The legend known variously as Ziggy Stardust, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, Major Tom, et al. could well add Lazarus to his list of monikers, having returned after a decade from apparent extinction to delight us with the surprise release of the superb single “Where Are We Now?”
If David Bowie is indeed back from the dead with his 24th studio album The Next Day, it’s a defiant return. This is a record fixated on themes of mortality, decay and destruction, but with a buoyant energy and a jubilant two fingered salute to death.
“Here I am/Not quite dying”, he sings on the eponymous album opener, while on “I’d Rather Be High” he claims” “Politics and all/I’d rather be high/I’d rather be flying/I’d rather be dead/or out of my head”.
“Where Are We Now?” is a sublime sonic experience, a heart-swelling ballad with temperate vocals and gentle guitar delay. That track is where the nostalgia ends though, and elsewhere on the record Bowie is eager to assert that’s he’s a man not backwards in coming forwards.
There’s a rocking vivacity to the whole album that one could argue hasn’t been in such full bloom since 1983’s Let’s Dance.
The glammed-up riffs on the groovy “Valentine’s Day” hark back to the Mick Ronson magic of Ziggy Stardust, as does the up-tempo second single “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”.
The “Ya ya ya ya ya” chorus of “How Does the Grass Grow?” show Bowie as a man bristling with vigor, and there’s a catchy energy to the kick drum and chanting vocals of “Dancing Out In Space”.
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The man has created enough sonic gold throughout his career to be considered sacrosanct, but The Next Day isn’t completely infallible.
Stalwart producer Tony Visconti lends a slick hand, to the point where some of Bowie’s trademark experimental sounds a little too carefully polished.
There are one or two weaker tracks, the main culprits, “Boss Of Me”, with its rather inane title and plastic funk sound, and the clunky “Dirty Boys”. This could have been corrected with a more ruthless editing of the track listing – the album clocks in at 14 songs, plus three bonus tracks.
The cult of Bowie is such that even had his latest proffered aural rubbish, it would have likely been received with collective open arms. But there’s no fear of Bowie resting on his laurels here – The Next Day is an excellent album that sits proudly amongst his extensive back catalogue.