Monday 11 March 2013

David Bowie - The Next Day

For some the return of David Bowie was a glorious day. For others it caused confusion.

Either way, Where Are We Now was not the right comeback single.   Its intricacies may be appreciated by fans of a certain age, but anyone whose only knowledge of Bowie is the enigmatic, androgynous figure of Ziggy Stardust was likely left wondering ‘what’s all the fuss about?’.  A song that’s morbid and funereal to the extreme, Bowie’s frail voice sounds as if back from the dead rather than a mere decade out of the limelight.  Moreover, the confusing symbolism of Bowie’s ‘Berlin-period’ used in the video might suck fans further into his mythology, but for others it’s another cause of isolation.

Moving to the album as a whole, the obscured, ‘Heroes’ inspired cover does suggest a reflection of the past and fans will undoubtedly discover hidden links to Bowie’s previous material throughout.  But what about the non-fans, those of us who didn’t grow up with his music, those of us who don’t have the balm of nostalgia to cloud our judgement?

Thankfully, Where Are We Now does not represent the whole of ‘The Next Day’.  Newcomers to Bowie’s music can still find much to enjoy here.  His sound is so ubiquitous that even those not familiar with his work can appreciate this undoubtedly feels like a Bowie album.  Mostly, this is from his vocal.  It might not be tuneful, but its character evolves from song to song – declamatory and gutsy one moment (The Next Day), Ziggy-like and melodic the next (Valentine’s Day).  Alongside this are Bowie’s (sometimes impenetrable) lyrics fuelled by his political and social views, here mostly dystopian and bleak, from his comments on celebrity culture in The Stars (Are Out Tonight), to the escapism of Dancing Out In Space

‘The Next Day’ has a retro charm to it in that this is an album of good, old-fashioned rock and roll.  Simple chord progressions prevail, with thumping riffs, powerful rhythms and brilliant melodies.  Within this, each track is stylistically distinct – from the punchy rock of the title track, to the progressive If You Can See Me with its jazz and jungle rhythms, the psychedelic I’d Rather Be High, and the eerily moody album closer Heat.  You don’t have to be a Bowie fan to appreciate the immense hard work that has gone into crafting the fine details of each track.

This is not an album that languishes in the past, however.  Bowie has not settled on merely replicating his previous success, but has created an album of fresh material that looks forward – this is called ‘The Next Day’ after all.  The result is a universal album with both immediacy and depth.  At the very least, Bowie’s made one new convert out of me.


Gizzle's Choice:
* The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
* If You Can See Me
* Dancing Out In Space

Listen: 'The Next Day' is available now.