It was just a little over two years ago when David Bowie first reached out to his longtime collaborator Tom Visconti to help shape the songs that would eventually end up on his newly released album The Next Day.
Visconti, like many others, had assumed Bowie retired from the music business. It wasnt an entirely ridiculous notion: after suffering a heart attack in 2004, the venerable artist hadnt released any new material and pretty much stayed out of the public eye. Yet, clearly, obviously, retirement and hermitism were not on Bowies mind.
Recorded mostly in New Yorks Magic Shop studios, with the help of musicians like bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer Sterling Campbell, The Next Day is a truly mature and focused effort. Bowie is not out to reclaim his former pop glory, and thats a good thing because trying to do so would be a terrible mistake. Hes already achieved mythic status. So the only burden Bowie must shoulder is the creation of great music. He neednt worry about topping the charts (though it debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200) or reinventing the wheel. Thankfully, he seems to know this: The Next Day is a mix of out-and-out rock, funky, mid-tempo jams, and moody, evocative ballads.
The energetic title track announces Bowie in all his glory: Here I am / Not quite dying. He at once puts to rest rumors of failing health and impending death. This aging rocker still has some juice in him and it shows via the strength in the songs double-tracked vocals.
Dirty Boys is another winner, a bluesy, nostalgic number that revisits days of growing up in London. The dark, moody Valentines Day is no lovers anthem. Rather, with its haunting hook and lyrics, it digs deep and explores the antithesis of compassion.
First single Where Are We Now? is a definite charmer. Its introspective without seeming schmaltzy, and it serves to reintroduce Bowie to a public whod seemingly written him. The best song on the album, though, is the slightly (heh) trippy Dancing Out in Space, a groovy number that brings to mind, if only tangentially, Ziggy Stardust.
While not as iconic as past glories like Young Americans, Diamond Dogs, or Scary Monsters, The Next Day is a triumph. Well-produced and executed, it is both reflective and forward-looking, and manages to bring Bowie into our collective contemporary consciousness without casting the genius of old by the wayside.
“Where Are We Now?”
“The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”