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4.0 out of 5 stars Bowie digs deep into his musical legacy to see if there’s any gems left in the mine, 7 April 2014
This review is from: The Next Day (Audio CD)
Pop’s greatest chameleon and now-visibly grizzled OAP David Bowie returned out of the blue this year with The Next Day, his first new album in ten years. When the lead single ‘Where Are We Now?’ first dropped – a song that found Bowie reminiscing on his time in Berlin in the late-‘70s – it had people wondering whether The Next Day might be his most nostalgic and autobiographical LP to date, but such musings were unwarranted.

With lyrics remaining puzzlingly aloof, The Next Day is a surprisingly solid comeback for Bowie, attempting to dig deep into his musical legacy to see if there’s any gems left in the mine. As it happens, there are plenty – ‘Valentine’s Day’ not only finds Bowie re-utilising his mid-70s Ziggy Stardust voice but also addressing contemporary social issues (the 2008 Northern Illinois University shooting) and the dark and jagged post-punk monotony of ‘Love Is Lost’ has lyrics equating ‘the voice of youth’ with ‘the hour of dread’.

Elsewhere, ‘Dirty Boys’ treads the same Weill/Brecht-ian ground as Aladdin Sane and ‘Boss of Me’ has the sort of glam rock stomp we’ve been longing to hear since the Diamond Dogs started barking at us. ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ finds Bowie musing on the nature of celebrity and fame with an apparent attack on those ‘soaking up our primitive world’ from ‘behind their tinted window shades’ and Bowie’s past fixation with agnosticism appears to have grown atheistic fangs if the irreligious opener ‘The Next Day’ is anything to go by.

There are low points, however. Bowie’s appreciation for Arcade Fire rears its head in the rip-off that is ‘Dancing Out in Space’ and the garage rock riff in ‘(You Set) The World on Fire’ mimics The White Stripes rather blatantly, even if it is refreshing to hear Bowie rock out so heartily as he does here. The Next Day basically sees Bowie re-interpret all the hallmarks of his career, as if he wants to try on some of his old clothes and see if they still fit (hence his attempt to recycle the cover of Heroes in a clever exercise in culture jamming).

As a result, The Next Day is probably the most musically conservative album he’s ever recorded, that much is true, but it still blows most of his contemporaries’ recent efforts out of the water. David Bowie could easily have gone on a world tour and just re-hashed his old hits – here’s looking at you, Rolling Stones – but the fact that he made a bigger splash by giving us new material in order to re-assert his relevance as an artist says a lot about how much of a musical legend he is. For that at least, we should be grateful.
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