The Next Day: Patient Bowie’s Spectacular Comeback.

Is the euphoria worth it? The clamour to raise Bowie further, to a previously unmatched iconic plain after an almost silent decade following nearly two being panned by critics and music fans, is all enveloping. Yet, Bowie’s influence has been rumbling away for many years, just very few named him. Only those with very obvious references who had already made their mark were seen above the parapet.

Any androgynous being making electronic music was lazily pinned with a Bowie badge. Any hint of New Romanticism given a stroke of Bowie blush rather than the eye shadow of Duran. Was he really still influencing these people, had no one else sown seeds within young musicians for 20 years? One may suggest the need for an icon like Bowie to shake us from the constant production of plastic bands and synthetic singers. Bowie’s constant recutting of his cloth, the feeling of the fibre in his fabric distinguishes him from many of his contemporaries.

The surprise announcement on his birthday of a new single and new album generated a buzz, almost a meltdown. It seems his silence had produced a rise in stock. Bowie had created a frenzy without lifting a finger.

Keeping out of the public eye gave more credibility to the opinion that Bowie had retired, maybe this time for good. We were all fooled by a carefully structured act of deceit. Of course there was an album coming out. Hidden in plain sight.

The Next Day Inlay WPWhere Are We Now? is a fragile piece of elegia, not to distant from Hours… or Heathen’s more tender moments. As his first new music in a decade this was again Bowie sidestepping the public, it’s not an honest indicator of what The Next Day holds. Yet, as a stand alone piece of music, it was perfectly measured and intriguing enough for the first whiff of his new record.

With everyone caught off guard and so little coming from Bowie HQ what are the informers to the public supposed to do at short notice? Search engines strained under the need for Bowie information, the speed of turnaround for every online news site causing extra panic. Magazines had slightly more time to file Bowie copy, yet were digging up old interviews as they couldn’t get anything new, covers adorned with Aladdin Sane to grab attention were in fact one in a bus stop queue of similar ideas on newsagents’ shelves.

This anti-PR is in fact some of the very best PR. The exhibition at the V&A already fired the starting gun with its own promotion, a display so unlikely to fail they had little to undertake in order to advertise their amazing collection of Bowie artifacts. Indirectly, Bowie was already in the news. The new music thrust him into a spotlight that beforehand was gathering dust.

Working on and off for two years, with his close network of trusted musicians all sworn to secrecy, a collection of songs were evolving with guidance from long time partner Tony Visconti. Even after his long musical break the new work has a flow from his previous, this is not a stark turnaround in Bowiesonics. In fact it sounds every inch Bowie. The title track opens the LP with a recall of Lodger’s Repetition, second single The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’s funky bass and overlayed strings would shine amongst the gems on Reality. There are more transparent uses of his past. So Lonely You Could Die closes with an echo of the almost funereal drum pattern of Ziggy opener Five Years.

Whispers of his portfolio float through The Next Day. It’s not a cherry picking of his highlights, because with close to 30 albums so much of Bowie’s work simply sounds like Bowie.

Dirty Boys is less obvious, a bass heavy, lazy blues number with honking sax telling the story of a Clockwork Orange style band of delinquents. Love Is Lost growls, throbs and threatens, Gail Ann Dorsey and Gerry Leonard thrill amongst Zachary Alford’s drumming, an early peak. By the time Where Are We Now? appears the bass is smoother but no less prominent, the song’s growing presence increased by militaristic drumming and very quiet squalls of guitar.

David Bowie PHOTO: Jimmy KingValentine’s Day, a pop song about a high school shooter, has guitar splashes from the perennially cool Earl Slick. If You Can See Me provides a return to Earthling’s drum ‘n’ bass interludes. But it is here the album loses the shock of the new. Not dull, but rather a trundle of template rockers, only the strange lyrics bring us back to Bowie at his intelligent and ingenious best. Bowie’s well read, and has a schoolboy desire to show off, to slip clever references by you without you knowing. Many writers and fans dig deep to uncover the sources and meanings, aiming to unravel what Dave is on about, as he delivers those unique vocals with a serve of upper class cockney.

The bass, and groove, are back with How Does The Grass Grow? Gerry Leonard continues to excel here and intertwines with Mr Slick to great effect on You Set The World on Fire, a 400m sprint of a track possessing an urgent riff with a desire for Bowie’s old the legs to pick up pace, quality and experimentalism for the home straight to the record’s close.

At its conclusion The Next Day contains the very best of Bowie, not a tired 60 something clinging to the limelight in his twilight. It’s a fully functioning comeback on all levels. His voice is strong, his imagination still turning ideas over at a rapid pace and he’s still producing something new.

With full page adverts in the UK press carrying no more than the full set of album lyrics or alternative suggestions for the record cover, Bowie is at his playful best. He’s working with people who understand his hunt for the new, something clever, pretentious even. It’s not just David Bowie, there’s a ‘whole’ containing many like minded individuals who understand the position he finds himself in, understanding his history and the pitfalls of making an effective comeback, when, for many of his contemporaries, you wish they’d stick to just looking back.

His return is well paced, highly creative and executed with sniper precision, as were all the PR moves and promotion surrounding The Next Day. The majority of songs are fantastic, the remainder are simply great. It is a strong and beautiful collection of work, one that only Bowie could make in his own unique way. And this is why he is being lauded on the highest iconic plain.


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