When I read on David Bowie’s Facebook page that there was going to be a special announcement coming I was immediately intrigued. When I saw that announcement took the form of a new song accompanied by a video and the news that Bowie was releasing a new album my excitement levels went through the roof, as this was a man who many believed to be retired, possibly in ill-health, and who hadn’t released anything in ten years. The announcement of this album “The Next Day” was very clever PR by Bowie who sprang the surprise on everyone out of nowhere on January the 8th which so happened was his 66th birthday. In the days of social media and celebrity gossip, it is quite extraordinary that he managed to keep the recording of this album a secret, recording that took place on and off over a two year period. Once I had listened to his new song “Where Are We Now” and watched the video I was obviously pleased he was back making new music and the video was interesting, but I was not entirely sure what to expect of his new album based on the mellowness of the single. I needn’t have worried as “Where Are We Now” is not the sound Bowie channels on his twenty-fourth studio release which is a full-on rock/pop album of high intensity and Bowieness (if there is even such a word).
As someone who is not familiar with his later work post-Lets Dance, I could only compare the music on “The Next Day” to his classic material released between 1971 and 1982, and after listening to the album it seems to hold up very well. Sound wise you can even hear elements from many of his albums “Where Are We Now” and “Love Is Lost” is very Berlin Bowie circa “Heroes”, with layers of “synths” and dark lyrics. The pop of “Let’s Dance” can be heard on “Boss of Me” and “The Stars are Out Tonight” complete with female backing vocalists and bulging sax licks. However, in my opinion, the album “The Next Day” resembles the most is “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps” in terms of the fast pace of the songs and the new wave/pop-rock style on display, with guitars and “synths” galore. In fact, this album sounds as if it could have fitted in perfectly between “Scary Monsters” and “Let’s Dance” during the early 80s to the point that it’s as if “The Next Day” is a lost album that has been re-discovered decades later. Despite the strong eighties influence, the quality of the production on the album ensures that it sounds contemporary and fit for a 21st-century audience, and as an album, it certainly does not sound dated in any way. Bowie’s voice sounds surprisingly good on this album considering his age and the time spent away and is a definite standout. In some places, Bowie even sounds vintage-like in his delivery, with his vocal projection crisp and clear. The quality of Bowie’s singing ensures that some of the songs sound as if they could have been written and performed when he was in his prime, something that says a lot about how unique his voice is.
Reaction to Bowie’s re-appearance and new album has been overwhelmingly positive, with music critics on the whole raving about “The Next Day”. Bowie’s decision to release a new album after such a long break would for most artists you could strongly argue be fraught with risk commercially. But this is David Bowie we are talking about, not just anybody, and the mystique and mystery around the album’s release and Bowie’s re-appearance after a decade being largely out of the spotlight ensured that the album went to number one in twenty countries, and number two in a further eight. Whether a tour will come in support of the album, however, remains to be seen, with Bowie being reluctant to perform live. Long-term Bowie producer and producer of “The Next Day” Tony Visconti says Bowie has not ruled out the possibility of performing live but also that he is more inclined to remain in the studio. Despite the uncertainty over him performing live, it sounds as if Bowie has a lot more up his sleeve, and that he is definitely not finished yet as a recording artist. It seems with the success of “The Next Day” and the latest intrigue around Bowie we will definitely be hearing more music from him. Based on his latest offering that in itself is a good thing, let’s just hope the wait will not be as long.