Tuesday, March 5, 2013
David Bowie's "The Next Day": I'm Ready To Talk
I've been spending real quality time with David Bowie's new release, "The Next Day." I've been courting it for a week now. Bought it dinner and cocktails, taken it on long walks, to the zoo, and paid very close attention to its wants and needs. With all the time I've spent defending Bowie's work of the last 15 years on these pages...and believing every word I've written, damnit...I owed it both to you and myself not to treat this monumental occasion as just another record release. It is not just another record. This is one of the most anticipated records of the last 10 years. I've wanted this for some time and the good news is, it sounds exactly as I wanted it to sound. "The Next Day" is more than a comeback. This record is one of David Bowie's greatest achievements and no self-respecting David Bowie fan will convince me that it is not right in their wheelhouse.
Now that I've slobbered all over your desktops, let me tell you why.
"The Next Day" doesn't feel like David Bowie trying to stay relevant. It's not hit or miss musical experiments or collaborations with pop stars du jour. This is not 80's Bowie, with big MTV production and dance beats. This is not 90's Bowie trying get on the techno bandwagon. This is David Bowie making David Bowie music. "The Next Day" plays like "The Best Of David Bowie," except the songs are all new.
The opening drive of the first six songs, clocking in at a sleek 21:30, is simply some of David Bowie's finest work. The 1-2 of the title track and "Dirty Boys" kept me busy for an hour. I could not get off repeat. Along with "Love Is Lost," the first two singles "Where Are We Now" & "The Stars (Are Out Tonight) and "Valentine's Day," this six-pack is short and sharp, feeling so much like 1977's "Low," it's hard not to get nostalgic. Yet, none of this feels old. (By the way, the second single "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" feels a bit out of place, but it is growing on me.)
Tony Visconti has a stellar production resume, but I haven't always loved his studio mastery with Bowie. Two of my least favorite Bowie records are "Lodger" and "Scary Monsters," and as much as I love 2002's "Heathen" & 2003's "Reality," I can't help but think how those records might have had a wider acceptance if there was a bit more space and fewer kitchen sinks. (Or maybe too many were still smarting from "Tin Machine II." ) "The Next Day" rights those wrongs. Please don't misunderstand me. This is not some minimalist affair. I'm just thrilled that I can hear things. Sounds are not bleeding into each other on "The Next Day." The reverb no longer goes to 11, merely a 7 or 8. (This was more of an issue on "Reality." "Heathen" remains an underappreciated classic.) You can recognize acoustic guitars, percussion, bass lines, drum patterns, and textures we usually associate with Brian Eno. It's a full sound with plenty of breathing room.
The freneticism of Bowie's uneven 1997 foray into club music, "Earthling," rears its head on "If You Can See Me," and the stadium bombast of "(You Will) Set The World On Fire" provide what I feel are the two weakest moments of the record.
Bridging those weak moments to the finale are three songs, "I'd Rather Be High," "Boss Of Me," and "Dancing Out In Space," each with its own attractive way of worming their way into your ear, and each, in a greater musical world, potential hit singles. This trio reminds me a bit of what's found on "Heathen," yet there is no doubt that these songs ooze classic Bowie.
But let's talk about "How Does The Grass Grow" and "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die," two of "The Next Day's" strongest moments.
The former, a mid-tempo rocker that would have fit nicely on Side One of "Heroes," is filled with enough hooks to snag a flounder and some classic guitar work from David Torn & Gerry Leonard. The song takes a genius turn for its coda and suddenly we are paying homage to Bowie's 1979 single "Boys Keep Swinging." (I'm loving this one.)
The real colosssus of the record though, is the emotional smack that is "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die," which manages to deliver glam, gospel and blues in one heartfelt wallop. It conjures up the theatrics of "Time" from "Aladdin Sane" and the finality of Ziggy's "Rock & Roll Suicide," all while managing to feel triumphal. (There is also a genius tag on this song, but I will leave that one a surprise, if you haven't already heard what's been streaming on iTunes for a week.)
The album closes with "Heat," a gloomy piece of music that is just as much Side Two of "Heroes," as it is Scott Walker's later work. An edgy way to go out, and I dig it.
There is something completely satisfying about new, solid music from an artist who, let's face it, was written off as close to dead. It is also a relief. If I had waited 8 years for new Bowie music and dropped the needle on "The Next Day" only to hear someone reminiscent of the Bowie I loved, I may not have recovered.