Here are my initial thoughts on the forthcoming David Bowie album, The Next Day. I should preface by saying that I’ve not got the CD yet, the review is from listening to the iTunes pre-release stream, so I won’t comment too much on the production, as the stream seems quite low quality and compressed. But it’s enough to give an initial impression (kind of like listening to an album on low bitrate FM radio back in the distant past).
The Next Day is a strong opening track, with clipped-guitars that are reminiscent of the Lodger era, and lyrically a real call to arms. The opening track is the first of several tracks on this album where Bowie rolls back the years and lets his vocals roar like they used to in the late 70’s.
Dirty Boys heralds the return of the sax! A real oddity, and all the better for it to my ears. He even manages to sneak in a guitar riff reminiscent of China Girl at one point towards the end of the chorus.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight) is quite simply a great Bowie single – driven by a powerful, driving bass-line, and topped off with 70s handclaps aplenty. Sounding like the bastard child of Absolute Beginners (who has shagged Time Will Crawl senseless). What a pretty baby. One of the songs on the album that gets better the more you play it. So go on, play it again.
Love is Lost is one of the more minimal tracks on The Next Day. Sparse drums and cheap sounding synths throb in a track that almost has a demo feel to it. Imagine the empty spaces of Sign O The Times by Prince for an idea of how this song sounds. I love the way that the guitars are often dirty and twisted on the album, and this track is no exception. The backing vocals are also classic Bowie.
“Oh what have you done?”
Where Are We Now? is the track that announced the return of DB. The (previously) most unBowie-like looking back and nostalgia of Where Are We Now? fits really well in the context of this album, which often references Bowie’s musical past . Which is not a criticism by the way, they are his tools, why shouldn’t he use them?
The end of the song is one of the most powerful moments in Bowie’s vast catalogue, and it’s reassuring to hear our rock stars growing old, some gracefully, some disgracefully. Just like us.
“As long as there’s me
As long as there’s you”
Valentines Day is the one track that I was slightly disappointed with on these first, early plays. Musically it harks back just a little too much and is close to becoming a Bowie parody at times, with it’s “sha la la’s”. The excellent lead guitar work towards the end and it’s subject matter (a high school shooting) does give it a bit more weight on repeated plays, and it’s starting to grow on me.
I’d Rather Be High also suffers from being slightly too retro – sounding like a mash-up of The Beatles and The Stone Roses at times. But in context, two potential disappointments out of 14 songs is not bad going.
Boss of Me has a strong chorus and more Bowie sax. If You Can See Me is gloriously chaotic, with an odd time signature, frantic drums and sped up backing vocals.
Every Bowie album has to have a space song, right? And normally they are one of the album’s highlights, so why spoil a perfectly good tradition. Dancing out in Space is the space song from The Next Day, and this clever pop song is driven by a Lust for Life type rhyhmn section, bubbling synths and a nostalgic Bowie backing vocal. This song would make a good third single from the album.
How Does the Grass Grow? is one of my early album favourites. It’s a kitchen sink of a song, with some West Side Story doo-wap thrown in, and sounding like it would easily fit into a remake of Lodger (one of my favourite Bowie albums). Tony Visconti is surely Bowie’s greatest producer – the drums and guitar mix are perfect on this track. The return of Earl Slick and the addition of David Torn on guitar are inspired moves too. Slick provides the link to Bowie’s past and Torn adds the spacey soundscapes.
Starting off with an almost heavy metal riff, (You Will) Set the World on Fire has a chorus that stays with you long after the song has ended. The most straight-forward rocker on the album, it makes a change from the songs either side of it, and is another possible contender for third single.
You Feel So Lonely You Could Die is the album’s second big-ballad. A welcome return of acoustic guitar high in the mix, the drums (especially in the song’s outro) are very Five Years. The mid-70’s Young American referencing arrangement works well on this song and Bowie gets the nostalgia quotient just right here.
If Bowie ever tours, you just know he would segue this with the aforementioned Ziggy Stardust classic. It’s written in the stars.
The Next Day ends on the album’s third big ballad. Mr Bowie, you are spoiling us. Heat has a hint of the Outside album running throughout, and also boasts the albums finest vocal performance.
Loosely strummed acoustic guitars build in intensity alongside a very synthetic, sci-fi backing.
“And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am”
It’s a great album closer.
I’m sure in this X-Factor era of pop music, when quality in the mainstream is often hard to seek out, the press will be all over this album, rating it as a glorious comeback.
To me, it is a very good comeback. But is it one of Bowies greatest albums? No, but I do think it’s the best Bowie album since Outside, and contains at least four songs (The Stars (Are Out Tonight), Where Are We Now?, How Does the Grass Grow? and Heat) that would not sound out of place on a Best of Bowie compilation.
And I’m happy with that. Welcome back David Bowie.