Review Summary: Still rocking at sixty-six.The Next Day
opens by hitting hard and doesn't slow down much from there on out, other than fade-outs between each new song to give the listener a quick breather. Most of the pieces here can only be labeled as a punch to a gut, a term usually reserved for describing grindcore albums. Not because Bowie repeats himself in tempo or sound, but because the album just generally rocks - it largely charges forward without reservations. Sonically funky and artistic in the same style that he pioneered decades ago, Bowie is not aping himself: he's just infusing modern attitudes and sounds into as opposed to resting on his laurels like most comeback artists. The Next Day
is not to be closely analyzed as a classic or conceptual beast, like much of Bowie's earlier work, but just to be enjoyed because of his strong abilities as a songwriter, the cohesive collection of music, and the top-notch artists who are backing him.
Most of the songs are extensively layered, with an assortment of distorted guitar riffs and licks overlapping each other atop grooving bass and drums, frequently backed by string sections, synths, or saxophone solos. The first track is probably one of the most simple by comparison, an alternative rock song with limited strings and a rushing riff. Bowie growls his way through the chorus, a tactic that proves oddly charming. The title track is followed up by "Dirty Boys", which features a jazz/funk-laden, creative saxophone support and solo, and at least three guitars. The creeping verses are backed by menacing and slightly absurd lyrics such as "I will buy a feathered hat/I will steal a cricket bat/Smash some windows, make a noise/We will run with the dirty boys". Later on down the line, a more uplifting track appears in the form of "Valentine's Day", which incorporates sunny combinations of electric and acoustic guitar and wavering backing vocals, in a slightly disturbing contrast with the subject matter, which details the mind of a bullying victim with violent feelings - "Valentine told me who's to go/Feelings he's treasured most of all/The teachers and the football stars". Bowie retains the ability to write words with a combination of class and grit, deftly refined in avoidance of rehashing his classic conceptual work or the Berlin Trilogy.
Even lyrics that normally would be somewhat silly and repellent in the hands of some post-grunge band are well-executed here, like those on the bass-heavy, soaring rocker "Boss of Me", in which he delivers with tongue only slightly in cheek, "Who'd have ever dreamed that a small town girl like you would be the boss of me". The album is ended with "Heat", a slower song with the ringing sound of a gong or something similar echoing throughout. "Heat" is perfect in this role, slapping a neat bow onto the package. The amazing aspect to this album is the profound lack of self-indulgence on the behalf of Bowie & Co., despite all the studio work. No song overstays its welcome or repeats too much, and as a result many of the songs on this album are fleshed out just enough and are not drained of their special nature. Nor do they lapse into played-out Bowieisms, but remain thoroughly distinct.
But The Next Day
has its troubles. "Where Are We Now?", despite being an excellent song, sticks out badly surrounded by up-beat alternative rock songs, and may have fit better either standing alongside "Heat" or arriving earlier in the album. The last few tracks stand on shaky ground as well, as between "How Does the Grass Grow" and "Heat" are two tracks that are not nearly as attention-grabbing as their surroundings, and "Love Is Lost" suffers a similar fate to a less significant extent. This is largely a problem of ordering, as these songs are either surrounded by album highlights or positioned towards the conclusion, reducing their impact.
Still, the album is roaring and enormous, and despite having no clear statement can still be appreciated for how consistent it is. As a sixty-six year old, Bowie's consistently unique songcraft is astounding and impressive, and The Next Day
could most likely carry its own weight amongst the upper echelons of his catalog.