When news of a new David Bowie album emerged in January, I was excited, but also a bit apprehensive. Sure, the idea of new music from one of the most vital, original, and enigmatic rock geniuses to ever walk the earth was enticing, but at the same time, the dude is 66. What if he doesn’t have it anymore, and his comeback effort proves to be the musical equivalent of Michael Jordan’s time with the Washington Wizards?
Thankfully, that’s not even close to being the case. The Next Day, Bowie’s 24th studio album, is brilliant from start to finish, and proves that despite being gone for far too long, Bowie still has a lot of creative juices in him. This is one of Bowie’s more diverse efforts, as he adeptly switches from genre to genre on each song. Lead single “Where Are We Now” is a soulful ballad, a bit reminiscent of his cover of “Wild Is The Wind” on Station to Station, but with more of the atmospheric quality that would mark the Berlin Trilogy era.
Meanwhile, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” recently released as the second single, has a vibe somewhere between Scary Monsters and Diamond Dogs, probably leaning a bit closer to the former. Elsewhere, Bowie shows he is willing to try new things – “Dirty Boys” prominently features horns, which is uncharacteristic of Bowie outside of his Philly Soul period. The horns are juxtaposed with abrasive guitars, making for a successful mashup of prog, glam, and soul. It’s just a shame the song clocks in at under three minutes. If he had let it run on for seven or eight, that would have been a truly fascinating experiment.
Usually, the fear with comeback albums is that artists try to hard to imitate their previous work (think any U2 album since 2000), but with Bowie, this is never an issue. He’s always been one of the most diverse performers around, habitually switching styles and genres from album to album. The difference is that this time, he pulls off those switches from song to song. There isn’t really a genre you could classify this album under, other than “David Bowie.”
Bowie returns to one of his favorite themes, space travel, on “Dancing Out In Space,” a joyful power-pop tune, which ranks among the catchiest tracks on the album. The lyrics describe a yearning to be alone, perhaps placing Major Tom’s tragic fate in a more positive context, where being doomed to drift through space for eternity actually has some positives. The desire for solitude expressed in the lyrics is juxtaposed by the immediately accessible melody, which gives the song an instantly inviting feel.
After 10 years without anything new from David Bowie, the fear had begun to set in that he might be done making music. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. With The Next Day, it’s quite clear that Bowie is still capable of making vital, relevant music. I hope he doesn’t stop here, but if he does, at least he’ll be going out with one of his strongest efforts in decades.