Album Review: David Bowie, ‘The Next Day’

justin matchick took advantage of Bowie’s advance streaming…

David Bowie's The Next Day

I was so nervous when David Bowie announced The Next Day, ostensibly his comeback album after nearly a decade without releasing any new music. So often have comeback albums failed us, disappointed us, and crushed the spirits of fans who have waited with bated breath for any inkling that their musical heroes might have a modicum of talent left in them. But I was foolish to doubt Bowie. What could have been a sad experiment by an aging rocker is instead a triumphant return from a man with nothing to lose.

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Bowie has long been a chameleon in the music industry, changing his music and fashion style to adapt to new and exciting music genres. Going from glam rock in the early ’70s to art rock and ambient in the late ’70s to pop and post-punk in the ’80s to industrial in the ’90s, some of his transitions to new music styles have been better received than others. But no matter what the genre there has always been a characteristic tone to his albums, an edge that makes you recognize it’s a David Bowie album right away. A lot of that trademark Bowie sound is thanks to producer Tony Visconti, who has produced many of his albums going all the way back to Space Oddity in 1969.

Visconti also produced The Next Day, and gives the album a boisterous and full sound that seems to punch through the speakers with a dark energy. Bowie’s voice has aged like a fine wine, with a less aggressive but more soulful quality. His voice works as a nice contrast to most of the music, which is a mix of frenetic rock and dance tracks. Songs like “Dancing Out in Space” and “I’d Rather Be High” will stick in your head for hours after you’ve finished listening. The one major exception is slow ballad “Where Are We Now?” which was the first single released off the album. Many who didn’t like the mellow style of the single will be pleased to find out that it’s the only track of its kind on the album, with the other tracks being far more lively.

There are more than a few songs that sound like they could have come straight from past eras of Bowie’s long career. “If You Can See Me” has the same chaotic drums and electronic beats of his mid-90s revival. “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” gives off the vibe of a song from the “Lodger”/”Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” period, while closing song “Heat” has the gloomy ambience that would fit right in with “Heroes” or “Low”.

The cover of The Next Day should be recognizable to any rock fan. It’s literally the same cover from 1977’s Heroes but with a major difference, a large white space obscuring Bowie’s face. Cover designer Jonathan Barnbrook calls it an image “obliterating the past.” You will get the Bowie you know and love on this album, but only on the fringes, only on the border of the white box, his new self. This is, despite all the inklings of the past present on the album, a new Bowie at the core. The lyrics here look back on a long and illustrious career, sometimes with remorse and sometimes with happiness. Offering a retrospective on who he once was and who he is now, Bowie is looking back on the years writing about loneliness, paranoia, young love, and the pressures of fame and making one big commentary on his body of work.

The go to line for most music critics when reviewing a new David Bowie album is “…best since Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.” Scary Monsters was, after all, the last Bowie album to get near universal acclaim from critics and is seen by many as the last album of his that is necessary for fans to own. But constantly comparing his new albums to his older ones goes against everything he works for. Bowie does not make an album in an effort to one-up his past efforts; he makes an album for who he is at that time. The Next Day fits right in line with that, an album that shows the older man Bowie has become while still offering a skewed look back on who he once was. It is an album only David Bowie could have made. You don’t have to be a David Bowie fan to enjoy it in all its dark beauty, but knowing who Bowie once was makes the experience of listening to The Next Day even more enjoyable.