The Next Day

David Bowie

Columbia, 2012

http://www.davidbowie.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/14/2013

There didn't seem to be a lot of fanfare. You turned on iTunes and there was the announcement, seemingly as innocous as any other music news of the day.

David Bowie was returning.

With seemingly no notice, the man had not only emerged from a 10 year absence but had recorded a new album of originals. One can speculate about the reasons for the return: some new songs had been written, retirement was getting boring, possibly (but not likely) financial reasons, maybe the urging of family, friends, and fans. Whatever the reason, The Next Day is Bowie's latest offering, coming two and a half presidential terms after Reality.

The awful cover art deliberately invokes 1978's Heroes; it is simply that cover with a big white square in the middle and the name of this album. It is a conscious attempt to return to the musical and artistic concerns of that era, commonly referred to as the "Berlin Trilogy," and as such, no reference is made to anything Bowie did between then and 2002's Heathen. This disc is sort of a combination of those two, which means the music doesn't really look ahead, but neither does it recycle old songs for a new generation. To do so would violate all things Bowie.

Only the opening title cut is a bit of a retread of "Beauty And The Beast," the opening cut from Heroesmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , but it is a stomping, sardonic good time and a great way to open the show. "Dirty Boys" is even better, all jerky rhythms and Steve Elson's filthy baritone sax, sounding like a companion to the songs Bowie wrote for Iggy Pop during his Berlin stay. "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" is yet another winner, a wistful celebrity kiss-off rocker song with strings and urgency in Bowie's voice during the verses.

"Where Are We Now" is Bowie in full crooner mode, a warm enveloping of strings, martial drums, and sentiment that ends too soon for what is tries to accomplish; a little longer and it could be the perfect album – or career – closer. "Valentine's Day" is angry and a bit moody and also ends too quickly, although the energetic, atonal "If You Can See Me" picks up where that one left off, a breathless Bowie keeping pace with the electronic dance beat. It's a mark of excellence that one wishes these songs could go on longer, although perhaps part of that feeling is akin to the one when an old friend returns after a long absence. One tends to forget the problems and peccadillos because a broader emotion has taken over.

There are allusions to death, war, and gun violence in the lyrics, as well as a healthy look at the past, which requries multiple listens to reveal the layers at work on this dense disc. "I'd Rather Be High" is not a celebration of drugs but rather the musings of someone who wants any sort of escape – death, pot, seclusion – from a miserable present, but who instead turns to guns and shooting as a solution. That is it set to a jaunty guitar riff only underscores the creepiness factor.

The Next Day starts to lose focus about two-thirds of the way through, with "Boss Of Me," ""How Does The Grass Grow" and "Dancing Out In Space" not offering much, although the groove of the latter song suggests it might make a good live track, should Bowie and band go that route. "(You Will) Set The World On Fire" is better, offering greasy stop-start guitar riffs, while the upbeat "So She" and the hard-rocking "I'll Take You There" offer nothing more than simple pleasures and gratitude that David Bowie has returned, at least briefly.

"Heat" is a strange album closer, a sparse piece with acoustic guitars, backward cymbals, a loud bass guitar and Bowie singing in his lowest register about his father in prison and the line "I tell myself / I don't know who I am." That an artist feels the need to say that at 66 years old, after countless songs and albums, shows that Bowie's creative spirit and artistic flair has yet to die, that he is always searching and not satisfied with staying put. The best of The Next Day bears that out, and it is a pleasure to hear, something the listener will want to return to as soon as it's over.

Rating: B+

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