Watching the superb "Five Years" documentary on BBC2 the other night, I realised that I hadn't yet listened to David Bowie's new album, The Next Day. So, here's a quick first listen review!
The cover itself is a re-working of the classic "Heroes" cover. But can the contents get close to that great album?
Title track The Next Day is a straight-forward rocker, which hooks you in with repeated listens.
Dirty Boys has a squawking guitar and sax backing which sounds like it could be inspired by Kurt Weill or Tom Waits. The former is a long-time Bowie favourite, of course.
On track three, the single The Stars (Are Out Tonight), Bowie's multi-tracked vocal stands out for me; along with a beautiful string section and a synth sound reminiscent of Warszawa, from "Heroes". This track took a while to get going, and then finished, just as I was starting to appreciate it.
Love Is Lost feels dark, both musically and lyrically. The whole album has a dark theme to it, so far. Of course, Bowie's work has always been best when it pokes around in the dusty corners of life, fame, love, drugs and music.
Where Are We Now?, the album's first single, is the first slower number. A melancholy ballad which seems to look back on Bowie's time in Berlin. Beautiful. Deservedly his first top ten hit for twenty years.
Valentine's Day didn't have much impact on me. Likewise Boss Of Me, from later in the album. There are fourteen tracks on the album, with three more 'bonus' tracks (is there any such thing as 'bonus' tracks in these download days?) so it's not surprising that there is some thriller.
If You Can See Me is the most up-tempo tune so far and approaches the fringes of the dance music he explored on Earthling, without being too drum'n'bass. I could see myself bopping around the kitchen to it while I cook the dinner.
I'd Rather Be High washes over me, like Valentine's Day, at first. But it has a feel of psychedelia, like something Inspiral Carpets might have released in the 90s, so it could grow on me.
Dancing Out In Space starts off sounding like something James might have recorded in their pomp. That's a compliment. It's a definite toe-tapper. Sonically, it starts moving in unexpected directions which keep the interest up as the tune progresses. Is it a reference to Major Tom? Still floating out in space, looking for a girl to dance with?
How Does The Grass Grow? sounds like a return to the classic Bowie of Scary Monsters era, with an unexpected ya-ya chorus reminiscent of Apache by The Shadows. Odd, but effective.
The past few tracks have lifted the melancholy mood of the album somewhat.
(You Will) Set The World On Fire is a heavier track with a Jack White-style riff.
You Feel So Lonely You Could Die brings us back down to ballad territory. It might be a song about the loneliness of the long-distance spy. But we get an echo of Ziggy's Five Years in the outro of the song.
Heat rounds off the album proper. An atmospheric bass and synth opening, at a very slow pace, very much in the vein of the Berlin trilogy, along with gnomic lyrics. Again, a beautiful track, but what does it mean.
So She - a sweet love song.
Plan - an instrumental. Not one of his best.
I'll Take You There - rounding things off with a celebration of Bowie's life in the USA.
The whole album at this point seems to be Bowie's reflections on his career, and you wonder if he's happy with what he has done over the past 40 years. Well, his fans are happy, so he should be! But maybe the meaning's are more obscure than that.
Overall, it's a brilliant return to form. I can't believe it's been out for 3 or 4 months and I hadn't got around to downloading it yet. Tony Visconti said that Bowie recorded 29 tracks for The Next Day and that more would be included in the next album, due to get underway sometime this year. I can't wait!