Review: Bowie quietly shows how it’s done

The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle reviews David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day… 

David Bowie's new album

David Bowie’s new album

Take a moment to think about the modern music industry. The biggest popstar on the planet is Justin Bieber, who is seemingly currently in the throes of the most un-rock-n-roll mental breakdown since Ronan Keating’s tawdry fling with his backing dancer. Beloved of teeny-boppers, like X Factor graduates One Direction, millions hang on to the young Canadian’s every utterance on Twitter.

Every single that the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna release have become major events. Many older musicians (Lars Ulrich of Metallica springs to mind) despite having their millions made, are clinging to the old model of the record industry, and regard new technology and piracy as a danger to music itself. The industry itself is desperately latching onto the outdated certainties,  while the demise of HMV shows just how much has changed.

So during the time record companies cowered in fear, HMV sadly limped off the Irish scene, Rihanna took the world’s press on an exhausting and extravagant junket, Bielebers self-harmed under mischievous Twitter orders, an English pensioner was polishing off his latest album in absolute secrecy.

How David Bowie kept the recording of his new album, The Next Day, under wraps until January 6, is nothing short of a miracle. His Irish guitarist and co-writer, Gerry Leonard, told media outlets that he and the other musicians involved received an email with the tagline “Schtum” in November 2010 asking them not to tell a soul about the new project. It is surely a measure of the respect in which they hold Bowie that nobody took to Twitter and spilled the beans.

It’s rumoured that not even the record company executives knew that Bowie was planning new work. The release of first single ‘Where Are We Now’ on his 66th birthday was a masterclass in understated dignity. No fuss, no drama, just the first new David Bowie song in years. Always in thrall to the futuristic, he embraced the internet early, and even allowed the new album to be streamed on iTunes before its release.

But does any of that matter if the new album is rubbish? The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, but is it just nostalgia?

Categorically not. The Next Day is a great album, and I expect that if it had been released by a young unknown we’d all be saying the same thing. Many of the tracks on The Next Day hark back to Bowie’s past; it is a retrospective tour of his many guises and alter-egos. Yet, he’s not stuck in the past; it’s an album very much of 2013.

There’s distortion and production tics aplenty, and Dirty Boys, especially, reimagines the much-maligned sax solo into something new and wonderfully sleazy. Current single, The Stars (Are Out Tonight), is something special; a song that improves with each listen. Indeed, the whole album is a ‘grower’, not least the first single, ‘Where Are We Now’. I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with that particular song when it came out in January; but with repeated listens and wedged between the contemplative ‘Love Is Lost’ (with its Cure-like organ) and ‘Valentine’s Day’, it sounds elegaic and wonderful.

Unsurprisingly, given his near-fatal heart attack in 2004, many of the songs in The Next Day deal with mortality and dark themes. ‘I’d Rather Be High’, a glance back to his ’70s glory days, appears to be an anti-war blast, and ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’ reminds the listener of another paean to despair, Ziggy Stardust’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Suicide’.

Stand-outs include ‘Boss of Me’ and ‘You Will Set The World on Fire’. But really, it’s all good.  I suspect that he’s not too bothered about the fuss surrounding The Next Day; instead he’s quietly getting on with it, making great music while people’s attention is elsewhere.

*Lead image via Wikia

The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle reviews David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day… 

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