Monday, April 1, 2013

We Waited A Decade For This?! David Bowie’s The Next Day Has The Artist In A Slump!

The Good: Musical variety, Some good lines
The Bad: Obvious vocals, Derivative of other Bowie works, No hook, Short
The Basics: David Bowie’s first album in a decade disappoints.

A few weeks ago, my wife very excitedly introduced me to a brand new video that was released that day. It was David Bowie’s Valentine’s Day gift to the world, a new song and video for his song “Where Are We Now?” I could tell that my wife, like many David Bowie fans, was absolutely starved for anything new from David Bowie. After all, the video was in no way extraordinary (and what the hell is it with Bowie always appearing in music videos as a spouse of some comparatively young white woman, how come he never appears with Iman in his videos?!) and the song was nothing special. While my wife was excited, for both the song itself and the fact that it presaged The Next Day, I was less impressed. The song – musically and vocally – reminded me of Bowie’s song “Thursday’s Child.”

The Next Day, now that it is out, was an album I was excited to buy for my wife for our anniversary. However, before our anniversary came, I was shocked when she told me she had heard the album online and did not want it. My wife is a huge David Bowie fan and The Next Day was an album she waited eagerly for for the last decade. So, when she insisted she did not want it, that was a huge thing for us. I picked the Deluxe Version (with two additional tracks) up anyway and I’ve spent the day listening to it on high replay.

And I see why my wife was not thrilled by it.

That said, I don’t think the album is terrible (which is what she thought), but it is in no way extraordinary. Thematically, David Bowie branches out from where he has been before and The Next Day is a surprisingly political album for Bowie. Unfortunately, that does not make it good. At best, it rises into average territory.

With seventeen tracks, clocking out at 61:30, The Next Day is very much a David Bowie work. Bowie wrote or co-wrote every song on the album and he provides the lead vocals for each of the songs. As well, he plays keyboards and other instruments. Given that Bowie co-produced the album, it is hard to argue that this was not his musical vision.

Unfortunately, Bowie has little new to say or new ways to say his old thoughts. Musically, The Next Day is a pretty standard pop-rock album. While Bowie occasionally experiments successfully, like the way “Love Is Lost” is cacophonic illustrating well the chaos that comes after romance is shattered, most of the tunes are unremarkable or derivative. The instrumental accompaniment that opens “Dirty Boys” sounds a lot like something off Gotye’s Making Mirrors (reviewed here!). “Dancing Out In Space” sounds a lot like his song “A Better Future” and that was distracting. On the production side, “Valentine’s Day” blends some with “Where Are We Now?” which precedes it.

Vocally, The Next Day is utterly unremarkable. David Bowie makes all of his lines easily understood, but none of the vocals stretch Bowie’s established range. In fact, the vocal leaps Bowie takes on The Next Day tend to be more unfortunate than clever. There is a mechanized quality to his vocals on “If You Can See Me,” producing over his natural voice. And the “Na na nyah na’s” in “How Does The Grass Grow?” On one of the songs, Bowie actually sounds like Bruce Springsteen more than he sounds like himself!

Lyrically, Bowie actually managed to save much of The Next Day. The album is more political than many of his prior albums. With poetics like “Such sadness and grief / The trees die standing / That’s where we made our trysts / And struggled with our guns / Would you still love me / If the clocks could go backwards / The girls would fill with blood and / The grass would be green again / Remember the dead / They were so great / Some of them” (“How Does The Grass Grow?”), Bowie illustrates that he is not afraid to make a statement. The song is not as dated as many other political songs by contemporary artists and that works.

Ironically, Bowie takes a strange turn on one of the most listenable songs on the album. For a change, David Bowie sings about celebrity on “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).” The thing is, when Bowie sings “They watch us from behind their shades / Brigitte, Jack and Kate and Brad / From behind their tinted window stretch / Gleaming like blackened sunshine / Stars are never sleeping / Dead ones and the living” (“The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”), he seems to be trying to distance himself from celebrities. Like David Bowie is not a celebrity! It is somewhat hard to take the song difficult because it is not like David Bowie is out being sociable with all the rabble (hell, he’s been off the radar for almost a decade making this album!).

Ironically, the best song on the album is the political song that seems like it might just be a random pro-weed anthem. Instead, though, Bowie captures the spirit of today’s disenchanted soldiers on the song “I’d Rather Be High.” More than just dumb kids who want to be stones, Bowie articulates the frustration with unjust warfare with his poetic “I'd rather be high / I'd rather be flying / I'd rather be dead or out of my head / Than training these guns on those men in the sand” (“I’d Rather Be High”). It might not be the cleverest rhyme scheme, but it gets its point across.

But that’s The Next Day; it’s not the most clever or the best Bowie, but it gets its point across.

The best track is “I’d Rather Be High” and the low point is “Valentine’s Day.”

For other David Bowie reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Man Who Sold The World
Hunkey Dory
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Aladdin Sane
Diamond Dogs
Christiane F. Soundtrack
Let's Dance
Labyrinth Soundtrack
Never Let Me Down
Eart hl i ng
Best Of Bowie (1 Disc version)
The Best Of Bowie (2 Disc version)
Best Of Bowie (DVD videos)


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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