The Next Day
It’s more about reintroduction than reinvention for rock’n’roll’s great chameleon on this – but, hey, he has the benefit of 10 years in hiding to give this a weight (above and beyond expectation).
Bowie got sick. People thought he was going to die. And he was a stay-at-home dad too. So there were important reasons for the decade (largely) away for music.
He returned on his 66th birthday with a new single and the announcement of a new album. No one expected this and in this day and age it was pretty spectacular to know someone as big as Bowie had the whole album in the can, recorded in secret, ten years spent hiding and recovering not only his health but also some of the sense of mystique.
The singles whet the appetite – and then the album started receiving over the top raves after short preview-listens. The British music press needs albums like this as it keeps them alive, gives their readership something to, er, read.
And – you could argue that Bowie’s label did their best to kill any of the mystique right then and then, desperate also for a pay-off.
I like The Next Day – but it’s not up there with Bowie’s best work. Perhaps (as I said here) it’s unfair to compare Bowie’s new album with all those great albums in the past, but, actually, the longer you leave it to have something to say the more it can show that the really prescient moments are not in the present, they’re in the past. They’re in the past for a reason.
Here it’s nice to hear Bowie again, to hear him back – but The Next Day is filled with filler; there’s not a dud track as such (well, not really) but there aren’t that many killers. It’s a three-star album being called a five-star album because fans had to wait and thought they weren’t going to get anything else from Bowie; at least not while he was still alive. For the last couple of years the rumours were so greatly exaggerated you had to expect only a stream of posthumous releases; reissues were the only new Bowie albums we thought might arrive.
Now he’s back on the treadmill – in more ways than one, no doubt.
And though you can argue about hearing, variously, the sound of Lodger, Scary Monsters, Low and Diamond Dogs, most of this album sounds like material left in the can from Reality and Heathen; maybe with a lyrical update. There’s nothing wrong with that, those albums were good, Heathen especially (in my book). But were they greeted like the second coming? No. Nor should this be. It should be described as a very good album overall, as good as Bowie in 2013 could be. But not up there with Bowie at his best. Not (really) even close as it happens.
Ah, but you can’t say that. Even though I just gave it a go.
My favourite thing about The Next Day is it got be back listening to Heathen. I wonder if ten years on I’ll give The Next Day another go. It might stand up. But I doubt it’ll be given that chance.
Gush now, rave now, of course. Of course. The return of the thin white duke is cause for celebration, even though he’s no longer throwing darts in lovers’ eyes. Here he’s simply taking aim, doing his best. It’s everyone else declaring the bull’s-eye has been hit.