The Next Day
CD | MP3
Release Date: March 12, 2013
For some inexplicable reason, newly released albums by longtime beloved rock stars are judged on a harsher curve than most. Is it because many of these artists have released decades’ worth of quality work, so critics think they are due for a miss? Is it because we as a society love to watch the high and mighty fall from grace? Perhaps it is because at a certain point, we all get set in our ways. We have an artist stowed away neatly in a certain place in our lives, and that’s where they belong. Anything outside of that comfort zone is immediately regarded as dangerous and a threat to their legacy, so it is rejected outright. Especially when, in the case of David Bowie, the artist has spent a considerable amount of time away from the spotlight, why try a “comeback” now?
Well folks, the good news is this: David Bowie has long-defied convention, and he continues to buck the aforementioned trends on his new record, The Next Day. The record is high energy, hard rocking, poetic, and an exhilarating listening experience. If you were to separate it from all of the back story (as interesting as it is) and examine Bowie’s discography to this point, you would never have guessed that a decade has passed since his last foray into the music world. In fact, despite his long-term absence and the vocalization of many detractors, it is arguable that he is more relevant now than ever before.
Rock music has always been an ever-evolving art form. More so than any other popular genre of music, expansion and innovation are a necessity if an artist wants to sustain any kind of success. An artist can be praised for their “fresh” sounding debut record, but if the follow up sounds too familiar the same critics and fans can turn on them for a lack of originality. This trend is something that Bowie has escaped for his entire career. It would be difficult to find an artist who has had more successful reinventions of their sound than Bowie, especially when that reinvention results not only in a commercially successful release but leaves an indelible mark on the surrounding popular culture. Even if others have tried an experimental sound before, like incorporating funk with rock, adding electronic effects, or crafting an alter ego that performs the work for you, it seems legitimized when Bowie gets his hands on it. In today’s rock and roll landscape, there are those who feel that current trends in popular rock are stale and uninteresting, and to those, I say they only feel that way because you haven’t had Bowie there to open the door for you yet.
The Next Day opens with the driving title track, setting the tone for the record with crunchy guitars, fresh-sounding percussion, and an unmistakable vocal performance. “The Next Day” begins a trio of hard rockers that continues with the brassy blues tune “Dirty Boy” and the excellent single “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).” All three tunes are relentless rock and roll numbers that showcase the stellar production by longtime collaborator, Tony Visconti. The percussion section provides more than a rudimentary backbone for the tunes, but adds a dramatic layer that will have your head nodding involuntarily. “Where Are We Now” was the first taste fans were given of the new record, and the dreamy ballad did not disappoint. An introspective ballad may not have been what fans were looking for right off the bat, but the tune offers more than just a sampling of one of the records tracks. Lyrically, the track is meant to be somewhat of a State of The Union for Bowie and his fans. An admission of his absence, but a pledge that as long as he’s here, Bowie will not leave his fans behind. “Valentine’s Day” is a look at violence in today’s schools, a subject that in any less capable hands would be far less effective, but the track is definitely one of the album’s many highlights. The album draws to a close with the dark and haunting “Heat,” an acoustic track that may leave you with questions, but brings The Next Day to a dramatic and satisfying end. The jangly acoustic guitars, swells, and falls of the backing tracks will entrance you, reminding you what a journey this record has been.
The Next Day is not a stab at relevancy. The Next Day is not trying to cash in on any trends to reclaim any past glory. What The Next Day is, however, is proof that rock and roll can still be fresh, challenging, and exhilarating in today’s world. Bowie has shown us once again all that rock music is and can be, from hard-rocking scorchers to gentle thought-provoking ballads. He runs the gamut and still manages to add new sounds and feelings to his already storied career. The argument that Bowie is more relevant now than ever is laid plain when the final strains of The Next Day draw to a close: Rock and roll does not die. It does not grow stale. Rock is always there waiting for us, we just need to make sure we let the right people continue to open the doors for us.