David Bowie – The Next Day
It’s quite odd now to listen to this album again knowing that there is every possibility that Bowie didn’t know at the point of its release in 2013 that he was terminally ill, or perhaps at this point he wasn’t. Although only 3 years apart (and it had been 10 years since his previous release, “Reality”) the differences between this and ‘Blackstar’ are obvious. There is a darkness that permeates everything on “Blackstar”, and this is not hindsight as I’d been listening to the album for the few days before Bowie’s death was announced and there was a feeling that the songs drained much of the light from around the listener and took them to a place where the shadows were weighed down and the light was struggling to get through. It’s difficult to describe, and yes, there has to be an element of hindsight I suppose but that feeling was definitely there, even if I couldn’t quite identify what it was.
‘The Next Day’ was announced on Bowie’s sixty-sixth birthday, 8 January 2013. Bowie’s website was updated with the video for the lead single, “Where Are We Now?”, and the single was immediately made available for purchase on the iTunes Store. There was much talk at the time around the sudden nature of the release but this was all very successfully managed by a PR company, guided by Bowie, who as in much of his career, wanted to do something different. It was rather counter-intuitive as an exercise but it worked spectacularly.
The recording of the album was kept secret, which must have been difficult even when only using a skeleton crew in the studio, and was overseen by regular producer Tony Visconti. During breaks from the studio, Visconti would walk the streets of New York listening to music from “The Next Day” on his earphones: “I was walking around New York with my headphones on, looking at all the people with Bowie T-shirts on—they are ubiquitous here—thinking, ‘Boy, if you only knew what I’m listening to at the moment.”
My vinyl edition has a few extra tracks that are not on the original CD release, “So She”, “Plan” and “I’ll Take You There”. I haven’t actually played the vinyl copy yet, it only arrived yesterday so I can’t really tell you anything about these tracks but let’s assume they are good!
The cover is, of course, the ‘Heroes’ cover with a white square on it, and there were other images also with white squares on used for the promotion of the album. The cover was designed by Jonathan Barnbrook who explained the cover, saying: “If you are going to subvert an album by David Bowie there are many to choose from but this is one of his most revered, it had to be an image that would really jar if it were subverted in some way and we thought “Heroes” worked best on all counts.”
The obscuring of the photograph connotes “forgetting or obliterating the past”, however, lead single “Where Are We Now” is all about the past, relating as it does to Berlin, where Bowie wrote and recorded his trio of ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’. The man loves being contradictory.
Having streamed the ‘Basic’ version of the album several times now I find that the absolute stand out track is “Where Are We Now.” It is, simply, one of the best songs he’s written. This, of course, does mean that judging the rest of the album based on a career high is difficult, but it’s a very good album as a whole, trailing off a little at the end perhaps, but in these modern times of albums with a couple of minor singles and generic filler, it’s fair to say that quality control is high, and the first 6 tracks are wonderful, the rest very good. I do reserve the right to revise this opinion as sometimes I do a complete U-Turn after repeated listening.
At the weekend I will remove the plastic covering and get the discs on the turntable so that I can have a proper listen. Streaming into ear buds is not the best way to listen to anything.