker carried along by Bowie’s “ooh ooh’s” in the background. It’s about fame and the fate of stars, and how they never really die, but linger in the public consciousness – “Stars are never sleeping/ Dead ones and the living”. The video emphasizes Bowie’s still-powerful influence and the sense of androgyny, with female model Iselin Steiro playing the young bowie, and male model Andrej Pejic playing a female “star.”
“Love is Lost” sounds like something off Low, but with the distinct, hollow drumbeat which is heard on every track.
“Where Are We Now?” is unlike the other songs on the album, sounding drawn-out, aged and weary. This track is a reflection on his days spent in Berlin and lost time, and ends on a vague but hopeful note of march-like drums and floating vocals.
“Valentines Day” is light and infectious, with looping female background vocals, a nice guitar riff, and an energetic conclusion.
“You Will Set The World on Fire” may be the best track on the album. With it’s hard-rocking drums and guitar, and it’s catchy and searing, with an anthemic chorus.
“You Feel so Lonely You Could Die” is filled with lonely desperation but has a strangely upbeat beauty and powerful vocals, and ends with the drumbeat from Five Years, a direct tribute to Ziggy Stardust.
Overall, the upbeat tracks are memorable, and the ballads have a stark beauty. There are some excellent hooks and hard-rock instrumentation, and while reflective, it shows that Bowie is still creative and formidable. The album is a fusion of influences, some songs are reminiscent of the Berlin Trilogy in sound and subject matter, but others borrow from the early 70s and classic glam. After such a long absence Bowie had to make an album such as this one, reminding listeners of where he’s been and questioning the impact of the past on the present, and where to go from here. While the material is not groundbreaking, what we get is Bowie revisiting his own work, and he has the right to do so because he has the privilege of being David Bowie. It may not place among his best, but The Next Day is a listenable and impressive end-of-career album. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
“The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” starring actress Tilda Swinden and featuring androgynous models Andrej Pejíc and Saskia de Brauw and Norwegian model Iselin Steiro as the young Bowie; Directed by Canadian director Floria Sigismondi.
“Where Are We Now?” directed by Tony Oursler and featuring Oursler’s wife, artist Jacqueline Humphries.