The Next Day
Reviewed by Joe Jamnitzky
It’s rather appropriate that my first article about a brand new album has an almost direct connection to my very first “Lost and Found” article. If you’ll remember, that article was about David Bowie’s 1979 album, Lodger. His latest album, The Next Day, is his first in 10 years, and the album, in its broad scope of variety, is very reminiscent of Lodger.
It was around 12:30am on January 8th, the morning of his birthday, when Bowie quietly slipped out his first new single, video, and news of a new album after a 10 year silence. No fanfare, no big buildup on the internet or in the news, just done on his terms. It was quite the surprise for many people who woke up in the morning. After all, it was generally accepted that he had retired.
Turns out, that wasn’t quite the case. He had been working on the album off and on for a while, with the bulk of the work being done during the summer of 2012. How did an artist of his stature manage to keep news like this from the public, in this day and age of instant information? Easy. Everybody involved in the album process had to sign nondisclosure agreements. Basically, the man who has always been at the forefront of using technology, at 66 years old, managed to beat the very system he always championed.
So was the 10 years worth the wait? Well, true, I am slightly biased, but putting that aside, this album stands as one of the best he has ever made. Much like I discussed in reviewing Lodger, there is no one set style on this album. Instead, Bowie seems to draw off almost every bit of his career for each song. As a matter of fact, one of the songs is based on an unreleased track from the Lodger sessions (though it’s unknown which; they’re keeping quiet on that so far).
Standout tracks really depend on what version of Bowie you prefer, though the opening title track has been unanimously considered not just one of his best songs but a great album opener. Lyrically he’s in fine form, drawing on some of his darkest themes, death being very noticeable. “I’d Rather Be High” is sung from the point of view of a World War II soldier, while “Valentine’s Day”, despite coming across as a love song based on the title alone, is actually a song about a high school shooter named Valentine. On the other end, “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” is a ballad done in his finest form, highly reminiscent of “Rock & Roll Suicide”, the closing track from his classic Ziggy Stardust album (which he seems to have known people would notice, as the song fades out with the drum beat of “Five Years” , the opening track from the same album).
He even finds room to dip back into his Never Let Me Down days of 1987 (which is much maligned by many people) with “(You Will) Set The World On Fire”, while the skittering drum beat of “If You Can See Me” is a direct descendant of his 1997 Earthling album.
One last thing to point out is the artwork. Many thought it was a joke at first, but it isn’t. For those who haven’t seen it, he basically took his classic album cover for Heroes, put a big white square over the center, crossed out the word “Heroes”, and typed in “The Next Day” in the center album title. Then he proceeded to do the same on the back, placing a white box over the original tracklisting and placing the new album tracklist inside the box. It could’ve been done with MS Paint, but by subverting one of his own classic album covers, he not only obliterates his past, but makes an album that could just as easily fit in with that time period.
Bowie is 66 years old and he’s still able to do stuff that gets people talking. On top of that, he manages to make quality music. There won’t be any touring; he’s adamant about that. Maybe just a one off show here or there. The good news, though, is that he’s already planning on recording the next album by the end of the year, using tracks they didn’t finish from this one.
If it’s anything like this one, then Bowie fans are in for some treats over the next year. It may have been 10 years, but with the hit of one drum and the blast of one chord, that time period just washed away. How many 66 year old musicians do you know that can pull that off?
I can only think of one…