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.
- 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 –