I’ve been long of the opinion that David Bowie had silently retired. After his angioplasty of 2004 he’s been barely a blip on the radar. His last album, “Reality,” looked to be the terminus of his career. With a health scare and a new daughter happening at roughly the same period in his life, he had all of the reason in the world do do whatever he wanted to with no expectation that there would be further work from the most influential artist in my Record Cell [apart from Bryan Ferry]. What more could he do at that point? Better he simply vanished one day without making too much of a fuss over it. Unlike, say… Gary Numan.
Shows what I know. The Bowiecentric web was rocked to its core this morning with the release of a video for a new song, “Where Are We Now,” which is a prelude to his new album, “The Next Day,” to be released in March. And this is happening after my having spent the last month or so reading/commenting on the stellar and very deep blog “Pushing Ahead Of The Dame,” wherein Chris O’Leary has been systematically examining Bowie in depth, song-by-song, for the last several years to increasingly impressive effect. Mr. O’Leary’s writing is stunning, but the variety of readers commenting [including one Momus] take it to an even higher level. Let’s examine the album in question.
David Bowie: The Next Day DL 
- The Next Day
- Dirty Boys
- The Stars [Are Out Tonight]
- Love Is Lost
- Where Are We Now?
- Valentine’s Day
- If You Can See Me
- I’d Rather Be High
- Boss Of Me
- Dancing Out In Space
- How Does The Grass Grow
- [You Will] Set The World On Fire
- You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
- So She
- I’ll Take You There
The album is a 14 track album with a deluxe version having three bonus tracks. So far, only iTunes is mooted but I’m hopeful [and confident] there will be a variety of physical releases. Bowie knows how to work that action. “Where Are We Now?” is currently sitting at
#68 #60 [by the time I’ve finished this post] in the US iTunes store but the less coarse UK iTunes store has Bowie currently topping its chart, as befits his return from silence.
The cover that Jonathan Barnbrook repurposes the sleeve to “Heroes,” my favorite David Bowie album to dramatic effect. Barnbrook had designed 2001’s “Heathen,” which also used defacement for a shocking impact. This time it’s Bowie’s own past which is being pasted over and repurposed like graffiti on an old billboard past its time. Barnbrook discusses his design choices in depth on his blog so if you are shocked by the look of it, Barnbrook explains the reasoning behind the bold decisions. It may be viewed through many lenses, but it is first and foremost defiantly uncommercial.
The song itself carries on in the introspective, emotional tone Bowie established on his great “Hours” album of 1999, only this time he’s got Tony Visconti as producer, as on his previous two albums. So it sounds even better than the “Hours” material did. It’s a delicate and subtle composition that speaks of human vulnerability. It is in no way near as jarring as the proposed packaging of the album. The lyrics reference the collapse of the Berlin wall as well as Bowie’s time spent living there in the 70s. As the song continues, it diverts its focus from the political to the personal, with Bowie concluding that what matters is the sun, rain, me, and you.
The song’s video is a strange affair, like all of Bowie’s videos of the last 15 years or so. This one directed by Tony Oursler who used his video projection tropes in an unsettling juxtaposition of Bowie’s projected face mouthing the words to the song while projected onto a freakish, Siamese-Twin stuffed animal figure. The female head says nothing during the clip. View it here on Bowie’s newly redesigned website, launched with the new single and not a moment too soon in my opinion. The old Flash based site was so 1997. Worse yet, it must have stuck in Bowie’s craw that it simply would not load on the millions of iPhones and iPads out there now browsing the web.
I am undoubtedly excited by this news today. The song is entirely appropriate as the product of a 66 year old artist of Bowie’s stature. It’s a heartfelt gesture issued to a world growing colder by the second. Having it now is not a matter of good timing per se. A song like this is always needed. But a part of me liked the unannounced retreat of the artist into his own world without so much as a farewell concert. That the last song on his last album was the incredible “Bring me The Disco King” was utterly thrilling to my ears.
I can’t imagine a finer song for Bowie to have bowed out with. For a time following “Reality” there was nothing that I wanted more than for him to continue in the powerful, jazzy vein of the song, which let pianist Mike Garson do what he did best whole Bowie hit his vocal marks with quietly devastating power. As the years passed, my attitude changed from wanting more to being grateful that it was the capstone to Bowie’s recorded oeuvre. It was the mark of a mature man making his mark on the world.
This has all changed today. I look forward to the new album, and have some confidence, based on his last handful of albums following the disappointing “Outside,” that what will be released in March will be artistically satisfying as a Bowie fan. But a part of me mourns that Bowie has once again engaged with the public sphere to create more art for our scrutiny. This implies that when Bowie does reach the end of his life, it might not be as graceful as his simulated retreat from the public eye was over the last seven years.
– 30 –
I was excited beyond belief that Bowie has gifted us, on his bday, with his surprising re-emergence. I find the single to be utterly comforting, sad and powerful, and I’m loving the fragility of his vocal. I haven’t thoroughly obsessed over a Bowie album since Scary Monsters, but am guardedly optimistic for this upcoming one.
Taffy – I obsessed after the fact when I finally bought “The Buddha Of Suburbia” several years after it was issued. My pathway back to Bowie fandom following the EMI years was convoluted. I got Tin Machine’s first albums fit away thanks to the clever conceit of the 10 minute medley video that assured me that Bowie was having and exorcism of his pop persona that I [and Todd Haynes] had found so troubling. The second Tin Machine album was another thing entirely. It blew the goodwill of the first album for me. When “Black Tie White Noise” appeared, I wasn’t convinced.
What convinced me was the dorky “Jump” CD-ROM! Curious, and with a top end Mac at the time, I bought it because it was the only such title that appealed to a non-game player like me. The disc was very hit and miss. The only cool thing about it was the ability to make your own edits of the videos, but the songs all sounded pretty good. I finally bought BTWN and found it to be 70% of a great Bowie album, such as they were in these wilderness years.
I then noticed this obscure, import-only soundtrack album being sold and I thought at the time, “how good can this be?” I wasn’t convinced. I ignored “The Buddha Of Suburbia” for six years. I was highly anticipating, then highly disappointed by “Outside.” I didn’t bother with “Earthling” hearing that it was Bowie’s foray into techno, which I hated. It wasn’t until the Earthling tour, when I got tickets for the Bowie concert at the Chili Pepper in Ft. Lauderdale, that I figured “maybe I’d better get the new album” a week prior to our trip down there. We went because when did you ever get the chance to see Bowie in a venue that only held 1000 people?
Suffice to say, I gave the disc a single, pained listening through gritted teeth. I made a cassette to play in the car, and when I popped it in, my wife and friend accompanying us weren’t convinced either. The show on the other hand, was mind-boggling. 36 songs. Everything they had rehearsed for the tour at one go. Bowie 40 feet away clearly having a great time. Three and a quarter hours of Bowie! Like a Springsteen show, only with great music. The techno material was kind of harsh, live, and I still hated what he did to “V2 Schneider,” but damn if I didn’t wake up the next day with songs like “Little Wonder” jammed in my skull. I listened to that tape in the car for a week afterward and grew to love “Earthling,” apart from “Telling Lies.”
When “Hours” appeared, my wife and I took an immediate liking to it. By then, I had all of the Ryko CDs. We liked it so much, I then thought that it might be time to get the EMI albums I had avoided until 1999, and oh yeah, that soundtrack, too. Mea culpa! BOS is the post-1980 Bowie album that actually entrances me like they used to. What he did following that was certainly good and interesting.
This new single seems to suggest that things are going well in this mature period for Bowie. He seemed to struggle with the dichotomy between the intellectual and instinctual for many years. His classic RCA period is very left brained [intellectual], using right-brain [emotional] components to lure the listeners into his constructions, which are based more on ideas than feelings. This methodology seemed to have changed in 1999 when he looks to have stopped using intellectual processes to determine the range and thrust of the songs, which harkened back to the earlier, more traditional songwriting techniques he used in his pre-stardom era. A song like “A Better Future” would have been inconceivable from Bowie ca. 1975-1995. He seems to be putting his emotional states foremost in the music in this late period, and using any intellectual techniques to provide filigree to the meat of the song rather than the song’s raison d’etre.
Woke up this morning, walked out to the living room, turned on the TV to BBC World News channel and there, staring back at me is a siamese stuffed animal (thanks for confirming that for me Monk) with Bowie’s image on the right head and a talking head in the overdubbed telling me that Bowie turns 66 today and has released his first new track in 10 years… I literally shook my head and attempted to listen to the song, but the visual was getting in the way. BBC also chose a point in the song that out of context was extremely dissonant for waking on the first day of my work week. I spend the rest of the morning texting with other like-music-minded friends about the positives and negatives of this new Bowie song. I honestly wasn’t convinced most of the day based on the repeated snippets I heard on news reports. When I came home from work today at 8pm, I sat a the iMac and went straight to the iTunes Store and downloaded it. First thing I noticed on the Album Pre-order page was the BRILLIANT album cover design! I figured it had to be Jonathan Barnbrook behind this bit of excellent cheek! (Heathen is one of my favorite Bowie album covers). That put me in a more hopeful mood. I spent my $1.29 (more on that rip off at some other time) and sat back and listened. I listened again a second, third and fourth time. Each time I got something more from the track. Gone was my morning’s encounter with dissonance. By replay number three I was hooked. What a beautiful, personal homage to one’s past travels and travails; to the mistakes both brilliant and sad.
I’ve basically learned the lyrics now and can sing it in my head. The video however I will do my best to avoid. It adds nothing to the song and now that I’ve learned the lyrics I will go old school and create my own visuals in my head.
I know the song name checks the Berlin period, but musically, I am reminded of the gems of Bowie’s Blue Eyed Soul period including Win and Right from Young Americans. Like those songs, there is a glimpse of Bowie the troubadour on Where Are We Now?.
I got the news (apparently) shortly after it happened, thanks to UK pals. It felt like peace was declared. Even before I heard the song, I was so happy I wanted to run around the apartment (which wouldn’t take long) and wake the wife to tell her the news.
It was definitely a “weight-lifting” moment. I’ve been periodically googling Bowie for new pictures or some news every month or two for … well off and on for ten years. It’s weird, it’s like an old mate you just want to know is doing okay and hopefully will hear from again.
So I’m delighted by the song, which as everyone notes is in the style of Hours and very sad and majestic in its way. While I don’t think it will ever be anyone’s all-time favourite of his songs (or his videos), it’s good and its enough and I’m glad it wasn’t just the bobble head. I keep listening to it and find it very comforting.
This may be the first album I ever download from iTunes as well as buy the physical object. $14 to end a decade of waiting? No problem, I can afford it. And I’ll gladly pony up again for the real thing when it comes out, hopefully it won’t suck. I do have to say that despite Visconti being the producer on this one, I’m still hearing a lot of Eno in here …
chasinvictoria – Glad you also enjoyed WORLD BOWIE DAY.
Also, I love love love the picture you start this entry out with! Great find!
I agree I love the Bowie Burroughs image – and that Bowie has on a similar hat as he sits below it!
More thoughts: I’m really loving this song as a statement, it’s wonderfully introspective. I think (my interpretation) that the line “walking the dead” just means to be alone with your thoughts and memories, particularly of those departed, as one does when you’ve been around a long time. The song overall seems like an attempt at assessing one’s life, in this case so far removed from his life in Berlin all those years ago. As one gets older, it’s harder and harder to escape your past — trust me, I know!
It’s a soft and mature statement from someone who’s well aware that his every public movement brings with it a baggage of memories and emotions. It has an interesting soft angularity to it and really holds up on repeated listening. I find it very haunting and it has really stayed with me all day today, in a good way. It carries a sadness but is actually rather hopeful in a way. I think what pleases me most (other than it existing) is that he’s not going in the direction of the abandoned Toy album where he was mostly revamping old material. Still has something new left to say, and I on repeated listening I’m astonished to say that I don’t think it’s auto-tuned (or if so, very lightly)! I initially thought the choruses were quite auto-tuned and was a little dismayed (even the god Eno couldn’t quite make that work, though his attempt was way better than most!), but now I think I may be completely wrong on that. Which is quite impressive!
One of my favorite things about Bowie and one that can be very vexing at the same time is his ability to reinterpret his own history. Sometimes this comes out in his music, much of the time it comes out in his interviews. Henry Edwards very unauthorized biography of Bowie from back in 85/86 (I believe) takes him to task in the end section of the book because the Bowie of Temple of The Serious Moonlight chose to flush his past, or past mistakes, away. When he had his Let’s Dance “comeback” (which was actually his financial arrival after over a decade of making other people money), Bowie surrounded himself with all new people and sycophants. If you were someone from his DeVries past, or those Cocaine Years, you were left off to the side, ignored, literally walked past as if you were not known to him.
I wonder though, now as he has the stage to look back (maybe without anger) at his past if he will come to terms with it in his music. This really could be a beautiful conclusion to his career.