David Bowie
The Next Day


4.0
excellent

Review

by robin EMERITUS
March 18th, 2013 | 134 replies | 33,816 views


Release Date: 03/08/2013 | Tracklist

Review Summary: “because there’s no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it”

It was never really about Ziggy. I didn’t go into record stores looking for science fiction or long, tangled storylines, and I didn’t listen to “Lady Stardust” for glam. I just liked piano ballads. I was going for David Bowie when I went through a catalogue that was categorically his, trying to find a weirdly expressed pop song that would answer big questions. They didn’t have to be terrestrial. They could be about Bob Dylan for all I cared. I never distinguished the young humming face on Hunky Dory from the alien that was half for half on this planet and another. Both people played the same kind of songs with the same creaking verses and the same booming choruses. I could pick him out forever, but I never really noticed the masks.

Without a mask we don’t know how to approach a Bowie album. The Next Day inspires a typical “surprise!” narrative in us instead. Can you believe it’s so good, The Quietus’ stellar review rang, before the rest of us had even a whiff of it; that it might be great, even, something above and beyond what he’s capable of in what we continue to guess is the twilight of his career. And how can it remind us of everything we love about him while he removes himself from all of it? It’s so specific, too – the artwork is laughable on a first glance, but the joke stops when you realise he’s literally crossing out the legend in him. Bowie refusing to pose, for the first time in his career, is like watching Bowie unmask. The Next Day asks us not to see him as history’s best, as he instead retires to himself. Oh, there’s nobody on the front cover? That’s the most candid you’ll get him. All this before you’ve even opened the album up.

This is a new era, after all. The Next Day opens up a new generational gap of its own, removed even from Reality, an album it will be invariably compared to as we watch a late artist play a steady hand. Ten years is enough time for anyone to dupe old material and rehash their music, though, and the secrecy surrounding the recording process makes even less an extravaganza of just what Bowie’s comeback was going to be. The Next Day is worth only the content of its songs, which are pretty good, great even; this isn’t going to lend itself to liner notes about artful sociopaths or be a “genre” album, even if Bowie’s proved he can still play with fire later in the game.

The identity Bowie takes on The Next Day is a man sadly picking up the good life and not knowing what to do with it, like the feeling you get when you return to your home town and have grown away from everyone you knew. “Where Are We Now?” looks for the answers but doesn’t really seek to hope. Its quietly exploding chorus asks a question almost conversationally, but trails off into distance like an inevitability he’d long internalised. Even for what we’d term “piano ballad,” it’s an excruciatingly slow track, one I completely misread before I heard it sandwiched into this rockish record. Whatever Bowie feels on “Where Are We Now?” he feels in slow motion. You might think it’s war, and it certainly landmarks it – but The Next Day lingers around the damn horrifying peace one can make with themselves.

Around the place The Next Day acts as a rock album, as much as that word can have descriptive meaning in this era – not to speak of emotions, instead a loudness and aggressive intent – but between his roaring music, we see Bowie cracking under pressure, often anxious and otherwise wearily accepting. You can hear the lethargy implemented strongest in between his racing in and occasional watchful eye (“The Stars Are Out Tonight” is fast-paced because, as its majestic video suggests, he feels tracked). “Where Are We Now?” closes with Bowie playing desperately emotive guitar music, rolling back through the ambiguity of his years as the song eases its way out underneath. The Next Day startles most when it doesn’t invigorate a comeback, when the flame’s burning out and the ‘rock’ songs are falling into decay. That’s where Bowie finds new ground in an old sound – “Valentine’s Day,” with its giddy, declarative choruses, is to die for, but it sounds like it came into this world ready to end, its guitar riffs ready to become phrases among a sea of many lost causes – it’s about a high school shooter, which is rare content as far as up-tempo Bowie songs go, but it barely moves in on its subject. This isn’t an angry Bowie, but one who’s read enough headlines to feel like we’re all harbouring the same fuck-it-here’s-death mentality while browsing Onion articles for the solace of another sad person.

And god, “Valentine’s Day” is perfect. It’s heartbreaking to hear a jam that’s just dying out all the way. And that’s how this album feels; unmasked, Bowie soaks up his past and uses the bits of him to forge his own modern era, but being out in the open means he has to face the hole in the middle of everything. On “I’d Rather Be High,” even on this upbeat, relentless chant song, he switches the distractions for the event, learning to face that “high” will turn to “dead” in an instant. When Bowie said he’d never perform these songs live, he might have been saying more that they couldn’t exist in that place; there’s a sense that we couldn’t hear these songs in front of us, whether intimate or arena rock – they don’t have the temperament for either, careering along a path with the cruel end always in sight.

I’ve never wanted to see any Bowie song performed live, admittedly because the fantasies he created always existed in my head, and these ones exist in his. So I’ll swear him off some more, and we’ll forget this album ever existed anywhere but the vacuum in which we heard it. So The Next Day can be that album, the one that’s hidden and dug under even as the legend plays his most obtrusive music in, well, a decade. But the guy behind it, the one with his hands over his face, sick of death and the intentions behind it, and all its plodding inevitability? He’s still David Bowie, and it’s never been easier to read his sorry little hand.



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user ratings (355)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Asdfp277
March 17th 2013



857 Comments


"And how can it remind of us of everything we love about him"
-extra 'of'

"“Where Are We Now?” looks for the answers why but doesn’t really seek to hope."
-that 'why'...

"

tommygun
March 17th 2013



21345 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yes yes yes

foxblood
March 17th 2013



6797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

good review man

robin
Emeritus
March 17th 2013



4223 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

cheers adsfasf fellow

Ire
March 17th 2013



41472 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

wag review album (prob) rules

Asdfp277
March 17th 2013



857 Comments


we need more pianotuna in our lives.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2013



23667 Comments


robin 4 contrib

Digging: Trophy Scars - Holy Vacants

GnarlyShillelagh
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2013



5923 Comments


is that really the artwork? I thought it was just a joke

tommygun
March 17th 2013



21345 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this > new jt

foxblood
March 17th 2013



6797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

How Does The Grass Grow? and Heat are so fucking incredible. most of the songs on this are pretty amazing though. it's going to take me a long time to feel like i really have a grip on this

demigod!
March 17th 2013



40982 Comments


love your avatar. good review, haven't heard, not that into Bowie

tommygun
March 17th 2013



21345 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

holy shit fox dat avatar

my pants just got real tight

MO
March 17th 2013



17396 Comments


good shit robintuna

foxblood
March 18th 2013



6797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

some of the sounds and production choices on this really remind me of low, especially Love Is Lost

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
March 18th 2013



23667 Comments


ok this just jumped up in my queue

STOP SHOUTING!
March 18th 2013



628 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

enjoyed the review.

kingsoby1
Emeritus
March 18th 2013



4830 Comments


i dug this, not sure where i'm at yet. leaning between 3 and 3.5

Digging: Nmesh - Dream Sequins

InfamousGrouse
March 18th 2013



2900 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i'd go with 3.2 ;)

robin
Emeritus
March 18th 2013



4223 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

< 3

scissorlocked
March 18th 2013



3483 Comments


really good write up



Digging: Fantastic Mr Fox - Sketches



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