Right! What have you got for us after ten years then Dave…?
Critiquing a new album from someone of Bowie’s legendary status (the first in ten years no less) might well fill many a reviewer with a sense of trepidation, however this little reviewer has made critical hamburgers out of some musical sacred cows recently and he’s in no mood for mediocrity….now or ever…
All Bowie’s albums since the mid ’70s have sold very well…at times belying their less than spectacular content, and The Next Day is no different in the sales stakes; shooting to number 1 on album charts in at least 20 countries. Well then it’s selling, but is the content deserving of such success, or is the man merely surviving on the neon glow of his name alone?
The first thing that must be made mention of is the ponderous album sleeve. It’s just the cover from his classic album Heroes, with the word “Heroes” crossed out and a large white square with “The Next Day” in plain black text plonked smack bang in the middle. At first I thought it was downright lazy and devoid of imagination…but on further reflection, I can’t think of any artist who’s ever parodied their own album sleeve before! The Guardian called the sleeve “…a masterstroke”. I don’t, but it certainly makes you wonder what the sonic content will be. Does it mean the album is Heroes mark II, or does it mean that it’s the polar opposite of Heroes? Pleasingly the answer is neither.
The Next Day kicks off impressively with the title cut; an energetic danceable pop/rock tune with just a hint of sneering standoffishness It’s a great way to open the album, simply because it’s an unambiguous attention grabber. This is exemplified by the ascending and catchy chorus lyric: “…here I am…not quite dying!!”.
Right, so it’s off to a reasonable start then, good….good…but what next? All downhill yeah? Nope. The first half dozen or so tracks are all pretty decent. The two singles from the album are: “The Stars (Are out Tonight)” and “Where are we Now?”, tracks 3 and 5 respectively. The latter is a slightly tedious down tempo number, albeit with some sophisticated and elaborate arrangements. The former is in a similar vein to the opening track stylistically and is equally catchy and lively.
A few tracks into the album and you’re thinking “hey this is actually pretty darn good!” Well…things get really interesting by track 7 “If You Can See Me”. It’s a barely categorizable track which features some very strange and haunting vocals from Dave, combined with some tricky timing changes and a slippery electric guitar/fretless bass combination that works an absolute treat and sends the album momentarily into a wonderful bizarro land!
Immediately following this terrific weirdness is “I’d Rather be High” which possesses a sparkling, soaring lead guitar part that, along with its great vocal harmonies, drives the song into almost transcendental territory…as if Dave were fronting Jane’s Addiction at their most epic!
The record does shift down a gear after the two aforementioned tracks, but this is to be expected. Some of the songs do drift a little close to filler territory at times, but only just, and even then a respite from the more epic and challenging tracks is certainly welcome.
After this brief interlude, it’s time for the final three tracks. All of them are great! What a way to close the album… “You Will Set the World on Fire” is by far the most rocking track on offer with a driving beat and crunching guitar riffery propelling it along…and, as is the case with most of the songs on the album, the chorus is eminently catchy and singable.
“You Feel so Lonely you could Die” is a slower swinging track, but it certainly doesn’t lack intensity. In fact, this piece is perhaps the most likely to make you break out in Goosebumps. The lush string section and choral harmonies build to some huge crescendos and when combined with the tear-jerking lyrics the result is something quite special….and the outro will certainly strike a chord with Bowie fans….sounding just like the intro to “5 Years”!
Closing the album is the utterly harrowing “Heat”. A bleak brooding track that conjures up images of thunderheads, driving rain, darkness and the hangman’s noose. Creepy instrumental soundscapes sway & undulate like shifting sands and create a backdrop of desolation which suits the depressing lyrics perfectly. Possibly a strange way to end the album, but if you bought the digipack there’s some bonus tracks that are more upbeat.
David’s always been a master of self reinvention & image manipulation, and while there’s no particular persona he’s trying to portray here, The Next Day has a vibe & aura all its own, and amazingly Bowie’s voice is as powerful as it’s ever been. Yes, twenty-four albums in and he still manages to produce a lush, multi-faceted work of undeniable quality that is as unique as it is familiar….if that oxymoron makes any sense! While I wouldn’t describe it as an utter triumph (because of the smattering of filler material), it’s still very, very good indeed and I recommend it highly!