David Bowie Marks His Return With The Next Day

Categories: Album Reviews
From the album's title, The Next Day, to the (mostly) straight-forward nature of the 14 tracks that compose it, David Bowie's new album declares itself a reboot. The songs shine with ferocious life, even if they follow a simpler structure than one would expect from Bowie. Guitars by Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard strum out catchy hooks and veer off into brief solos that never overtake but merely punctuate the main attraction: the sound of Bowie's voice. Even the quieter songs on The Next Day have power and drive and truly show a man revitalized, indulging in his craft.

MIA for ten years, Bowie was written off by many as having gone underground and into quiet retirement to raise a daughter with his supermodel wife, Iman, in New York City. Meanwhile, vital peers and former collaborators like Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and Iggy Pop kept churning out work and evolving, but where was the beloved chameleon of rock? Of course, Bowie could not stand by and not take part.

The new album bursts open with the smack of a drum and a couple of rollicking electric guitars. After the whine and screech of one guitar, Bowie sings unaffectedly and with that distinctive tenor: "Look into my eyes." Anyone familiar with Bowie's multicolored eyes knows the sly invitation makes for a brilliant first line to announce his return in a decade. To those who feared Bowie retired after his near-death experience onstage, which required emergency heart surgery, the song explodes further during a chorus where Bowie snarls, "Here I am, not quite dying/My body left to rot in a hollow tree/Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me/And the next day, and the next day."

From the repurposed Heroes album cover to statements in the opening song as noted above, Bowie makes sure this is not just a return from a long hiatus but a resurrection of sorts. I have not noticed so many verse-chorus-verse moments with brief pauses for guitar solos on a single Bowie album since 1972's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Bowie knows this. "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" features several guitar parts and a soaring string section and a martial drumbeat that slyly becomes the intro to Ziggy's opening track, "Five Years."

"Valentine's Day" could have been one of the bright songs Bowie composed in his mod-influenced era when he began singing in London mod groups in the mid-1960s. Slick, a Bowie collaborator since 1974's Diamond Dogs, gives "Valentine's Day" an active lead guitar that weaves through its verse-chorus-verse structure with no shame. Bowie is not as interested in trying to reinvent himself with these songs as much as indulge in his craft of traditional pop rock. Besides some string arrangements and a baritone sax, the main instruments on The Next Day are guitars, bass, and drums.

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