DAVID BOWE The Next Day
The world is impatient. Already the world is flooded with reviews of this, many landing just an hour after they first pressed “play” on the MP3 player. Already. I WANT IT NOW. But here it is. The record no one expected, the comeback no one considered, released quietly and with no press activity, David Bowie returned after a decade absence, with his best record since 1980.
“The Next Day” is goddamn glorious. 14 perfect songs. Bowie returns, and with an unbroken stride, confidently makes his mark. No one at his age (69, or thereabouts) should be making records so stridently lively, so articulate, so damn vital. This is proof, that you don't need to go cowed and dimmed, into the sunset of artistic redundancy so many of his once-contemporaries willing dessicated themselves into shadows of past glories. Put shortly, Bowie will never go crap.
So much has changed in the past decade. HMV, Jessops, Woolworths, the cassette, the CD, the mobile phone, the fax machine, all dead. Bowie still alive. You might be expecting a contemplative, thoughtful treatise over the years. No such luck. Aside from the beautiful “Where are we now?”, Bowie, for once, revisiting his former lives, and his former loves, with a sort-of-beautiful lament. Hot damn. Bowie still takes my breath away.
It opens with a confident, bull-out-of-the-gates “The Next Day”. Memories fade. Spirit burns. The chorus is simple, and yet, invincible. “Here I Am – Not Quite Dying.”. It is defiant. “Dirty Boys” is part of the albums opening four-punch of assured, and fearless, classics. It may only be 2 minutes 58 seconds. But when you considering that was the perfect length of the perfect 7” single fifty years ago, everything should make sense.
“Love Is Lost”. A bold song of reinvention. A descending, and gothic keyboard line, falls into a morass of spindly guitar lines, and Bowie's stream-of-unconsciousness dialogue where everything is hinted at, everything makes sense, the world looks different and yet the same, the same world seen a way you have never seen before.
Aside from the mis-step that it is the hollow “Dancing Out In Space” that is all flash and little substance, there is not one moment missing from this great record. With his band, whom he has played with (in the main) since around 1995, this is a man at the apex of his abilities, a natural talent reclaiming what was never lost in the first place. I dread to think of the great records he could have made in his absence, but the one we has is enough.
The entire album is made of songs you didn't know you needed, but the moment you hear them, you cannot live without. How could I made it to (GULP) my age, without falling in love about how David Bowie steals cricket bats? Where many of people pass by Bowie's skill, its with words. They all go on about the music, the image, but if he was singing about “Flibble Po, The Human Cow”, you'd zone out quicker than a child reading an instruction manual. These words are worlds, dexteruous, human, funny and poignant, often all in the same line.
As it comes to an end, the last song “Heat” might – or might not – be the last song on the last Bowie record. Who knows? It is a succinct four minutes, as Bowie takes his voice, and serenades us with something, I don't know what, but it sounds “I tell myself / I don't know who I am / my father ran the prison.” As ever, and even now, Bowie – like all of us – is questioning. Who are we? Why are we here? What happens on the next day? There are no answers. Just new questions.
Even though Bowie is clearly aging, and who can deny that growing old is but a triumph of human will over the clock, the message here, if there is one, is that you need not grow old in a dimming light, that you can burn like the prettiest star at ancient age. And, any pensioner who can make – or, put another way. Bands much younger are so undemanding. Why settle for less? Why not dare to touch the stars? Why be so bloody limited? The only limit is your imagination. Though I don't care how young, or old, or how cool, or uncool, David Bowie is. All I know is what my ears tell me. And my ears tells me that this is the best Bowie record in over three decades, easily in my top 5 Bowie albums, and that makes it one of the best records ever bloody made.