*David Bowie: “The Next Day” (2013)
Bowie’s “comeback” album after his ten year hiatus post-“Reality” didn’t really resonate with me the first time I listened to it; I dismissed it as more “latter-day” Bowie and moved on. When I came back to it a few weeks later, I kept listening to it over and over instead of getting around to writing about it. This album may ever surpass 2002’s “Heathen” for me.
There are so many stand-out tracks on this album. “Love Is Lost”, “If You Can See Me”, and “Boss of Me” are all fantastic, and “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” begins with some of the raunchiest, ball-rattling guitar I’ve heard on a Bowie album since Mick Ronson was around.
(There’s honestly a lot of great guitar on this album. Gerry Leonard, Earl Slick, and David Torn alternately paint landscapes and then burn them with fire. Yet, the guitar remains firmly in a backing role, which suits the material.)
But, “Heat”. Lordy, “Heat” is maybe one of the most haunting tunes Bowie has ever produced — I fell like it presages a lot of what we’ll hear on 2016’s “Blackstar”. I spent most of last night dreaming about that song. As Bono might say, this is one heavy mother.
A lot of the other songs on the album are what I might call “mid-grade” Bowie, i.e., good but not great, though few manage to disrupt the overall vibe of the album — which I think it why it’s so easy for me to just start listening and then not really look up until the “Heat” closes things out.
“Valentine’s Day” and “I’d Rather Be High” are worth mentioning, if only for the disconnect between the music and lyrics, which I think is kind of rare for Bowie. Both pair grim subject matter — the mind of a school shooter and a WW2 soldier’s battlefield mindset, respectively — with bright, upbeat music, which always feels jarring to me. That, and the music is a little happy for Bowie, reminding me of far lesser moments on albums like “…hours”.
It’s also worth mentioning Jonathan Barnbrook’s album cover, or at least, Barnbrook’s desecration of the classic “Heroes” cover. I’ll admit that, like a lot of “modern art” it initially struck me as pretentious twaddle. But, the more I look at both it and the reaction it instills in me, the more I can see how clever it really is. And, really, if artists can mess around with their old songs, who says they can’t mess around with their old album covers?
I could go on about this album for days. Suffice it to say that knowing that Bowie will give us just one more album before he moves on from this mortal plane just makes me cherish it more. To have “retired” from music for a decade only to return by producing some of the best music of his career is a feat that I think few, if any, musicians have managed to accomplish. “These humans still have much to learn; I’d better get back to work before it’s too late.” The fact that the drum beat for “Five Years” appears at the end of “Heat” maybe hints at his knowing time was running short.
P.S. — A bonus album, “The Next Day Extra” contains a number of decent tracks recorded during these same sessions, plus a 10-minute (!) remix of “Love Is Lost” that’s actually pretty damn good.