hmv's Albums Of The Year...#5 David Bowie's 'The Next Day'
For an artist to maintain a career that spans four and a half decades is a rare occurrence. To do that and still be making music that is challenging, innovative and relevant is unusual in the extreme, but then they don’t come much more unusual than David Bowie.
Announced on Bowie’s 66th birthday in January this year – without warning, fanfare or any real promotion to speak of – The Next Day heralded the return of one of our most unique and enduring talents, with his first album in a decade.
Before we get to the music, there are some points worth noting. First of all, Bowie hasn’t given a single interview in 2013 to support the album, or given one at all since 2007. The sum total of any communication regarding his 24th studio album has been a list of 42 words he sent to author and music critic Rick Moody, a list that featured words like ‘vampyric’, ‘Balkan’ and ‘miasma’.
Then there’s the cover artwork. Bowie has, in his long career, produced some pretty iconic album covers – Aladdin Sane springs to mind – but for The Next Day he decided to recycle the cover of his 1977 album Heroes, crudely but deliberately repurposed with a white square covering his face, the album’s title in plain black type.
Were it anybody else, all of the above might seem like a gimmick, a contrived marketing ploy designed to create an air of ‘mystique’. But this is Bowie; surely one of the most enigmatic figures in music. Instead, he has chosen to let the music on the album speak for itself, free from interview soundbites or even any visual representation on the cover of the work that lies within. So does it work?
The answer, we’re pleased to say, has to be an emphatic ‘yes’. Working once again with long-time producer Tony Visconti and recorded sporadically over the last two years – in closely guarded secrecy – Bowie sounds as vital and relevant as he ever has. Lead single ‘Where Are We Now?’ could have fooled some into thinking that The Next Day would be a downtempo, introspective affair, but on the whole the record is actually pretty upbeat musically, though there is a recurring theme of mortality in the lyrics.
The title track is a spiky, guitar-led stomp that wouldn’t be out of place on Scary Monsters…, leading into the sleazy saxophones of ‘Dirty Boys’ before giving way to ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ with its echoes of Heroes-era Bowie in it’s Fripp-esque guitar parts. Other highlights include ‘I’d Rather Be High’ and the excellent ‘Valentine’s Day’, but the overall strength of the songs on The Next Day conspire to make this Bowie’s best album in a long, long time.
As comeback albums go, this has to rank as one of the best in living memory and it’s more than good value for its place at No.5 in our 2013 poll.
Best Track: 'Valentine's Day'
Who will be at No. 4? Come back tomorrow to find out!