Review: David Bowie’s new album a success

Ryan Morris

Editor’s Note: The following represents the opinions of the author.

The problem with many “comeback albums” is that they often just feel like cheap cash-grabs.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the artist, but rather the intense cultural environment albums are born into, where relevance is more of a commodity than an aesthetic goal.

David Bowie, no rookie at reinventing his image, effortlessly sidesteps these expectations.

“The Next Day,” his first album in 10 years, feels less like a comeback album and more like a continuation of Bowie’s fascinating, chameleonic career.

Though some of the album features clear references to various eras of Bowie’s career, they pass quickly and function more as jumping off points for the much more dense, frenetic sound Bowie explores throughout the album.

For example, the title track kicks off the album with a plastic-sounding drum hit reminiscent of the mutated drums on the first half of Bowie’s masterpiece “Low.”

But the song immediately goes off on a disturbing yarn about an angry mob committing murder, its victim barking out the chorus: “Here I am, not quite dying!”

The rest of the album deals with similar aging-rock-star subject matter, with songs about existential crises, school shooters, fading relationships and impending mortality.

Bowie’s never heavy-handed with this approach; in fact, it fits him perfectly. His voice sounds incredible, imbued with a raspy, approachable pathos.

The production and musicianship of this album supports this, with a thick, vibrant mix from longtime collaborator Tony Visconti.

Two of the session musicians especially stand out – King Crimson bassist Tony Levin provides several thrilling, elastic bass lines worthy of Bowie’s best work, and saxophonist Steve Elson rips through album highlights “Dirty Boys” and “Boss of Me.”

The album is also remarkably consistent at 14 songs in 53 minutes. The longest song here is under five minutes, allowing for an impressive, diverse flow from the energetic opening songs to the spare, haunting album closer “Heat.”

Though intense arrangements are packed into each track, “The Next Day” is a fairly accessible pop-oriented album, with songs like “Dancing Out in Space” and “You Will Set the World on Fire” boasting some of his best hooks.

Additionally, though the album lacks the long-form experimentation of his 1970s output, the songwriting here is taut and compelling, leaving the listener wanting for nothing.

The only real fault with “The Next Day” is its album cover, a cop-out “recontextualization” of the classic “Heroes” cover.

Thankfully, the concept behind the cover art rarely, if ever, makes it into the music. This is no stale, recycled comeback album.

“The Next Day” is simply an excellent, idiosyncratic artistic statement from one of music’s greatest polymaths.

Rating: Three and a half out of four stars.

Story: COLIN MOORE, A&E Reporter