The Thin White Duke has returned. It's been too long, old friend. When health problems arose in 2004 leading him to cut his big tour short there were many that thought he was done. You couldn't blame him for riding off into the sunset at that point as his body of work is impressive. Is there more left in the tank? Clearly there is. This is what we've wanted. This is what we feared wouldn't happen but it has. IT HAS.
It's my pleasure to report that his newest work, The Next Day , is a bold, urgent, beautiful and often baffling piece of work. Emotion surges throughout and it shoots through the entirety of Bowie's storied history in the medium while never serving as a museum piece. He's resolute in looking to the future along with looking back at where he's been. This is a David Bowie album for the 21st century where we are war-torn, celebrity- obsessed and medicated beyond compare.
You'll hear the 60's pop Bowie dished out in "I'd Rather Be High", the soul that earned him the name Thin White Duke with the saxophone ambling of "Dirty Boys and Boss of Me" and that amazing 80's epic goth amongst the high theater of chorded descent on "Love is Lost". Berlin-era Bowie definitely comes through here as he's working again with a long-time collaborator in Tony Visconti (who helped him make Low, Heroes and Lodger).
The biggest surprise, for me anyway, was "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)". This might be one of the absolute best he's ever written. It absolutely flies on guitars and that uncanny staccato. He sings of lovers gazing into the night sky and seeing the whole universe buzzing away with activity. "We will never be rid of these stars/ But I hope they live forever." That stardust fills them, sets them ablaze. Then they're one with the cosmos because of their unity in love. Or maybe it's about celebrities that are like tragic gods of our secular age. That's what's fucking phenomenal about this album that really shines with this song. It's opaque, mystifying yet rewarding.
Contemplation of ethnic genocide and nightmarish despair is coupled with this infectious if off-kilter jovial "la la la" chorus on "How Does The Grass Grow". The title track feels like a man who has felt the heavy weight of fame and all it provides but wants no part of anymore. There seems to be some commentary about just how fickle fame is with, "At first they give you everything you want, then they take back everything you need." Celebrities are perhaps one of the biggest unifying threads of the album. Sometimes they're bright supernovas in the cosmos other times they're just down in the back of a limo trying to get by with another rail of cocaine and dreading the paparazzi.
The album's climax "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" is this Ziggy Stardust suicidal vitriol that features that glam rock goth that only Bowie can do. ( "Oblivion shall own you / Death alone shall love you") .
All of this filtered through this New York distortion on most of the tracks that is very new for him. It is his most consistent work since the 80's honestly. The mid-life years in the 90's into the 00's were good but I had begun to wonder if the luster was gone. This proves that even with a decade of radio silence he can deliver an album that is not only a great Bowie album but also one of the essentials of rock this year. He is always the chameleon and perhaps offers the best question to his identity we've ever received, "I am a seer.. but I am a liar."
Welcome back, Mr. Bowie.