This was not expected. For David Bowie’s most ardent fans, there had been a growing acceptance of Ziggy Stardust’s decision to move on. A health scare in 2004 brought his last tour to an abrupt end and since then, the once-upon-a Thin White Duke had been laying low. And who were we to deny a man who had helped change the face (or in his case, faces) of Rock and Roll his well deserved time away from the spotlight.
But then something remarkable happened. In January, Bowie’s 66th birthday rolled around, and with it a brand new song (the pensive “Where Are We Now”) and the announcement of his imminent 30th studio album. To say it was a shock would be an understatement. The Next Day is an album recorded in secret over a two year period with longtime collaborator Tony Visconti. In this day and age, that just doesn’t happen.
The music business is just that, a business. There are long term release schedules with marketing and promotion strategies mapped out months in advance. There are radio promotion campaigns, with “teaser” singles issued months in advance. There are innumerable hands layers deep in corporate communications channels which makes for an endless stream of pre-release chatter and update stories to the press. Bowie and a select group of his core studio musicians, did this themselves and presented his completed project, his vision for the album, at least one visually stunning video and marketing materials to Columbia ready to go. The fact that he was able to keep such secrecy surrounding The Next Day startled an industry that lives on hype.
The Next Day is not a passive listening experience. It is a layered, sculpted work, with sonic elements reaching back throughout Bowie’s career. “Drive In Saturday” is resurrected in “How Does The Grass Grow?” His groundbreaking Scary Monsters album inhabits several tracks here, most notably, the blistering title track which launches the record with buzz saw guitars and venom. Even the album art repurposes his iconic Heroes album cover. Make no mistake: this is a rock record, and it is invigorating.
There are several highlights, including the previously mentioned title track and “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” which is among Bowie’s best single offerings in a generation. “Valentine’s Day” recalls the perfect pop of his Tonight album. “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” and “If You Can See Me” are frenetic and timely; they could stand up to anything on his underappreciated Outside or Hours releases. “I’d Rather Be High” manages to reach back to his first album, updated with a little psychedelica and a dash of the spirit of his good friend John Lennon.
With The Next Day Bowie provides one more opportunity to discover all over again what has made him one of those artists who seamlessly moves among and influences the world of music, film, fashion and art. Let’s hope he decides to return again soon.
Tim Johnstone is a former Virgin Records Label Rep and current award winning Program Director and on-air host at KRVB, which was awarded the FMQB AAA station of the year markets 50+. He also writes a blog that’s a collection of the absolute best the internet has to offer. It’s a must read, and you can check it out here.