David Bowie, never one to do anything by the book, has just gone and made his latest album, The Next Day, available to stream in it’s entirety on iTunes for free. It’s not due to be released for another ten days, but unsurprisingly this has driven all of the internet into absolute hysterics. You’re probably aware that this is his first album in ten years, and pre-orders have already ensured that the album absolutely smashes the charts; it’s débuted at #1 on the iTunes chart in thirty-four countries already!
It’s a fairly long offering, with a total of fourteen songs, but I can tell you now that there’s absolutely no let up. It’s urgent, to the point, and perfectly eccentric in equal measure. In typical Bowie style, there’s a strong theme running throughout the album; we’re given our first proper insight into how the Thin White Duke feels about living in our media-fuelled, celebrity-obsessed, war-torn twenty first century.
Musically, it sounds like 1972. From the off you’re met with jagged guitars, stomping drums, rich bass and erratic bursts of brass. Bowie’s voice is in cracking shape, his characteristic croon weaving beautifully between the elaborate instrumentals.
The album kicks off with a snare and a punchy guitar riffs, The Next Day itself is a serious rocker. Here we’re introduced to a fallen rock star, chased by his “gormless and baying crowd” who are disturbingly “baying for his death.” The whole atmosphere is beautifully dystopian and a welcome return to the rockier days of Aladdin Sane.
Dirty Boys sounds exactly how you would expect; it’s sleazy and filthy and Steve Elson’s baritone sax just oozes grime. This is followed by The Stars (Are Out Tonight), which I’ve already spoken about in a previous post, and alludes to the cult of celebrity in the most wonderfully weird of ways; those we idolise are somehow immortal, omniscient beings, who are equally “sexless and unaroused.” Ever the bizarre lyricist, that one.
Bowie hasn’t lost his Berlin-era groove either, Love Is Lost conjures up a sense of disquiet and mourning with dramatic chord-progressions on the organ. The sounds are jaunty and menacing; it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to, but so very compelling. Where Are We Now, which I’m sure you’ve all heard, is the most sombre and melodic track on the album, and manages to drag out that feeling of unease with haunting command.
Don’t be fooled by the tender title, Valentine’s Day, already a favourite of mine (Why am I always attracted to the disturbing songs?) tells the macabre tale of a school shooting. Abrasively fuzzy guitars and a powerful vocal pens this one as a real glam-rock anthem. Charming!
What happens next though, just baffles me completely. If You Can See Me makes absolutely no sense and sounds utterly schizophrenic, both lyrically and sonically. It feels like you’re being assaulted by noise; swirling synthesisers and roaring guitars will have you reeling.
I’d Rather Be High sounds like a sixties pop anthem, and its content thus, is rather befitting. The ramblings of a wounded soldier—”I’d rather be dead, or out of my head”—are far more politically-charged than anything else Bowie has released. The saxophone returns on Boss Of Me, and it reminded me instantly of The Thin White Duke-era Bowie, though somewhat less sordid.
We’re met with a real pop song on Dancing Out In Space, and whilst I love the ethereal guitar sounds, this is probably the closest thing to filler on the album. How Does The Grass Grow, which contemplates ethnic genocide, samples the chorus from The Shadows’ Apache, but in true Bowie-style, adds his own, freakier flair.
(You Will) Set The World On Fire is a heavy-rock powerhouse, returning to the theme of celebrity as he describes the ideals of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s. I love it. This is followed by the penultimate track, Feel So Lonely You Could Die, without a doubt the finest on the album. Saturated with anguish, it harks back to the days of Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide and the isolation faced by those who dedicate their entire existence to a revolution.
The album closes with Heat, a weird sonic digression which Bowie somehow manages to pull off. It’s haunting, reflective and offbeat, and leaves you feeling like David Bowie is a man with a lot on his mind. It’s hard to know what any of it really means, but then, that’s the embodiment of a Bowie record isn’t it? It’s cataclysmic and other-worldly, yet it feels like this isn’t the end. Hopefully The Next Day is just the beginning of David Bowie’s eagerly-awaited return, and even better, albeit unlikely, might he treat us to a tour?