Monday, 11 March 2013

David Bowie - The Next Day - David Bowie

It seems to have come as a surprise to the vast majority of keen music critics that David Bowie, after an absence of ten years, suddenly and without fanfare once again broke all the rules by releasing a new single. I ask myself why? The man has throughout his career done the unexpected. This to one side I do rather think that the fuss made is a little false. Didn’t Scott Walker take a decade between albums? And what of Kate Bush? From the release of ‘The Red Shoes’ to the utterly brilliant ‘Ariel’ she left a gap of twelve. For all the pretentious twaddle the music press perpetuates as they constantly attempt to present pop music as being grown-up, intelligent and somehow vital, which it is, they then paradoxically ponder not only long gaps between works of art but also run around each time a new album appears printing platitudes about the latest album being a ‘return to form.’ And no, of course I am not suggesting ALL the music press is rubbish but there are some who ably wear that hat.
    “What The Next Day has that perhaps Lodger didn't is something more prosaic. Whatever else he's been doing, clearly at least some of the last decade has been spent carefully crafting inarguable tunes. Its melody shifting from weary sigh to frantic angst, I'd Rather Be High is utterly beautiful; The Stars (Are Out Tonight) supports its Brad-Pitt-is-an-alien thesis with a fantastic chorus, all the more potent for the fact that it takes an age to arrive; Valentine's Day is so deceptively sweet that the bleakness of its subject matter – another tyrant, bent on crushing the world beneath his heels – doesn't initially register.” – Alexix Petridis of the Guardian
I have lost count of how many times faint praise has been applied to one of Bowie’s latest releases. I know of at least five. These 'born again' missives that appeared with eash relase again missed the point entirely.
Throughout a career that has helped define and shape contemporary music, Bowie has morphed several times. This is something we all know and if we didn’t is reiterated each time the man’s name appears in print or when discussed on radio or television. It is as much a length or rope by which to hang the man as it is faint praise.
Bowie’s peak was the seventies. It is universally accepted as being during his now so called ‘Berlin’ trilogy, period  featuring ‘Low,’ ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’ that he took the form to new, dangerous at times, wonderful heights. This is not to dismiss the equally good ‘Ziggy’ trilogy nor the spellbindingly brilliant ‘Hunky   Dory’ or the funk laden ‘Station to Station.’ The zenith of his career remains with the music created at the end of a decade populated by Heavy Rock, Prog, Punk and of course Disco.
I recall the New Musical Express in 1978 carrying a lovely image on its front cover featuring an array of contemporaneous artists including the never punk acts The Stranglers, The Boomtown Rats and The Jam but also the deep down and dirty real deal of The Ramones, The Clash and of course The Sex Pistols. Johhny Rotten faced front leering like a manic version of Richard III, all teeth, attitude and venom. Behind them all, like some magnificent demi-god stood David Bowie occupying the position he justly deserved. He was after all the true zeitgeist of the seventies.
Weakened by a heart scare in 2004, never particularly committed politically – hence the foolish flirtation with Nazi imagery in the 1970s – Bowie appears to have been ill-equipped to make sense of the past decade. It has taken until now for him to find his voice again. Whether this is a sign that conditions in our “age of terror” have improved or normalised is up to us to decipher. In the meanwhile, it has resulted in Bowie’s most substantial album since the 1980s”. - Ludovic Hunter-Tilney of The Financial Times
The eighties arrived promising the stars and the heavens they shone from only to deliver an earthbound assortment of pop, pap and the genius of The Smiths.
Bowies first album of that decade shattered the pristine glass of the Thatcher cathedral continuing very much where he’d left off. I am going against accepted wisdom here but I think ‘Scary Monsters and Super Creeps', is the Bromley boys best. It swaggered, it rocked, it kicked ass with its progressive stance but it was also easy to listen to and yes, sorry purists, it was commercial – it sold well.
Next came ‘Lets Dance.’ Bowie obviously thought it was time for a change. We were given guitar based R’n B. It was a good album but not great. The odd thing was that rather than do what he had so successfully before, work in trilogys, ‘Lets Dance’ follow up wasn’t released until a decade later. In between we were given the god awful ‘Tonight,’ followed by the less than worthy ‘Never Let Me Down.’ The press do what they always do when the scent of blood hits their nostrils; they got out their whetstones and sharped their axes.
Once an angel falls from grace it is bloody hard to ascend back to heaven especially when dirt bound ragamuffins are taking large pieces out of your legend.
The Next Day has a strong connection to the late-1970s period when Bowie and producer Tony Visconti made their Berlin trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger. It also has the low-register guitar attack of Scary Monsters. Bowie has never sounded further from doomsday. The sharp-edged guitars suit the tunes – wry, soulful, adult, resistant to maudlin hysterics or overwrought sentiment.” – Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone
In 1993 Bowie was commissioned to write the score to ‘The Buddha of Suburbia.’ It was more than half decent, and as those press boys would say with that over used phrase they are so fond of, a return to form. From that point on until very recently, the man many claim to have laid the path for 21st century pop artists to follow produced what I believe to be a series of sketch book albums. I can find no fault with any of them but, with the exception of the truly great ‘1.Outside,’ David did not scale the heights he had before during his halcyon days.
From those albums it is easy to find dozens of songs that sparkle but the point of an album is to present a cohesive whole. Good though those albums were not one of them shone. Even though we were told each time one was released they were a ‘return to form.’ The problem David has is of his owm making - how to keep changing, keep moving forward, keep raising that bar?
The answer is you can't. The only thing you can do is to do your best.
So then, are we again to read the same diagnosis? Is this, the new album artfully titled ‘The Next Day’ to be so defined? If it is then this time they’d be right. It is very, very good.
“8/10 - New Musical Express"

It has thrust, muscle and the required swagger. There are guitars but the music is not dependant on clich├ęs. The perspective is of a man at odds, as he so often was, with the modern world and the lyrics reflect this. If the single 'Where are they Now?' was a feint, a sleight of hand, a deception then it was a brilliant one. The music on the album is nothing like that beautiful song. It resonates far beyond the now it was created in. It doesn't so much 'rubbish' the albums between 'Lodger' and 'The Next Day,' but rather makes sense of them showing them as being part of a process that enabled Bowie to get to where he is now. This album left me feeling that there is more to come, much more and for once in a long while this excites me.
all words and art are copyright © of Russell 'C.J' Duffy.To view my books on Amazon/Kindle go here: -- For another side of CJ go here: sOMeThiNg For tHE wEeKeND, SiR?


Perfect Virgo said...

I've heard some tracks from the album and I think there's much more to it than the single (which I find rather bland). I'm looking forward to hearing the whole thing.

Ziggy was the era which spoke t me most but that's the beauty of the man - he has sufficient incarnations to satisfy most people.

By the way I recently watched the 2006 film 'The Prestige' and was pleasantly surprised to find DB had a cameo role.

Russell Duffy said...

PV>>>Absolutely right, taste is a very personal thing and carries with it no wrongs or rights. I like Ziggy as you know but out of the three, not counting Pin-Ups, it is 'Diamond Dogs' which I prefer.

Vanessa V Kilmer said...

Great in depth review of DB's music and the hipe surrounding any new offering.

Inflate and Inflame

Names and Sentences

Russell Duffy said...

Nessa>>>Thanks. I have long had a love of Bowie. The first music I heard, like much of my generation, came from you guys. American music has always been the best as far as I am concerned not withstanding excellent composers like Beethoven. It was old time R and B and Rock and Roll that did it for me but hearing someone sing with my accent hooked me. I sound less iike David Niven and more like David Bowie.

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