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"I stumble to the graveyard and I
Lay down by my parents, whisper
Just remember duckies
Everybody gets got."
On January 8, 2013, David Bowie’s 66th birthday, Bowie stunned his fans and the world’s music media by releasing a brand new single on iTunes, Where Are We Now, hereby ending a ten-year hiatus that most fans and critics by then considered to be a quietly self-imposed retirement. And then, approximately two months later, Bowie released The Next Day, his first new album since 2003’s solid Reality. Streamed in its entirety on iTunes days before its official release, the album received great critical acclaim and reached No. 1 in the U.K., as well as No. 2 in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
As always with Bowie, the lyrics are cryptic and open to interpretation, as is the album title. Why did he decide on calling it The Next Day? The album cover is basically a replica of the artwork for Bowie’s classic 1977 album Heroes, only with a white square and the album title inserted right in the middle. But why did he choose to largely replicate the album cover of one of his old, classic LPs for his brand-new album? The answer may be found in the lyrics to Heroes -– which deals with a German couple kissing by the Berlin Wall, as bullets are flying above their heads –- more precisely, the line that says “We can be heroes, just for one day”, possibly a cynical conclusion that this crazy, old world will never really change. The Berlin Wall has long since been torn down, and the cold war is over, but –- still, to this day –- humanity remains a motley crew of repressed people, wars, victims, heroes, villainous politicians and religious fanatics (The Next Day: “They can work with Satan while they dress like the saints / They know God exists for the Devil told them so”). Regardless of interpretation, one thing's for sure: The Next Day is a very worthy addition to Bowie's impressive back catalogue.
The sleazy Dirty Boys reminisces about youth, the pleasures of adolescence, much like Boys Keep Swinging from Bowie’s 1979 LP Lodger. Had it been recorded back then, it would’ve fit right in with the rest of the material on that album, with its asymmetrical rhythm and unconventional melodic line. Love Is Lost is the album’s second-most off-kilter track, carried along by an insistent organ and electronic snare drum whose effect is strangely hypnotic. Where Are We Now was not an obvious choice for a lead single. Not only did its very existence come as a surprise, so did its languid pace, lack of a hummable chorus (like a slower, chorus-less version of Tuesday’s Child), and the resigned melancholia of Bowie’s fragile vocal. However, once the surprise had worn off, the majority of all fans soon acknowledged the discreet beauty of this wistful reflection on the years Bowie spent in Berlin recording his famous “Berlin Trilogy” (Low, Heroes, Lodger).
Second single The Stars (Are Out Tonight) revisits Bowie’s old theme of alienated celebrities, but whereas the 1975 hit single Fame depicted an insider’s experience (“Fame (fame) / What you like is in the limo”), here he’s looking in through the dark-tinted limo windows from the outside, from the point of view of today’s celebrity-obsessed society (“They watch us from behind their shades / Brigitte, Jack and Kate and Brad / From behind their tinted window stretch”), most likely inspired by the privacy of his own ten-year disappearing act. Two noteworthy tracks offer glimpses of the early-'70s incarnation of Bowie, the melodic Valentine’s Day (replete with sha-la-la's) and the starstruck (You Will) Set The World On Fire, both of which channel the late Mick Ronson –- Bowie's renowned, iconic guitarist.
I’d Rather Be High’s bright jingle-jangle guitar sound stands in stark contrast to the dark subject matter of a young soldier whose substance abuse is a desperate attempt to escape the memories and the madness of war (“I'd rather be dead / Or out of my head / Than training these guns on the men in the sand / I'd rather be high”), and You Feel So Lonely You Could Die –- an instant Bowie classic –- is a big, dramatic Rock ballad with a towering vocal performance, slightly Gospel-like harmonies and chiming guitars. As a nice little finishing touch, the drum outro replicates the drum intro to the old Bowie classic Five Years (off 1973’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars). The Next Day is an intriguing and frequently exhilarating album and was -– quite rightly –- hailed by many critics as Bowie’s strongest, most satisfying album since the late ‘70s/early ‘80s (even if 2004’s Heathen is a close contender).