It was January 8th, his birthday, when David Bowie surprised us all with the sudden release of a single entitled “Where Are We Now.” Like a man awaking from a Rip Van Winkle style nap, that is the ten year retirement Bowie had imposed on both himself and his fans, the song could easily be construed as he himself wiping the sleep from his eyes. Where Bowie found himself was in a music world that many would suppose he would have little to say in. The whole idea of the importance of albums, and the ability to sell large quantities of them, has changed since the days of Bowie’s last commercial success. The singer does not seem too bothered by this, clearly making money is not the point of this release, as he is now allowing Apple’s Itunes to stream the entire album until the it’s release date on March 12th.
This means that you do not need to take my word on how solid and surprisingly contemporary this album is. Bowie ,who long ago stopped surprising us with the many characters he portrays both on stage and in his songs, is clearly not just going through the motions on the aptly titled The Next Day. In 2013 he has much to say and in listening to the album it appears that fans of the many different era ” Bowie’s” will all find something to enjoy. Indeed if one is looking for a theme album like Bowie would provide us every year or so a few decades ago they will not find it, however if you would like to have a Greatest Hits Album, albeit one with all new songs, you will find this album a worthwhile choice.
At 65 Bowie’s voice is still as unique and strong as it ever was. If one considers what his counterparts in the aging rock star category have been doing for the last ten years it seems clear that the only reason Bowie was not making music for the last decade was that he did not care to. For his fans one can hope this album will signal a much bigger presence over the next years.
As might be expected of an aging rock star Bowie has a few thoughts about death on his mind. On the title track which opens the album Bowie lets us know “here I am, not quite dying” while, on that first single that surprised us in January, he tells the listener that he is “walking the dead.” The album is not, however, as one might think from these references, a depressing affair. While the first single was quite stilted, odd even if one has seen the video, it still had the ability to crawl inside my head. My daughter has advised me more than a few times in the last month that she has heard quite enough of me breaking out my fake British accent as I attempt to sing ” Where Are We Now, Where Are We Now.” When Bowie tells us that as long as their is sun, rain, and fire there will be me and you it could well be a message to his wife, or his long patient fans.
On The Stars Are Out Tonight Bowie sings in doublespeak, referencing both the stars in the sky and on the screen by singing to Bridgette, Jack, Brad, and Kate that he hopes “they live forever”. The aforementioned title track rocks with 70’s era Bowie strength while Dirty Boys is sung with a typical Bowie sneer over a slow grind funk.
Love is Lost slows down the pace with another slow grind by telling us that while ” Love is Lost and Lost Is Love” to take heart because “all is new but your fear which is as old as the world.”
Even with the singles garnering deserved praise the best songs on the album are hidden from view thus far, one must plumb it’s depths to find them. On I’d Rather Be High Bowie sings in the voice of a seventeen year old who, while he would rather be high, also lists all the other things he would rather be, including that he “would rather be dead or out of his head than to be training his guns on those men in the sand.” Few remember that Bowie at times could be political and on this song that mixes his Ziggy era sound with a Beatlesque chorus he has produced a stunningly political song in an age when few performers will do so.
On You Feel So Lonely You Could Die Bowie delivers an epic blast of sadness. The character of which he sings sees no hope and is left to pray that death will shine on him. Not wanting to be a total downer though on another song the Thin White Duke also proclaims to any young fans he may earn with this album’s release that “You will set the world on fire.” With a driving beat and an 80’s Modern Love sound it is sure that if Bowie does feel inspired to drag himself out on tour this song will be a highlight of the set.
I have seen some folks over the weekend comment that had he not been away so long that this album would be reviewed less generously than it has been. That might be true, I cannot speak for others, for me though this is a strong album and good music is good music no matter how long one waits for it. Certainly I do not and would not rate every comeback effort I hear as a good one. I will caution, this is not an album that on first listen will show it’s strength. You do have to play it a few times to get the feel for it. Once you have done so however you will find this to be very good album. Not great, not classic, but certainly the best effort he has put forth since his last successful comeback ( though that one after only a three year absence ) in 1983 with the hugely popular Let’s Dance.
Log onto Itunes and take a listen. The album will be streaming free until March 12th.