After a decade of silence filled with rumours of ill health or retirement, David Bowie has returned to the music scene, making a huge impact with his 24th studio album The Next Day. The surprise release of lead single ‘Where Are We Now?‘ led many to expect Bowie’s latest effort to be a frail and wistful look at his 40 year career, however Bowie has challenged our expectations and surprised the world once more with one of his rockiest albums yet, which not only reflects on his past, but points towards the future.
Title track ‘The Next Day’ opens the album with familiar sounds of electric guitars and synthetic strings, instantly acknowledging the influence of producer Tony Visconti; the man who co-produced Bowie’s most experimental albums Low and Heroes. This sets the stage for an album full of flashbacks through Bowie’s career, a “best of” collection of Bowie’s different sounds. ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’, one of the slower tracks on the album, shares a similar tone to Ziggy’s ‘Five Years’; the final moments even mimic the iconic drum beat. Choppy guitars and sleazy throbbing bass in ‘Dirty Boys’ are reminiscent of 1975 hit ‘Fame’, which accompanies the cheesy saxophone found on ‘The Boss of Me’ in harkening back to his ‘Young Americans’ years. Yet far from seeming like Bowie is resting on his laurels, the album manages to effectively showcase Bowie’s best sounds while creating something new and different to anything he has done before.
Silencing speculation that the 66 year old legend was ill, dying, or retired, vocally Bowie shows no signs of slowing down. The Next Day contains some of his strongest vocals to date. In particular, in ‘How Does The Grass Grow?’ he perfects his many styles, from the deep and mature vocals of his later career to the catchy falsetto backing vocals found in early albums.
Lyrically, Bowie is as insightful and clever as ever, still preferring to create characters and observe than write of his own life. Two of the darker songs on the album, ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘I’d Rather Be High’ contrast catchy, upbeat guitars with lyrics from the perspective of a mass murderer and a dispirited soldier. A personal highlight of the album, ‘Dancing Out in Space’ illustrates that his songwriting is at its best, featuring some of the best and catchiest vocal melodies and rhythms on the album.
Is this the last David Bowie album? ‘The Next Day‘ feels like a final farewell; utilising the best of his classic sounds while also making something completely new and interesting. If it’s his last, it is the perfect album to go out with. Whether or not you agree, at a time when One Direction reach #1 with a Blondie cover, we can all agree that it’s good to have so much media attention and interest surrounding one of the best music legends the world has to offer. And, more importantly, it’s just good to have David Bowie back.
By Jonny Dale