Stan Deely on 12 Bowie albums in 12 months – The Next Day
THE SURPRISE COMEBACK
WHERE ARE WE NOW
January 2013, The unexpected comeback single. Released overnight when no-one even knew he was recording. A genius move. Not sure if anyone had done this before – possibly Beyonce. Radiohead with In Rainbows? Or was that pre-announced?
A torch song recalling his days in Berlin. Bowie sounds vulnerable and, dare I say it, old and frail, which he’d never done previously. Melancholy and very moving. Up there with his finest work. A total classic. I’d say it’s his finest song since the late 70’s, possibly since Heroes.
Here’s the video. Make of it what you will. I had originally dismissed as art wank being put off by the teddy bear figures, as it reminded me too much of the priapic bear in Bo Selecta. Now I like it.
Raised high hopes for the album which was released a couple of months later in March 2013.
THE NEXT DAY ALBUM
I have been vaguely aware of this album ever since it came out as my girlfriend has it. I tended to give it a couple of listens a year, trying to get into it, but finding it a bit impenetrable. It seemed to me that apart from ‘Where are we now’ to be just an uninspired rehash of previous Bowie styles. Giving it attention in the reviewing process it had a rise and fall in my affections.
Today’s opinion is that, viewed from a post modern perspective, it’s Bowie dipping into his dressing up box revisiting previous styles and jigsawing together songs are on the whole pretty solid, catchy and quite memorable.
Down sides are Visconti’s competent but dull production, musicianship that is a little too slick and not quirky enough for my liking and that some songs whilst good are a bit generic and don’t really sound like how I imagine a Bowie song should. More of this later.
THE NEXT DAY
Starts like a late 70’s generic Bowie song – angry new wave guitars, a more muscular version of a Heroes/Lodger song which is right up my street. Bowie is in good voice, declamatory, sounding angry and aggrieved about something or other. I personally feel I’m better off ignoring the lyrics as I prefer him singing about imaginary rather than real subjects. Discussing Bowie;s lyrics is a bit of a fool’s errand for me. I thought his lyric writing hit its peak on Diamond Dogs and Young Americans and enjoyed him in latter phrases when he was more mysterious and abstract but literal Bowie banging on about mundane subjects doesn’t work for me.
Sounds a bit like ‘Breaking Glass’ played by a more conventional band. Bowie attempts a couple of different voices. Continues the revisiting the past vibe. Features Brechtian Weimar style woozy sax and a crrooned chorus. On the first few listens this seemed unmemorable and filler but it has grown on me. Now I regard it as one of the high points of the album and wished it had ore of this type of stuff.
THE STARS (ARE OUT TONIGHT)
Released as a single with Tilda Swinton in the video. Very generic Bowie positioning him as the heritage rocker – Scary Monsters updated with a modern rock production. This one’s a bit too generic for me. I suspect that for a lot of people this would have been their first Bowie purchase since Let’s Dance or Tonight so this won’t have scared them too much.
LOVE IS LOST
Descending keyboard phrase with a doomy vibe. Reminds me of the Sisters of Mercy. The lyric and melody would seemingly warrant a sparser sound. Seems to reframe the sounds, sonics, concerns of the last few songs into a beefier rock setting. At this stage I’m thinking “It is all good, pretty solid but a bit faceless or generic. Some of these songs could have been done by others.” Should Bowie at this stage been offering his songs to others to cover, like he did in the 70’s or even become a behind the scenes songwriter like Andy Partridge and Andy McLuskey.
WHERE ARE WE NOW
Putting this here gives the album a bit of a compilation/sampler feel as all of the first five songs are quite disimilar. However I’m always happy to hear the opening chords. ‘I’m not in love’ for the post punk generation?
Also a single I believe. About a school shoot up killer named Valentine. Pleasant alt rock guitars. It sounds like what I imagine a Killers album track would sound like. Competent but faceless. What do I feel about David Bowie singing about a teenage killer? It’s kinda not right. i think I’d rather hear him sing about domestic married bliss in Manhattan. The song itself sounds quite exuberant and up in the fade. Maybe he’s making a point about how high school killings are an almost expected occurence of American life.
IF YOU CAN SEE ME
Bit more like it. A crazy drum and bass mash up after the last pedestrian track. Starts like a cross between Lodger’s DJ and Pink Floyds ‘Great Gig in the sky’ over drum and bass. Then jiggy shifty rhythms that seem to point towards Black Star with sprechsang Bowie followed by croony Bowie. In my mind’s eye I can imagine a video a bit like the Run DMC/Aerosmith ‘Walk this Way’ with various era Bowies fighting over the microphone., pushing each other out of the way and taking the spotlight.
I’D RATHER BE HIGH
Another upbeat pop rocker. Nice spiraling guitar. Verses are strong. The cathcy chorus borders on sacharine. It sounds like a single for a 90’s alt rock band. Dandy Warhols, Smashing Pumpkins even a bit Blur-ish. Lyrics darker than the tune. Goes on a bit. Seems longer than its just under four minutes which indicates that there’s not much of a song there.
BOSS OF ME
Yes another generic rock chugger with Bowie assembling his jigsaw. Heroes guitar, farty saxophone. Diamond Dogs melody. Weak lyric. I can’t decide if this is good or filler.
DANCING OUT IN SPACE
More pop rock. Here we seem to be in the 1980’s MTV. reminiscent of Billy Idol ‘Dancing with myself’ or Bowie’s own ‘Modern Love.’ Cheesy 1950’s “Oh Baby” doo wop style backing vocals. Goodness we are nearing ‘Too Dizzy’ territory.
I have a theory that the music of certain bands like Blur and U2 would be more acceptable to me if the vocals were erased and they released purely instrumental music and I must admit I often feel that the last few Bowie albums would be improved if they were instrumental or used wordless utterances a la Warszawa.
HOW DOES THE GRASS GROW
Staccato vocals in the verse. Chorus is like rock n roll doo wop reminding me of Del Shannon’s Runaway. Middle eight faintly reminiscent of an earlier work. Slightly avant garde rock polished up in an acceptable AOR rock style. What’s the point? The enigma or paradox is this stuff sounds like it is written and produced to be played on the radio but I can’t think of any radio stations that would play it – at least not in the UK. Revisits lots of former styles. Quite a pleasant concoction – unchallenging comfort music. Almost like they are trying to see how many styles they can fit into four and a half minutes. Outros not bad.
At this point after the rather faceless and generic last few track the albums rallies itself for a final push ending on three better songs.
SET THE WORLD ON FIRE
Starting like a remake of Rainbow’s Since Youve Been Gone this is a supremely catchy pop rocker. Quite 80’s. This is like a towards the end of the concert or showstopper at the Brits type of song. A bit like an updated Revel Rebel and some reports say it is dedicated to his young daughter so it is fitting that it has that “Glad to be alive. Take on the world” quality. Would make a great cover version for someone.
YOU FEEL SO LONELY YOU COULD DIE
Another change of pace. Slow and stately. It’s 60’s ballad time. Operatic, over the top Rock n Roll Suicide style with doo wop backing and big lush production, Post Modern Bowie meets Presley. Finishes with a nod to the ‘Five Years’ drum beat. Feels like the album closer but there’s one more track. (Or four more on my ‘deluxe’ version)
Like his last album The Next Day closes on an atypical doomy tune. Doomy drums, eerie synth and his Scott Walker voice, The voice he would be using on his next album Black Star. In fact, this song with its moody atmospherics feels like it belongs more on that album than this one. Apparently a pretty literal retelling of a Yukio Mishima story. Not sure why but I like this a lot.
I thought this album might be a bit overwhelming and hard going with 14 songs in 50 odd minutes but they’re all quite short and uptempo and it seems to fly by.
In a certain mood I could see that this could be regarded as probably the most satisfying album overall that I have reviewed in this series. However I like my Bowie a bit more outre and I think I would be more likely to listen to Buddha of Surburbia, Black Tie White Noise or even Tonight than this.
Apparently this album came out in a few different configurations. My one is the deluxe one at the time of the original release with three bonus tracks tacked straight onto the end of the album without even a gap or anything.
The three songs are less developed and not quite up to the standard of the rest of the album which isn’t saying much. Are they out takes? Intended as a kind of encore? Future B sides given away? Anyway I don’t think I will be listening again to SO SHE, PLAN or the frankly dodgy ILL TAKE YOU THERE which sounds like an MTV 80’s pop rock meat and potatoes take on Duran Duran with a Rubettes style refrain. My goodness I’ve manged to make it sound more interesting than it is.
Over to you pop pickers. Any love/hate/opinions at all on the sainted Dave’s comeback?