David Bowie ‘The Next Day’ – Review

18 Apr

Typically a man in love with his own image (he’s appeared on the cover to every one of his 26 studio albums in one way, shape or form) Bowie has seemed more interested in obscuring it recently. The only official press photo for ‘The Next Day’ features him in a mask and there has been a distinct lack of other PR leading up to the release of this, his first album in a decade. On the album’s sleeve he’s taken the beloved photograph that adorned 1977’s ‘Heroes’ and obscured it with a white square, so that only the borders are visible. Written in a simple, unshowy font are the words ‘The Next Day’. As an artist obsessed with moving forward this seems his most obvious and wilful form of ‘washing the slate clean’ yet. Don’t worry about what’s already come, worry about what’s coming next. Only what comes next is a lot less interesting than what’s come before. It’s a lot less interesting than what’s on the front cover as well. Brilliant first single ‘Where Are We Now’ aside, The Next Day is a rather bland affair; a play it by numbers rock album with little of the innovative streak that coloured Bowie’s best work.

Mostly, his band plod along to archaic britpop, with hints of more interesting stuff mainly kept low in the mix. The players are all very dry, very serious and very skilled, making this an expertly played album that unfortunately lacks any spontaneity or spark. It would have been called formulaic if it had been released a decade ago. Or two. The hooks all come from Bowie himself and the music sounds a bit like an afterthought – a bland accompaniment to the main event (in a similar way to Morrissey’s most recent albums thinking about it – which makes the whole single controversy all the more ironic).

And that main event is unquestionably his lyrics. You wouldn’t call this classic but there are some very unique and thoughtful ponderings on the typical Bowie themes of love, personality, fear and death. Who else, for example, would pen a line as poetically silly as ‘the priest, stiff in hate, now demanding fun begin/ of his women dressed as men for the pleasure of that priest’? His use of language is always sophisticated, engaging and almost in a league of its own. The words virtually sing without his help: ‘Whores’ are described as having ‘soggy paper bodies’, jealousy is described as ‘spilling down’ and children swarm ‘like thousands of bugs’. It all adds up to an unrelentingly morbid yet occasionally funny album – and one obsessed with demise (would it be inappropriate to here reference Bowie’s age?). ‘They can’t get enough of that doomsday song’ he sings somewhat knowingly on the title track. ‘Some night on the thriller’s street a silent gun will come’ he adds 20 minutes later on a song called ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’. You can say a lot about the album but there’s not a lot of joy here.

And for me at least that’s a bit of a shame. People have received this with unreserved joy – some have even called it his best record yet. But it feels almost forced – his fanbase appearing like ones of those cults sucked in by a charismatic leader promising salvation. There’s no salvation on offer here though, just a lot of bad, bad news and doomsday preaching. Some fans were expecting a ‘Rick Rubin Presents…’ style album, some (myself included) thought that if he would ever return it would be with something that tried to mimic the innovative sounds of the generations of bands he inspired (he’s a known admirer of Arcade Fire and other young art rockers) but I don’t think many people were expecting something as dreary and rockist as this. I suspect that most fans didn’t think he would return, and therefore the mere existance of this comeback album is very much welcome. If we’d known it was going to be this bleak, bland and boring however would we really have been so excited?

5.5/10
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