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"Here I am, not quite dying."
on 19 November 2017
On the morning of the 8th of January 2013 - his 66th birthday - David Bowie released his first single in almost a decade, 'Where Are We Now?' and it seemed to come from nowhere. There'd been no fanfare; no promotional interviews; not even a whisper of rumour as to his possible return to making new music after such a long absence. In fact, most Bowie fans - myself included - and those within the music industry, had long given up hope of Bowie ever doing so again. So, it was a huge shock to discover that he'd been secretly writing & recording for some time. But how could anyone as famous as he, in this age of the internet & the intense scrutiny of the press, have done so without it becoming public knowledge? How had he kept it so secret & why? The 'why' can be explained by the impact it had; the 'how' by only telling those who he'd chosen to work on it. It proved to be a masterstroke, as evidenced by the media attention the new single & subsequent album, garnered. The single itself seemed to suggest that Bowie was looking backward; sifting through his past for inspiration. An idea that was strengthened by the artwork on the album cover, released two months later. But 'The Next Day' proved to be more than just the expected trip down memory lane...
1. The Next Day - The album gets off to a fine start with this rocky number, quickly dispelling any thoughts that Bowie would be regurgitating his past throughout the record. In fact, he seems positively defiant in the face of the Father Time. Sadly, it did not do well in the singles chart, reaching a sorry #179.
2. Dirty Boys - A slower track as Bowie sings of running wild on the London streets.
3. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) - The second single, a moderate song, in my opinion & a comment on the celebrity obsessed media.
4. Love Is Lost - There's something slightly unsettling about this song; a combination of the music & the lyrical content. I don't know whether it's about the loss of innocence, first love, re-incarnation or all or none of the above.
5. Where Are We Now? - The song that announced Bowie's return sees him reflect on his time in Berlin almost forty years before. It is as beautiful, poignant & yearning as he has ever allowed himself to be on record & incredibly life-affirming. It was also his first top ten record in twenty years.
6. Valentine's Day - An oddly jaunty sounding song, if, as Visconti claimed, it's about a high school shooter. It's okay but not one of the album's highlights.
7. If You Can See Me - Not sure what this one is about but I love it! It sounds utterly different from anything else on the record & features bassist Gail Ann Dorsey wailing magnificently in the background.
8. I'd Rather Be High - An anti-war song from Bowie? Rarely is he this explicit. Lovely sing-along chorus.
9. Boss Of Me - A fine if unremarkable number.
10. Dancing Out In Space - Well, it could hardly be a David Bowie album without at least one song having 'space' in the title. It's an enjoyable, jaunty piece of fluff.
11. How Does The Grass Grow? - If this is another anti-war it's not nearly so obvious as 'I'd Rather Be High.' It's a little more discordant than most of the tracks.
12. (You Will) Set The World On Fire - A great crunching guitar heralds this song about the beatnik poets & artists that were beloved of Bowie in his youth.
13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die - One of the album's highlights, featuring some great military drumming & a nice use of strings. Bowie's voice is at its full throated best & is complemented by some lovely backing singing. It is rumoured to be a dig at Morrisey.
14. Heat - An acoustic guitar dominates the final song, backed by some atmospherics, as Bowie sings seemingly unsure of who he is. Apparently inspired by a Japanese novel.
While there was an understandable amount of hyperbole about this record at the time of its release, I don't feel it's anywhere near his best work. It is still a decent album but not the masterpiece some claimed at the time.