The Next Day (2013)

2013

TRACKS

1.  The Next Day: A sharp snare hit and it’s underway. The greatest comeback in rock history. “Listen!” Muscular instrumentation, alive and vital, an off-beat pulse is reminiscent of Scary Monsters’ timeless art rock as if the 80s, 90s and 00s never happened. The religious imagery in the controversial video suits the song well and some of the vocals hark back to a The Man Who Sold the World snarl not heard for decades. A marvelous opener. 9.0

2.  Dirty Boys: Slowing things down with the lurching Dirty Boys, Earl Slick is back and provides some exciting guitar figures throughout, working well with Steve Elson’s ungainly honking baritone sax. This one reminds me of sleazy The Idiot-era minimalism, not the first time on this album. 6.5

3.  The Stars (Are Out Tonight): The second single, a pulsating rocker conceived by Bowie on acoustic guitar then handed over to trusty long-time guitarist Gerry Leonard creating a solid track with a degree of uplifting swagger, portraying celebrities as sexless, minor tragic gods. The chorus arrives late but well worth the wait.  7.0

4.  Love is Lost: A song dominated by Bowie’s own sustained keyboard chords, accompanied by Leonard’s electric guitar and Zac Alford’s steady drums, the doomy track takes off at the bridge: “Say goodbye to the thrills of life..” and Bowie’s voice dramatically soars while the music is cloaked in menace. 6.5

5.  Where Are We Now?: Literally coming out of nowhere, the feeling of first listening to this song will never be forgotten, and for that it holds a special place for me in the Bowie canon. It also helps that it is a beautifully written, charming, simple ballad of extreme grace and fluidity and has Bowie drifting nostalgically around his adopted home of Berlin 1977 – one of the more fascinating periods in Bowie’s career. The repeated outro refrain of “As long as there’s fire/rain/me/you…” is quite moving. 8.0

6.  Valentine’s Day: Lovely 70s cyclically melodic rocker, Bowie once again in fine voice, Slick again on guitar providing a level of restraint and echo-y guitar soloing, a gorgeous glam ballad, a paradox with lyrics hauntingly detailing a murderous boy. 7.5

7.  If You Can See Me: Masterpiece #34. Now you’re talking. Completely bonkers and completely fantastic at the same time, breaking new ground here with relentless propulsion instrumentation (that’s veteran Tony Levin on bass). This colossal jazz-fusion mid-album track reminds one of Earthling’s sound, however a significant difference being the strength of the songwriting, arrangement and astonishing lyrics: “I will take your lands and all that lays beneath, the dust of cold flowers, drizzle and dark ashes, I will slaughter your kind, descend from belief I am the spirit of greed, of gold, of theft, burn all your books and the problems they make”, is up there with the likes of Joe the Lion – it’s that good. A well-defined monster of a song with an album-best vocal performance. Nothing quite like it here or anywhere for that matter. A highlight and repeated listens handsomely rewards. 10.0 

8.  I’d Rather Be High: Returning to a level of rationality after the previous track, I’d Rather Be High somehow ups the ante further. A top-drawer melody, utterly beautiful, urgent delivery and one of the albums best vocal performances, seemingly a desert soldier confronting war over a Beatles-y psychedelic ambiance. 8.0

9.  Boss of Me: This track received the most flack early on in the press, for no good reason. A fine grower and ear-worm. Sax bubbling under Gerry Leonard’s guitar treatments, this is a new direction melodically for the vocal is extremely pleasing as usual on this album, Bowie in career-best sonorous voice. 7.5

10. Dancing Out in Space: Odd little ditty, but it works. Quite fun and catchy, lots of funny backing vocals and weird sounds sweeping by. Splashes of Bowie’s keyboards underneath are worth looking out for. 7.0

11. How Does the Grass Grow: Not sure how much better this album can get, particularly the extremely strong second half. A galloping verse of straightforward classicism, Bowie knowingly la-la-ing the melody of The Shadows’ Apache as part of the chorus. A magnificent middle-eight somewhat reminiscent of say, Teenage Wildlife. 8.5

12. (You Will) Set the World On Fire: Or Song for Odetta perhaps? “Midnight in the Village (Greenwich Village..derr), Seeger lights the candles (Pete Seeger), From Bitter End to Gaslight (both early-60s Village venues), Baez leaves the stage (Joan), Ochs takes notes (Phil Ochs, Dylan contemporary/follower), When the black girl and guitar (Odetta), Burn together hot in rage, You’ve got what it takes. You Will Set The World On Fire! Kennedy (JFK) would kill for the lines that you’ve written, Van Ronk (Dave) says to Bobby (Dylan), she’s the next real thing.” Heavy riff-rock with the band in full stadium mode. Another winner. 7.5

13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die: Masterpiece #35. Nostalgic and completely exquisite, this is the album’s epic climax and centrepiece. An effortless and majestic ballad of the highest order, Bowie sings in his stately baritone in a straightforward way nurturing a comfortable kind of classicism. And the nod to Ziggy’s Five Years drum outro is touching. 10.0

14. Heat: Scott Walker-esque and menacing, lyrics of a tormented character over queasy strings, it’s certainly a challenging listen but a strong and appropriate closer for the album. 7.0

ALBUM RATING: 8.5

VERDICT: Conceived, recorded and released in complete secrecy, a near impossibility in this day and age (only Robert Fripp leaked, an offer he unfathomably turned down), The Next Day, like Heathen and Reality before it, sees veteran Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti taking on production duties. Like those albums, he has ditched genre experimentation in favour of a muscular, satisfying, full rock sound, however it is a much stronger and a more consistent album than Heathen (and no pointless covers), with a dark undercurrent not witnessed for many years, and while somewhat of a continuation of his late-90s/early-00s renaissance, the album is his most consistent and rewarding since the epic rock genius of 1980s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Bowie’s back! Virtually unseen for almost 8 years, January 8, 2013 was the earth-shattering announcement: new single, video and album… still hard to believe now. Harder to believe was the album packaging – conceptually provocative and an exercise in minimalism. Daring and irreverent. It says “fuck you, fuck me, fuck everybody! I’m back and I’m bringing everyone, and everything, with me”. The Next Day’s concept confirms Bowie the enigmatic artistic juggernaut he is and seems to be challenging everyone, including himself, by defiantly reinstating recorded music as art – rather than some paper-thin sound-clip fighting for space in the advertising orgy of the internet.

NEXT: Who knows….?

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