It feels so good to have David Bowie in the world again.

Not the David Bowie Juniors, nor the David Blow-Ins, nor the Lady Bowies or the Ziggy Bulldusts. (You know who I mean – we are all so tired of them). I mean The David Bowie, the one and for ever after, the only.

It also feels good to have Bowie make a Bowie album again, after so long. And I mean soooooooo long, that long long time since the final note of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). The nine studio albums since – and I am not counting the two Tin Machines, that was DB joining a band, a gang; his best work has always been just David – were pale and scattershot. Maybe brilliant for anyone else, but for the supreme artiste who gave us the incomparable Ziggy Stardust, “Heroes” and Low – each time changing music, fashion and rock and roll indelibly – they were not. Let’s Dance? Yes, utterly killer – but a happy Dad David, danceable and smiling – the best Bowie has always been the literate, deeply poetic, dystopia-tripping word-painter.

David-Bowie-Where-Are-We-Now

The cover of this new album The Next Day – the first in ten years – is at once shocking, fuck-off cool and a measure of Bowie’s iconic status. Jonathan Barnbrook has appropriated Masayoshi Sukita’s Bowie-as-replicant cover image for 1977’s “Heroes” and rudely stuck a white square across it, spelling the title out in a barely considered typefont. It draws the past into the present only to fuck with it.

The music is much the same. Every track to my ear has a precedent in Bowie’s early (best) work. From the Low-ish Berlin-garage-rock 4/4 of opening title track ‘The Next Day’ (“Here I am, not quite dying / My body left to rot in a hollow tree”) through the Space-Cockney accents of ‘I’d Rather Be High’ to the cold Krautrock drones of ‘Plan’ it is deliciously, unnervingly, unavoidably Bowie.

Is it good because it sounds like his old stuff? No, DB doesn’t need to ape his old material – there are already far too many current bands doing that – he has moved on. Check out the stuttering and dislocated rhythms of ‘Love Is Lost’, together with the awkwardly scanning lyric over the top. Check out the claustrophobic baritone saxes and dissonant electric guitars of ‘Boss Of Me’.

Check out Tony Visconti’s production across the whole album. No one has ever quite shared Bowie’s vision like Visconti, who first worked with him on 1969’s Space Oddity. From the hollow post-apocalyptic landscapes of Low to the synthetic Soul of Young Americans, Visconti has always beautifully and fully second-guessed Bowie and wrapped his remarkable songs in just the right alien skin. When the two teamed again for 2002’s Heathen and 2003’s Reality the old sparks were expected to fly but there were more mirrors than smoke and both were a disappointment.David_Bowie_-_The_Next_Day

On The Next Day Visconti seems to have taken as his broad template the Art-Rock of Scary Monsters… – rock as Art, low art as High Art: cinematic, brave, challenging and what is missing in all the Faux-Bowies and their ilk. Not all of the 17 songs here work as part of the whole – one of the curses of CD and MP3 formatting is the lack of the more rigorous editing that vinyl mastering enforced. But none jar to any great degree, such is the breadth of Bowie’s style and canon.

The was a lot of press about the secretive nature of the sessions that produced The Next Day – sporadic sessions over months with musicians who had to sign confidentiality agreements. This is the hype and chat that fills music columns, blogs and zines while we are impatient for the music.

But now music is here and The Next Day is remarkable. Not a ‘comeback’, not a latter day vanity project, and (definitely!) not a creaky ‘new’ work by some beloved national treasure. It is a vital and full-blooded release by a master obviously still putting it out as well as ever.

And it feels so good to report that – like ‘The Bewlay Brothers’, like ‘Watch That Man’, like ‘Diamond Dogs’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’, like all the best Bowie – it fucking rocks, it walks a nice line ‘tween pop-trash and Art and parts of it can scare the pants right off you.

Published March 2013 on theorangepress.net

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