It’s been 10 long years since David Bowie released his last album Reality, and in that space of time, aside from cameos and one-offs, Bowie’s been on a well-earned break from the music scene. However, seemingly out of the blue, Bowie celebrated his 66th birthday with the announcement of his newest studio album The Next Day. The hype has been massive, as to be expected after such a long period, but the question is, do the results live up to this hype? And the answer is yes, very much so. As primarily an avid fan of Bowie’s rock material, this album pays homage and develops that, as well as surprising me with some of it’s soul and electronica elements. It’s no Hunky Dory (my personal favourite), but it’s a beautiful collage of a life-time of musical achievement, with some nifty little tricks thrown in.
The opening is spectacular. ‘The Next Day’ explodes in full-on Ziggy Stardust rock style, with husky vocals and singing guitar. Bowie’s lyrics reflect the temporality of life: “Can’t get enough of that Doomsday song”, and his voice softly strokes your mind with irrational moments and impending demise. This tension builds up into a frantic crescendo of reeling guitar and Bowie’s voice rising in volume and pitch, to reach a smashing finale. The second track is a different beast all together, and yet is just as memorable.
In ‘Dirty Boys’, saxophone and guitar team up to produce a gritty and sinuous backing to Bowie’s queer vocals. Whiplash guitar is used to create an atmosphere of alarm, colouring Bowie’s deep throated threats of “I will steal a cricket bat”. The whole thing is finished off with a simply stunning saxophone solo. The third track isn’t as impressive, but the forth, ‘Love is Lost’ creates a real mood of emptiness with reverberating percussion that’s heavy and echoing. Jarring keyboard increases the disturbed tone of Bowie’s vocals: “Oh what have you done?”. This song really show’s off Bowie’s credentials as a performer.
The single ‘Where Are We Now?’, is possibly my favourite of the entire album, simply because of the heart wrenching emotions Bowie is able to produce. A sombre, almost lonesome feeling pervades the song, with Bowie’s voice echoing over the passage of time. It feels extremely poignant. ‘Valentines Day’ fully indulges in guitar, with a magnificent solo, and Bowie’s vocals remind me of ‘Starman’. The most pleasant surprise was ‘Dancing Out in Space’, an electronic dance number which demonstrates Bowie’s immense diversity in music. The final song, ‘Heat’, proves to be a haunting end, with beautiful vocals few artists his age can still achieve.
The Next Day is not an entirely revolutionary album, but I get the impression it’s not meant to be. But rather it achieves a nostalgic and wistful elegy to the staggering career of one of the most influential icons in music.