In 2013, David Bowie finally returned with a brand new album which delivered lots of new material, something the rock legend had not done in 10 years. The album was The Next Day and it was quickly critically acclaimed, the man proving once again that he could still bring the goods.
With its minimalist, subversive cover which used Heroes‘ classic album cover as a background, the album’s main message seemed to be: keep the past in mind but also paint over it to create something fresh and new.
Would this mean a complete reinvention from the artist or merely a cheeky update?
Let’s take a listen.
The album opens with title track “The Next Day” which was accompanied by one haunting (and bloody) religion-themed video starring Marion Cotillard and Gary Oldman. The song itself is a worthy opener as it’s fun, rocky and balances both a retro and modern vibe, thereby setting the tone for the rest of the album. One of my personal favourite tracks on The Next Day is “Dirty Boys”, a sleazy, bluesy gem which sounds like a Bowie/Tom Waits collaboration with its disjointed guitar and sax backing, the latter offering a pretty cool solo near the end.
The next track, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, also had a music video attached to it and that one was more of a short film. It was directed by Floria Sigismondi and followed David Bowie and Tilda Swinton as a jaded married couple haunted by visions of their past selves as those versions of them start clashing and merging. It’s a surreal, experimental watch and a worthy one, for sure. The song itself is reflective, nostalgic and very Bowie.
“Love Is Lost” is next and, led by a thumping beat, it’s another slightly dark but very cool effort: one significant key change halfway through even brings to mind “Space Oddity” so, once again, you’ve got that retro vibe spliced into a definitely modern sound. One of the best on the album. The Steve Reich mix of this one is also worth checking out.
“Where Are We Now?” was the first single released from the album and, surprisingly, it’s one of the slowest. That said, it’s also one of the prettiest and most moving tracks on there as Bowie croons his way through a rather heartbreaking hymn to time and moving on. If that one’s perhaps too depressing for ya, “Valentine’s Day” is a much more upbeat track and it comes right after though if you follow the lyrics closely you’ll notice it’s in fact about quite a dark subject matter which gives it an unexpected sinister edge.
“If You Can See Me” is a much more erratic and experimental track with its scattered beat, dramatic synth and grand voice work by Bowie. This one won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s certainly refreshing to see the man still come up with something so challenging and bold after all these years. Track number 8 is “I’d Rather Be High” and it’s a terrific anthem to the jaded. It’s a fun song with Bowie bringing a new wave feel to it with those higher-pitched tones of his and that deadpan chorus.
“Boss Of Me” was co-written by Gerry Leonard and it’s an inventive, constantly growing track packed full of subtle little surprises. Great guitar, vocals, sax, lyrics, it’s just one heck of a good track, though it’s tough to pin down since it goes very different directions throughout. Our favourite Starman then looks back to the Heavens for “Dancing Out In Space”, another creative track with a dancier vibe. Expect a very catchy hook and some wacky synth work.
“How Does The Grass Grow?” is also quite dancy at times but the main thing about this one is just how well put-together it is overall. Rocking melody, super catchy bridge with a bit of a Link Wray feel, fab guitar solos, unexpected key changes which take the track in whole new directions: this is Bowie at his most creative. The song was co-written by Jerry Lordan. “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” is, quite simply, kickass. The grungy guitar riffs, Bowie’s moody vocals, the upbeat chorus, it’s an overlooked gem and one of the artist’s best in a while.
The next song is “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” and it’s a poetic effort with an old-fashioned 50’s vibe but also some gospel in there. It’s a heartfelt track which grows beautifully and it’s one of the most moving on the album. The final song on The Next Day is “Heat”, a dark, jazzy track which ends the album on a downbeat note as Bowie once again throws something avant-garde at you right at the end just to keep you guessing.
What can I say about The Next Day except that it completely deserves the positive response it initially received.
It’s easy to underestimate this one, especially if you’ve only heard one single released from it, but if you take the time and listen to the whole thing you’ll realise pretty quickly just how good it is. Not that David Bowie even needed a comeback but this album effortlessly cemented the fact that the man was just an artist through and through, and a hugely talented one at that. The Next Day is a burst of creativity from the cover art to the lyrics and each and every song as a whole. There are some fantastic tracks on there which feel timeless as Bowie skilfully merges old and new sounds to create something truly unique.
That’s 4 Ziggies out of 5 for The Next Day, a thrilling late album most classic rockers only dream of making nowadays.