The Next Day
Since the release of his self-titled debut in 1967, David Bowie has (for the most part) consistently produced intricate and innovative works of art with each album. Like any other work of art, a Bowie LP must be approached with a critical eye (detecting the often symbolic nature of his cover artwork) and an interpretive ear — absorbing the record’s sonic layout and then gradually discerning the characters and lyrical worlds that Bowie constructs.
The Next Day, Bowie’s 24th studio album, adds yet another salient opus to the artist’s catalog. The cover art — a reinterpretation (rather, dismantling) of the artwork for his critically acclaimed 1977 album, Heroes — signifies Bowie’s reinvigorated spirit and disregard for repetition in his work after a decade-long hiatus. Rarely on this record does Bowie sound anywhere near his 66 years of age, and the album’s musical landscape is equally vigorous throughout.
On the title track, Bowie immediately sheds 10 years’ worth of dust with a roaring swirl of guitars and an emphatic chorus — reintroducing himself to the world of rock ‘n’ roll by proclaiming, “Here I am, not quite dying.” Powerful and ostensibly self-referential, “The Next Day” is an opener that seems to reflect on his fans’ unquenchable thirst for new music via a narrative of a man being hanged by his fellow villagers.
The billowy “I’d Rather Be High” finds Bowie channeling his inner escapist, crafting a straightforward stoner’s chorus that would make Wiz Khalifa envious if it weren’t for its dark undertone. Far from a love song, “Valentine’s Day” imparts the chilling tale of a school shooter named Valentine against contrastingly pleasant instrumentation that recalls the English rocker’s heyday.
Though The Next Day rarely misses, its centerpiece track, “If You Can See Me,” certainly does — disrupting the album’s flow and concluding its compelling first half on a sour note. “If You Can See Me” is a disorienting, structureless song that wanders frantically about and should’ve either been left as a bonus track or dropped on the cutting-room floor.
“Where Are We Now?” — the album’s lead single — floats steadily through various destinations of Berlin on top of strings and a melancholy guitar. Disoriented and despondent, Bowie croons his way around Germany’s capital city and hazily ruminates on love and life’s journeys. Though it’s an oddity among the album’s many assertive, guitar-driven tracks, “Where Are We Now?” is a beautiful ballad and arguably The Next Day’s finest song.
Since suffering from a heart attack in 2004, David Bowie and his mythical persona have been out of the public eye (at least in the world of music) — his departure representing a shockingly mortal encroachment on the immortal existence of Ziggy Stardust. Contrary to the 2011 Flaming Lips and Neon Indian song, “Is David Bowie Dying?” this legendary artist is still breathing and creating classics. If Bowie were to die tomorrow (God forbid!), The Next Day would undeniably serve as a perfect culmination of his many talents and his captivating, storied career.