This review very nearly went unwritten. I have an immense love for David Bowie, and sometimes, when you love something a lot, it can get extremely difficult to write something, because you feel you’re either too critical or too fanboyish in your lavish praise for a new work. Then there’s the fear of just not getting it right, because what do I really know about the artist in question in the end? Surely there are other people out there hitting nails on the head whilst I am muddling along trying to exude the proper words and struggle to write a coherent piece? You read other, well-written reviews and think to yourself that you will never be either as elaborate or effective in your descriptions and you just want to give up. It’s on those days that I sometimes miss writing for an established magazine, where one did not have the luxury of waiting until an album was out and being beaten to the bush, but had to write your article weeks before it actually hit the streets, all because I’m at my very best when confronted with deadlines. On the other hand, Sounds from the Dark Side gives me the chance to let an album gestate and sink in for a while without any pressure from anyone, and if I decided not to do a review after all, there would be no harm done. You probably wouldn’t even miss it. When you love something a lot, though, you want to share it with the world, and you have to get it off your chest one way or another.
David Bowie’s The Next Day has been a while in the making. Some ten years ago, well in his neoclassicist period, Bowie suffered a heart attack and had to go undergo emergency surgery in Hamburg. Then it all went silent, and the man all but vanished from the earth, doing a guest appearance and a film or two along the way, but the general concensus being that he had retired from the entertainment industry altogether. Until the beginning of 2013, when Where Are We Now? appeared online from out of the blue, accompanied by a haunting video clip and the news that a new album would be coming out in March. Well, it’s March now (heck, April is almost upon us already), the album has been out a while now, and was released on vinyl this week. Time to have a proper look at what we’re being offered here.
If you judge a book, or in this case record, by its cover, you would be well within your right to dismiss The Next Day as an uninspired, tepid release even before having heard a single note. After all, the reuse of the cover for Heroes with a bland, white text box with the title in it placed in front of the photo, can come across as incredibly lazy design and therefor not boding well at all. Luckily, nothing could be further from the truth. The Next Day sounds inspired and fresh, and features a Bowie who sounds reinvigorated and very much alive. Musically, the album harks back to the Old Days™ quite a lot – and how can it not, after ten years? It does have its contemplative moments that remind of the last few albums (Where Are We Now?), but overall The Next Day has a certain spunk and vigour that often reminds us of an age long gone, and Bowie himself has an audible spring in his step, delivering some impressive, energetic vocal work in the process. The man hasn’t sounded this enthusiastic for at least two decades.
The opening title track says it all in a way, almost sounding like Bowie’s pop-rock era back in the eighties and early nineties. It’s the first in a series of very catchy tunes. There are great guitar hooks all over the place (I’d Rather Be High), an number of catchy, radio-friendly choruses (How Does the Grass Grow?, If You Can See Me), and even some Tin Machine-esque hardrock on there (the title track and (You Will) Set the World on Fire particularly spring to mind here). There is your slightly daft and bouncy Dancing Out in Space, some moody, jazzy songs like Dirty Boys and Boss of Me (completely with appropriately raspy saxophones) and a few darker, more contemplative tracks like the aforementioned Where Are We Now? or the hauntingly beautiful You Feel So Lonely You Could Die. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an album as diverse as this whilst also being able to successfully marry the vast array of styles into a cohesive experience. The Next Day may very well be the best, most typical Bowie record since Outside, but never sounds old-fashioned or stale.
Bowie’s first new effort in nigh on ten years is a triumph, and delivers on all fronts. The material is so diverse that the fifty-three minutes will most likely hold something to everyone’s taste, regardless of which Bowie era is your favourite. It also manages to keep you interested throughout the ride, and I for one am more than a little glad to see the man still at the top of his game, with The Next Day living up to some extremely high expectations. Apparently, there’s more material to be released later this year or early 2014, and if the quality is as high as the fourteen songs offered here, I can only look forward to whatever Bowie still has in store for us. Until that time we have a terrific new record to keep us occupied.
Label: Columbia Records
- The Next Day (3:27)
- Dirty Boys (2:58)
- The Stars (Are Out Tonight) (3:56)
- Love Is Lost (3:57)
- Where Are We Now? (4:08)
- Valentine’s Day (3:01)
- If You Can See Me (3:15)
- I’d Rather Be High (3:53)
- Boss of Me (4:09)
- Dancing Out in Space (3:24)
- How Does the Grass Grow? (4:33)
- (You Will) Set the World on Fire (3:30)
- You Feel So Lonely You Could Die (4:41)
- Heat (4:25)
Review by Ralph Plug