David Bowie – “The Next Day”
When David Bowie comes up in conversation, songs such as the Glam-Rock Ballad “Ziggy Stardust” or the drunken-sing-along “Changes” usually come to mind. But little recognition is paid to his lush experimentation with ambient music, krautrock, or electronic music. I know, I know that it may seem ridiculous that the man that caused millions of teenagers in the mid-1970’s to paint a large pink lightning bolt on their face actually pushed the envelope of modern rock music, but hear me out. Transport back to 1976. Bowie had already made it to superstardom. Albums such as Hunky Dory and the classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars have catapulted the front man into the most eclectic pop-superstar of the 1970’s. Bowie’s heroin and cocaine addiction have not ceased even with his move to Switzerland. With his newfound love of post-modernist art the rock star is drawn to Berlin to start painting, writing new music, and sober up. From 1976-1979 comes the famed Berlin trilogy, three albums that now have become the zeitgeist for Bowie’s experience with Berlin, art, drug abuse, and experimental music. Low, released in ’76, shocked listeners with its clash between usual rock/pop musings and sonic experimentations drawing influence from krautrock and ambient music. Thus started the Berlin trilogy. Side A of this album pleased listeners with songs similar to Ziggy Stardust and albums alike, while Side B shifted gears with tracks that would seem more at home on albums by Kraftwerk, Brian Eno (whom helped in the production of Low), or even Neu!. Skip ahead to the last album in the trilogy, Lodger. Even though considered the weakest album in the trilogy, it draws even harder from the krautrock and ambient influences on Low, showing that Bowie is capable of much larger musical ideas than glam-rock or art-pop. Smack-dab in the mid of this trifecta is the most notable out of the three, Heroes. Named after the first movement in classical composer Phillip Glass’ “Symphony No 4″, this album stays in the same path with certain sonic experiments, but Bowie decided to please his glam-rock fans with a little more flare. But what is most recognizable of the album is the cover. A monochromatic David Bowie in the signature pose of his hands raised to his face. Fast-forward to 2013. Bowie still makes music into the early 2000’s delving into electronica and even soundtracks for video games that he makes appearances in. Then, out of the blue, there is news that he is releasing a new album. The first detail to surface was the album cover. It is the same exact cover of Heroes but with a large white box over David’s face holding the title The Next Day. Later in interviews Bowie says that the cover, mostly cast-off as unoriginal and pretensions, symbolizes progression and that he will not release an album nostalgic of one like Heroes.
The first single and music video to be released from this album was “Where are We Now”. A simple music video that centers around a large two-headed doll in an art studio with Bowie’s singing face projected on one head, and an unidentified female cast upon the other head. The song is a signature Bowie ballad. Crooning synths, gorgeous strings, sparse drums, and, of course, David’s aged but majestic vocals. This track, much like the rest of the album, has Bowie’s signature flavor but doesn’t sound rehashed. The response to this track was mixed. Many fans fell in love at first listen, while others that it was garbage. Thankfully, for both parties, the rest of the album is varied enough to be interesting, but still very cohesive in mood and style to make it well put together and cohesive. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, the second single to release from this album, has a tinge of dark and moody rock but having enough melody that sounds quite a bit like The Cure. Then a track like “If You Can See Me” is easily the most frantic and urgent track on the album. On this track Bowie experiments with vocal effects and pitch-shifting synthesizers, reminding us that David is capable of bringing fresh sounds this late in his career.
Where albums by older artists usually fall short is when they try to become another classic album. It wouldn’t be smart if Bowie tried to recreate another Ziggy Stardust. The Next Day shows us that David isn’t looking back at his older releases, such as Heroes, to try and emulate the sounds of his heyday. If it was a recreation of Heroes it would seem as if he left out the three song streak of ambient/classical-influenced sound collages in the middle of the album. He is constantly criticizing himself and revising his work. The Next Day is a progression forward in experiemtnation as well as a great representation of what Bowie has become over the course of his long career. Regardless of his age, he is capable to continue his legacy after twenty-three studio albums. The Next Day proves to be a solid album that is a step in the right direction for a seasoned musician such as David Bowie only proving that he deserves more praise than any other artist in the art/experimental rock genre.
Review by James Calvet.