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David Bowie - The Next Day CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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3.90 | 182 ratings

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4 stars To underscore how unlikely it seemed that Bowie would ever make a follow-up album to Reality, The Flaming Lips (with Neon Indian) wrote a song called "Is David Bowie Dying?" in 2011. After his heart attack during the Reality tour, Bowie mostly dropped off the face of the earth, aside from a small handful of guest appearances here and there (and a role as Nikolas Tesla in the movie "The Prestige"), and it seemed that Reality was going to turn out to be his swan-song. I didn't especially mind this, even if it seemingly meant that "Bring Me the Disco King" was going to turn out as the closing track to his career (which wouldn't have been bad, just a little weird), and in the back of my mind I braced myself for the inevitable news that David Bowie had been found dead.

Then, on his (66th!) birthday in January 2013, it was announced that Bowie had finished work on an album that would be released a couple of months later, and the internet exploded. I mostly went out of my way to try and avoid reading specifics about the content of the album in pre-release reviews, but there seemed to be a lot of breathless "DAVID IS BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER!!11!!" hyperbole going on, none of which I was going to buy into. I watched the video for "Where Are We Now" and thought it was decent (it's a gentle Hours-like ballad that sounds much better in the context of the album than as a single), but I also suspected that Bowie wouldn't have come back from a decade-long hiatus to release an entire album of material along those lines, so I was pretty much ready for anything.

Well, the album basically sounds like a sequel to Reality, which shouldn't be shocking considering that Tony Visconti is once again involved in the production. It's not exactly packed with great songs, but it has a lot of good ones, and the combination of (a) the diversity of style and approach in the material and (b) the way he doesn't even try to glom onto contemporary styles makes this into both a very good album and one that will age well. If there's somewhat of a recurring weakness on the album, it's that David doesn't always bother to write good vocal melodies for the more "rocking" material; the opening title track, for instance, doesn't give a great impression in this regard, even if there are some interesting details in the actual playing. "If You Can See Me" gives a similar impression of being a chaotic mess, and "Boss of Me" gets kinda stuck on rambling lyrics that aren't especially memorable. Then again, there are also hard-rocking tracks where everything (vocals and instrumentation) comes together, especially in the breathtaking "(You Will) Set the World on Fire," which goes from a simple-but-heavy riff in the verses to a catchy-as-hell chorus that's one of the best Bowie ever wrote. "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" is another up- tempo guitar-driven number (with ample use of keyboards and nice production effects in support, not to mention the buried saxophone parts for texture) with a memorable vocal part, and "How Does the Grass Grow," in addition to having an inexplicable (but entertaining) repeated tweaked quote of "Apache" by The Shadows, works really well despite having seemingly only two notes in the vocals at times.

While many reviewers have liked to give special focus on the harder songs, gushing about how this is the most hard-rocking Bowie album ever (which is, uh, I guess a good thing; that would put it above Man Who Sold the World and the two Tin Machine albums I suppose), I quite like the slower and/or gentler numbers as well. Well, I'm not thrilled with "Dirty Boys," which strikes me as tapping into the same unnecessary horn-driven faux- badass vein that Tom Waits did on the Bad As Me title track (I mean, just like that track, this one is basically ok, but it seems calculated to draw a response that it doesn't really deserve). On the other hand, the more eerie and mysterious numbers like "Love is Lost" and the closing "Heat" (an atmospheric drone that makes for a gutsy-as-hell way to end the album in much the way "Heathen" did 11 years earlier), as well as the cheery and poppy numbers like "Valentine's Day" (which combines a happy guitar-based melody with lyrics about a kid shooting up his school), "I'd Rather be High," and "Dancing Out in Space," strike me as great inclusions. I really like the two gentle ballads, the aforementioned "Where Are We Now" and the passionate "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die," as well.

In short, if you don't hate post-70s Bowie, you'll probably like this one. It does seem a little odd to me that Bowie would need until 2013 to make an album that, under more favorable circumstances, could have easily been made in 2005, but then again I don't have much illusion about Bowie's ability to do something truly amazing at this point, so what's here is quite satisfying to me. Bowie's career would have gotten by just fine without this album (I don't feel he had anything left to prove), but very good albums never hurt anybody.

PS: The album cover, in my opinion, is so awful and half-assed that it loops around to brilliant.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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