Tuesday, April 2, 2013

David Bowie - The Next Day (2013)

A couple years ago, The Flaming Lips released a single begging the question - "Is David Bowie Dying?". Despite plenty of reports and photos proving otherwise, you couldn't help but wonder just what had happened to the Thin White Duke. One of the all-time forces in music for the last 40+ years  hadn't released a new studio album since 2003's Reality, and hadn't toured since collapsing onstage around the same time. Was David Bowie really dying? A closer look showed that he was still very active and a man about town in New York City, but that Flaming Lips song title kept popping up in my brain.

Then, just when I thought 2013's list of new music releases couldn't get any better, David Bowie made the announcement that fans had been waiting for. On his 66th birthday (January 8th), he posted a new music video, and the first single from his upcoming album - The Next Day. Life was good again!

Recording the album as though it were a top secret mission, David Bowie had everyone involved sign non-disclosure agreements, stating that - not a word would be mentioned to anyone regarding what was going on in the studio (including their own children!). Co-producer - Tony Visconti (who produced The Next Day as well as several of Bowie's finest albums), said that recording started with a week long session in late 2010, resulting in a dozen instrumental backing tracks. Bowie would then take the songs with him and spend a few months at home laboring over melodies and lyrics, and then reconvene sessions with the band. These 2-3 week recording spurts went on for about two years. 

So what does the 27th studio album from David Bowie sound like?

Like everything you've ever loved about his music (minus his techno and metal phases) all rolled up into one compact 14 song collection. Where his last batch of albums were a hodge-podge mixed with tired sounding arrangements that screamed "skip to the next track"; along with a small batch of memorable tunes per album; The Next Day is full of tighly-wound pop hookery and experimentation that remains a memorable listen from start to finish.

On The Next Day, Bowie is joined by a host of familiar faces whom he has worked with in the past - including guitarist - Earl Slick, drummer - Sterling Campbell, bassist - Gail Ann Dorsey, guitarist - Gerry Leonard, and most notably multi-instrumentalist and producer - Tony Visconti. Visconti has always been a master of capturing that mixture of dirtied-up glam rock with a sexy swagger; and he manages to bring these elements out remarkably well on The Next Day. The entire album sounds surprisingly fresh, yet every now and then, you catch a whiff of different periods of David Bowie's career. From the Ziggy Stardust glam rock era, just listen to Earl Slick's Mick Ronson-like, scuzzy guitar solos on the blistering rocker "Set the World on Fire"; while on "Dancing Out in Space" the band transforms into The Spiders from Mars as they sing androgynous doo-wop background vocals. You can go even further back to the 60's with the catchiest song on the album -"Valentines Day"-  a track that could have easily been stripped down to sound like something off of Bowie's bubblegum-pop debut.

And finally there is the influence of Heroes, the classic 70's album from the beloved Berlin trilogy, that combined epic balladry and freewheeling experimentation. Besides featuring an altered cover from the album, a few numbers from The Next Day wouldn't sound out of place on Heroes. The complex and frenzied "If You Can See Me" sides with the more experimental side A of Heroes, and showcases these ace musicians constantly jumping time signatures and keys in perfect unity. The result is almost panic-attack inducing! Perhaps the strongest song on the album is the tear jerking melancholy first single - "Where Are We Now?". On the ballad, Bowie sings of a "man lost in time", and name drops several of the places where he would hang out in Berlin . (see music video below)

There are plenty of other highlights on the album. Bowie's voice sounds as strong as ever on the continuously building epic - "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" and the trippy "I'd Rather Be High"; in which he sings from the perspective of a soldier in World War II. The Next Day closes with the progressive-rock leanings of "Heat", which manages to walk a tightrope between claustrophobic and an ocean of bliss.

This is without question David Bowie's best album since 1995's Outside, and possibly his best since  Let's Dance from 1983. Still, I wouldn't call The Next Day a classic Bowie album, but it's definitely among his stronger releases - a rewarding piece of pop excellence that only gets better with repeated listens.

Side Notes:
According to Tony Visconti, it may not be too long before another album is released. In one interview, he stated that the band recorded 29 songs for The Next Day, and there are tentative plans to start working again later this year........... Also, make sure to get the deluxe version of The Next Day! The bonus tracks are essential, most notably the driving rocker - "I'll Take You There", which could have been a single.

 out of 5

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