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Rarely has a comeback album been effected with such panache as David Bowie displays on The Next Day. Even the unassuming announcement, with suddenly a single appearing, like the world’s best-planned afterthought, has a classy poise all but abandoned in the scramble for talent show celebrity.
Then there’s the cover, simultaneously self-effacing and self-aggrandising in the crafty way it uses and denies Heroes – and beyond that, the clearest indicator of the style and quality of the music it contains.
These songs fizz and crackle with echoes of Bowie’s classic Berlin period, but somehow sound fiercely contemporary.
The single Where Are We Now? is the most overt reference to that time, Bowie reminiscing with misty-eyed, oceanic melancholy about his time in the city; but it’s stylistically apart from the rest of the album, which charges along with bullish rude health on stalking funk-rock grooves reinforced with brusque, visceral guitar riffs and coloured by keyboards.
Occasionally, honking baritone sax adds a taste of greasy Fifties R&B; sometimes strings lend grace, especially allied to the clarinet and recorder on the second single The Stars (Are Out Tonight), a warning about the celebrity undead who “burn you with their radium smiles and trap you with their beautiful eyes”.
Death stalks many of these songs, from the reluctant combatant of I’d Rather Be High to the protagonist of The Next Day itself, his body “left to rot in a hollow tree”.
Like much of the album, it’s said to be inspired by Bowie’s fascination with nasty, brutish medieval history.
But as with such songs as If You Can See Me and the suicidal You Feel So Lonely You Could Die, the violence seems bang up to date.
Elsewhere, Dancing Out in Space and (You Will) Set the World On Fire offer obvious, hooky singles potential, before the album comes to a close with the Scott Walkeresque portents and apocalyptic tone of Heat, a meditation on identity that concludes with typically Bowiean Janus-face, “I am a seer, but I am a liar”. Or to paraphrase: a storyteller. – The Independent