“The Next Day” David Bowie Album Review
This album’s release signals the end of Bowie’s ten-year hiatus from music after a heart attack as well as a steady trickle of below-par albums. This thirteen-track collection became available for purchase on March 8, 2013, and the extended edition, “The Next Day Extra,” was available for purchase in November.
Bowie released “Where Are We Now” to relatively little fanfare on January 8, 2013, which is ironic considering the circulating rumors about how the music icon may have developed dementia. Abound with longing and Berlin influences, this breakthrough single is reminiscent of “Heroes,” which has made a cultural rebound with the recent popularity of the film adaptation of the bestselling novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
“The Next Day” weaves together nostalgia and contemporary issues into an audial experience that is at once bizarre and modern– not surprising for a man who has paid his hefty makeup bills by living on the periphery of pop culture, always one platform boot ahead of the rest of society. At first listen, the album might seem lackluster or tired, but it has a way of slowly revealing itself to be somewhat of an enigma, the way all complex music should.
The album opens with its titular track, a gritty, angry number during which Bowie chants, “Here I am, not quite dying” as if to pummel to pieces any public speculation about his state of health or productivity. “The Next Day” sets a swaggering tone for the rest of the album. Standouts include “The Stars [Are Out Tonight],” an up-tempo track that contemplates, amongst other topics, society’s obsession with celebrity; “I’d Rather Be High,” an unconventional approach to a soldier’s perspective on war; and “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die,” a song that’s as mournful and melancholy as its title suggests. The March album ends with “Heat,” an ominous piece in which Bowie repeats, “And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am,” coming off altogether as a dangerous, delirious man suffering from an existentialist crisis. The deluxe edition includes three extra tracks: “So She,” “Plan,” and “I’ll Take You There.” “The Next Day Extra” adds “Atomica,” “The Informer,” “Like a Rocket Man,” “Born In a UFO,” and “God Bless the Girl” to the selection, alongside mixes of songs from the original release.
Bowie’s vocals range from impressive to straggling (several complaints have been directed towards “the old guy‘s” voice blasting from my speakers). He even brings back that nasal croon that was practically synonymous with his name in the seventies, but to those unfamiliar with his work, it may just come off as, well, strange.
And to reassure the public that his decapitated head hasn’t been frozen à la Walt Disney (or so the extremists insist), the album is accompanied by a series of brain-prodding music videos. The short film for “The Stars [Are Out Tonight],” directed by Floria Sigismondi, stars Bowie and his female doppelganger, Tilda Swinton, as an aging couple tormented by, quite literally, celebrity.
With its prevailing themes of androgyny, immortality, and culture clash between generations, the video leaves many viewers fumbling for answers. “I have no idea what it means,” said Jericho High School junior Gabriella Schmuter. “I like the part when they dance with the meat.”
There’s also the almost cliché (at least for Bowie) stab at the Catholic Church in the music video of “The Next Day,” featuring Gary Oldman as a corrupt clergyman and Marion Cotillard as a prostitute-turned-saint, and the bewildering visual accompaniment to “Where Are We Now” that blurs the line between avant-garde genius and lazy filmmaking.
David Bowie is no longer glaringly relevant in popular culture, but has left an indelible stamp on the music industry and the very art of performing, whether as Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke. Hopefully “The Next Day” will remind listeners and even expose to a new generation what this reviewer interprets as Bowie’s message to society: art as reinvention, liberation, and, especially in this case, redemption.