The Next Day/ David Bowie
Sony Music/ Rs 399
ON his 66th birthday on January 8, David Bowie released his new single ‘Where are we now?’, announcing that it was part of his 24th studio album ‘The Next Day’. While the song got instant recognition, lots of airplay and loads of viral hits with its moody, melancholic feel and its subject revolving around Berlin, many fans were indeed surprised that the veteran English musician was actually releasing something new.
Bowie had released his last album ‘Reality’ a decade ago, and many people felt he had retired for good, as he had cut down appearances following heart trouble and angioplasty in 2004. So they waited eagerly for the new album to hit the stores, till it finally came out on March 8. For those who have admired older hits like ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Hunky Dory’, ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’, ‘Diamond Dogs’ ‘Aladdin Sane’, ‘Heroes’ and even the commercial hit ‘Let’s Dance’, this was a huge comeback.
While the CD has 14 tracks, the special vinyl edition has three additional bonus tracks. What’s interesting is that Bowie has kept his songs short and snappy, with only five songs over four minutes in length, and has focussed mainly on the guitar and peppy rhythms to embellish them. The lyric-writing shows a certain maturity, using metaphors stylishly.
The title track, whose video attracted controversy for its alleged excesses, opens the show. Here, Bowie uses an energetic rock sound and a crisp guitar-and-drums intro. The lines “Here I am, not quite dying, my body left to rot in a hollow tree, its branches throwing shadows, on the gallows for me, and the next day, and the next, and another day” fill the chorus.
The second track ‘Dirty Boys’ is more artistic and innovative, using the baritone saxophone to good effect, specially in the coda. ‘The stars (are out tonight)’ has an infectious tune, and lines that go: “Stars are never sleeping, dead ones and the living, we live closer to the earth, never to the heavens, the stars are never far away, the stars are out tonight.”
‘Love is lost’ is graced by a punchy and cyclical rhythm line with smooth guitar and keyboard overlays, and terrific lines like: “Your country’s new, your friends are new; Your house and even your eyes are new; Your maid is new, and your accent too; But your fear is as old as the world.”
The other highlights include ‘Valentine’s Day’, with its trademark 70s feel, ‘Boss of me’, with its nice, sing-along hook, ‘Dancing out in space’, with its uptempo ambience and wah-wah lacings, and ‘How does the grass grow?’, with its catchy chorus. But the best lines are reserved for ‘You feel so lonely you can die’ and ‘Heat’.
The former, set to a haunting melody line, goes: “No one ever saw you moving through the dark, leaving slips of paper somewhere in the park, hidden from your friends, stealing all they knew, love is thrown in airless rooms, then vile rewards for you.” And the latter, an apocalyptic, brooding number, says: “Then we saw mission is dark, trapped between the rocks, blocking the waterfall, the songs of dust, the world would end, and night was always falling, the peacock in the snow.”
Of the bonus tracks, the instrumental ‘Plan’ offers variety with its jangling guitars and psychedelic feel. And in the entire set, the only number that seems out of place is ‘If you can see me’, which is a bit too noisy and more on the punk-rock side.
The cynical may argue that his latest effort comes nowhere near the class of Bowie’s gems from the 70s, and that its front sleeve is just an unimaginative improvisation of the ‘Heroes’ cover. But to give Bowie due credit, he’s come up with a set of highly likeable songs at a time when people had never imagined he would ever do so. The numbers grow after a few listens, and some are good enough to play repeatedly.
‘The Next Day’ has its highs, and a must for his fans.
RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding