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Bowie’s new album stands strong despite ten−year hiatus

Bowie returns with smashing new album

Published: Monday, March 25, 2013

Updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 02:03

Given David Bowie’s status as one of the most innovative figures in popular music, any album that the legendary rocker were to release would surely be met with anticipation. But after a decade−long absence from the music world, the surprise announcement of his upcoming album “The Next Day” on Bowie’s birthday back in January 2013 caused a collective shock rarely seen in modern media. After suffering a heart attack on tour in 2004, Bowie canceled the remainder of the tour and reduced his musical output to occasional song cameos or guest spots on stage, effectively dropping out of the public eye for the majority of the next 10 years. All of this made the announcement of Bowie’s comeback album so surprising, since many had once speculated that his prolonged hiatus was due to the his being gravely ill, even near death.

The opening song and title track of “The Next Day” immediately dispels these rumors of ill health, with Bowie sounding vibrant as ever and delivering a commanding vocal performance over a driving guitar riff. This opening statement also makes it clear that themes of death and mortality are never too far away on this album, thanks to his staccato phrasing of lines such as “Here I am/ Not quite dying/ My body left to rot in a hollow tree.” Despite the dark subject matter, Bowie’s defiant tone suggests that he still has plenty left to say.

From here, the album transitions to the slinking, horn−filled “Dirty Boys,” a slow−burning track that hints at the variety of eclectic sounds and textures in store for listeners throughout the album. Immediately following this is one of the album’s highlights, a fast−paced reflection on fame, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).” Bowie, accompanied by sleek guitars and a string section, uses lines like “We will never be rid of these stars/ But I hope they live forever” that function as both a commentary on our culture and a throwback to one of his favorite motifs from the Ziggy Stardust era. The combined effect makes the song one of the standout tracks, not an easy task on an album filled with strong material.

While these three opening tracks serve to set the tone for the album, they also highlight two of the strengths of “The Next Day.” One of the first joys upon hearing this initial opening is the realization that Bowie’s voice has held up remarkably well. His vocals exhibit a strength and richness that isn’t typically found in musicians of his age, despite the slightly lower tone he sings at now.

One of the other major strengths of “The Next Day” is how it occasionally gives a subtle nod to elements of earlier Bowie songs while simultaneously embracing a modern sound, allowing it to feel like a natural fit alongside Bowie’s back catalogue. The title track evokes hints of “Beauty and the Beast” (1977), “How Does the Grass Grow?” has flourishes that make it seem like it would feel right at home with the Berlin Trilogy and the penultimate track, “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die,” shares the same drum pattern as the classic “Five Years” (1972). Even the cover is a play on Bowie history, with the album artwork for “The Next Day” being a defaced version of the cover of “Heroes” (1977).

While these hints at past works offer the occasional hint of familiarity, the true pleasure of listening through “The Next Day” comes from the varied sonic textures Bowie explores throughout the album. With 14 songs in total, the album offers a wide range of styles and densely packed songs that reward repeat play−throughs from focused listeners. These styles range from the touch of psychedelic on “I’d Rather Be High” to the haunting ballad “Where Are We Now?” and yet still manage to feel like a cohesive collection on the album. The varied textures are complimented by the sometimes surprisingly dark lyrics, such as “Valentine’s Day,” which sports a catchy pop melody that feels almost optimistic — until you realize Bowie is singing about a school shooter.

“The Next Day” is certainly a dense album, and one that grows on you with repeated listens as you discover more of its musical and lyrical nuances. The strength of the songs ensures that “The Next Day” is not only an excellent comeback album, but also a strong addition to David Bowie’s catalog and one that hopefully marks the beginning of a new chapter in the storied career of this renowned musician.

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