The man of a thousand faces returns to release one fine collection of 17 songs.
It’s hard to write about David Bowie just as David Bowie. You are ever so tempted to conjure up his multiple personas from the past. But for once it appears that Bowie just wants to be Bowie. On his first album in ten years “The Next Day,” he accomplishes just that and we all should just be content.
Bowie can be a victim of his own success. By making absolute trailblazing albums throughout his career, he has set a standard that in today’s music world would be hard for any artist to duplicate. Retuning from a near fatal heart condition that made him cancel his tour in 2004, Bowie’s comeback is being greeted with the appreciation it deserves. He caught the entire music press by surprise with an early January release of a single from the album his first since 2003’s “Reality.” Two secret years in the making, Bowie had every musician and technician working on the project sign a confidentiality agreement and in a Twitter mad world where songs get “leaked’ all the time, it was a major accomplishment that Bowie was able to pull such a shocker off. There were even some rumors in the press leading up to this announcement that Bowie was severely ill. However, he pulled another rabbit out of the hat in a welcome new transformation of the artist.
The question remains though “Is the album any good?’ I give you a resounding yes. Now is it Bowie best? Well no, but that would be saying quite a lot and it is far from his worse. It’s Bowie doing what he does best. He doesn’t spend anytime trying to prove he’s hip to new sounds (A mistake he has made before). You don’t hear the aging rocker attempting to fit in with modern electronica or even attempting hip hop. It’s pretty straight rock and roll with Bowie’s voice holding tough and his band as sharp as ever.
What we get is Bowie living one day at a time. While he dances around a driving rock beat, Bowie appears to be caught up in the news of the day as he details the hypocrisy of priests, the transcendence of love and the rumors of his demise- All in the album’s opening title cut “The Next Day.” He boldly states ‘Here I am, not quite dying. My body left to rot in a hollow tree. Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me.”
However from there things get a tad more confusing lyrically. Over the course of 17, that’s right value minded friends 17 songs, Bowie conjures up images of soldiers’ pain, lovers in flux and lost sons of distant fathers. None of which makes a lot of sense in the literal way. Sure you can make guesses about what he’s talking about and sometimes the metaphors appear to be interestingly like in “The Stars Are Out Tonight” as he touches on the cult of celebrity. He nearly gets a love song out of “Valentines Day,” but for the most part it’s Bowie focusing on being Bowie- member of a band and exhibiting the cohesiveness of a finely tuned rock unit.
Deep messages and clairvoyance it’s not, but it’s a fine testament to Bowie’s stature and we all should be good with that.