By Jon Winkler
“You promised me the ending would be clear/You’d let me know when the time was now/Don’t let me know when you’re opening the door/Stab me in the dark, let me disappear.”
Dark, yes. But these opening lyrics to “Bring Me the Disco King,” the last song on David Bowie’s 2003 album, “Reality,” almost seems like the plea of a fan.
Bowie goes for beauty over brawn with his luscious sounds and it is ever-present on “The Next Day,” a record Bowie has been making in secret for over two years. Bowie teamed up with producer Tony Visconti, who has worked on previous Bowie albums, including “Heroes,” “Low,” “Station to Station” and “Scary Monsters,” for this album.
After Bowie’s “Reality” tour was canceled because of health problems, Bowie disappeared from the public eye. He only made random public appearances with his wife. This went on for a decade and fans were beginning to believe that Ziggy Stardust (Bowie’s eccentric onstage persona) was never coming back down to Earth.
Then again, he didn’t need to, considering everything he’s done for the music industry. A career that spans over 40 years, multiple personas and iconic albums that have crossed into pop, art-rock, soul and alternative music genres is a statement on its own, not even mentioning his impact on fashion and film.
So did the world need a new David Bowie record? It’s not the most pressing concern, but it’s was interesting to hear what Bowie sounds like now that he’s 66. If you were wondering, he sounds fantastic. Sure, his voice has aged and it cracks from time to time, but he makes it work. He doesn’t need to scream to the heavens like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith or Brian Johnson of AC/DC.
It may be wrong to compare a new album by a rock legend to their classic hits, but “The Next Day” is a mind-blowing record. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is Bowie at his best –he watches all the pretty things with disdain and wonder, noting how “Their jealousy’s spilling down/The stars must stick together/We will never be rid of these stars/But I hope they live forever.”
Bowie is a creep on “If You Can See Me,” complete with surging drums and haunting piano chords. It’s the most peculiar song on the record, which is why it’s worth listening to multiple times. Bowie also pays tribute to those who came after him by emulating their style: Blur on “Dirty Boys,” Jack White on “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” and even a hint of Muse on “Heat.” Guitars whirr around, drums hit hard and Bowie uses it all to hold the listener’s attention. If this is Bowie’s swan song, it’s a great send-off.
When Bowie talks about being “A man lost in time near KaDeWe/Just walking the dead” in first single “Where Are We Now?” it’s interesting to wonder if he’s just being a storyteller, or if he’s talking about himself. When today’s top pop stars are looked at for fashion as well as their music, Bowie could be considered an innovator. He has never been afraid to express himself and surprise people and he seems comfortable in his skin. There is no question that Bowie is a rock legend that doesn’t need to prove himself. So why release “The Next Day?” Doing a new album makes sense for him, especially since the last time he was performing he couldn’t finish a tour. He has not confirmed whether or not he will tour for this record, but he can officially retire now and this record would be satisfying as his goodbye.
Whether he’s leaving forever or just checking in, “The Next Day” is Bowie being in the now and preparing for the future. It’s not a reinvention or a copy of an old style, it’s just Bowie playing the sounds in his head. When he puts his feelings on a record, it deserves to be heard.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Essential Tracks: The Stars (Are Out Tonight), If You Can See Me, I’d Rather Be High