The Next Day Revisited

David Bowie sat on the passenger's side and the two of us reveled in his latest album all the way home and then some. It finally arrived, you see. A solid three weeks of extra waiting was well worth it.

I think I waited because it would mean just a little more. If The Next Day ended up being his real final album, for some reason (and anything seems possible now), I would want it to be the one I bought fresh off the presses, as it were. (Which cliche led me to a quick YouTube education in how a vinyl record is made. It's pretty cool.) In that way, I feel like I have participated in my favorite artist's legacy just like his first fans, people who were teenagers before my own father was born, did. I went down to the record store the day it came out, with all my heart and all my change, and bought the big beautiful double vinyl with my name on it to mark it as a pre-order. David Sedaris mentions in his story "The Smoking Section" that if he'd had his way as a kid, his room would have smelled like a newly-unwrapped vinyl records: "that is to say, like anticipation." Bearing this in mind, when I got back to the car, I slit the plastic wrap and put my nose close and breathed deeply... yup, that's anticipation. That's Charlie Bucket using every other sensory organ to enjoy his yearly chocolate bar before giving it over to his taste buds.

It came with a CD version, which was pretty nice. And so it was that the big beautiful double vinyl with a large white square over Bowie's 1979 face, rode a contented shotgun to me as we wheeled around the neighborhood. The music on the record sang vicariously through the digital incarnation, louder than my gruff diesel engine. And this is how it went:

1. "The Next Day"
blasts fearlessly, charging, stomping. I love how the words you hear the most clearly at first are "Listen" and "Here I am". This is a great opening track. But it doesn't make sense as a single. (Basically none of them do.)

2. "Dirty Boys"
versed in burlesque horns, choruses with more melody. Couplet-rhymed verses. Parallel-structured chorus. Half sleazy and half hopeful. Another song that I'm increasingly loving with every listen.

3. "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)"
makes sense now. Somehow, contextually, this song packs a fiercer punch. Sounds darker, more desperate, more cynical. Also I notice for the first time with a chill the line "but they know just what we do when we toss and turn at night". Ew. That's actually a really creepy thought.

4. "Love Is Lost"
smolders. This is the point where I turn it up a little to snuggle deeper into the music. The second verse mystifies me, but it's the rising finish that gets me. The repeated chorus: "What have you done? O what have you done?"

5. "Where Are We Now?"
has also found power it lacked before in context. After the intensity of the previous track, the softer vocals feel balmy. This is still not the strongest track of the bunch but it works so much better alongside its fellows.

6. "Valentine's Day"
sounds much better the second listen-through. One of the most obvious allusions to real life social events, this song chronicles a high school gunman. The guitar on this one sounds lush and conversational to me, somewhat incongruous with the dark lyrics.

7. "If You Can See Me"
was labeled by another reviewer as "interesting but un-listenable". I disagree. It is almost tuneless and the vocals skitter without range. But the lyrics are really fascinating. The result is a kind of discordant, urgent tangle not unlike some parts of Earthling's "Dead Man Walking", with what might be a slam poet's rant for lyrics. Honestly, I like it.

8. "I'd Rather Be High"
sounds as psychedelic as the title might imply, melodically. Initially I was not that stoked about it, but it's rapidly growing on me, and I love this: "I stumble to the graveyard and I lay down by parents, whisper 'Just remember, duckies, everybody gets got.'"

9. "Boss of Me"
swings, lazily but resolutely. It reminds me of "I've Been Waiting for You", the Neil Young cover on Heathen only more... Bowie. I dunno. I like this song more each time I hear it, too, but I'm still figuring it out.

10. "Dancing Out in Space"
has a beautiful melody. Yearning, but not sluggish. The rhythm of the vocals in the chorus contrasts sharply with that of the verses, rather like in "Dirty Boys" and I think it's a good effect in both cases. If I picked one word out as David Bowie's favorite, it's "star" or "stars" and this song with its astral setting and mood doesn't deviate.

11. "How Does the Grass Grow?"
remains sort of inaccessible to me. This is the only track I can say I like about as much as I did the first time, when everything was a happy wash and only a few things stood out in bolded caps. This isn't one of them.

12. "(You Will) Set the World on Fire"
... no words. Just a huge smile on my face and my heart skips a beat. This is what the kitschy song "New York's in Love" from Never Let Me Down meant to be. "I can hear the nation, I can hear the nation cry..." I'm adopting this as my secret theme song. (Don't judge me. You know you have one.)

13. "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die"
takes the mood abruptly very low. Might check the liner notes to make sure this wasn't penned by Morrissey. And yet, is that a little bit of snark I'm detecting? Can't quite tell if he's joking with me yet, with the melodramatic title and doo-wop ooohing and ahhhing. I confess, I can't spend much time on this song because the next one blows my mind.

14. "Heat"
closes the album with a slow, ominous heartbeat. At once I am reminded of Heathen and Outside and yet, it would be out of place on either one of these. Brooding. Haunting. Dark. But beautiful, especially when the violins start in as the pressure builds. The fact that there are bonus tracks is almost disappointing because I'd be glad to let the phrase "my father ran the prison" echo in my brain for a while.

Bonus tracks:
15. "So She" -charming and kind of cartoony. I can tell why this is an outtake or bonus. This isn't what we've just been hearing. A cousin, maybe, but not a first cousin.
16. "Plan"- instrumental echoing the mood of "Heat", which isn't a bad thing. Like other reviewers I felt this one suffered from being too short!
17. "I'll Take You There"- See, now this one sounds like a single to me. Politically-charged much? Yes. Unless my powers of interpretation are radically failing me, it's about illegal immigration, from the immigrant's perspective. But it's punchy and appealing. I'm not sure why this one didn't make the regular track cut. The smoky lyrical mood and fierce music fit with the rest, in my opinion.

So. Now it's been a few weeks and a few listens. The shock and thrill of a broken silence is abated (a little ^_^) and you know what I think? I think it's a great album. I think it's better, richer, than Reality and more realized than Heathen, both of which I love. It reminds me of my favorite album, Lodger, with its varied musical influences plain as genetics on a face. It reminds me of Scary Monsters because it has so much to say and it will take a long time to digest all of it. Most of all, I love it because it's classic Bowie. To explain further, I'd probably need to be able to play an instrument. But if, by chance, you are a Bowie fan too, then I wouldn't have to explain. We could just look at each other and go "I knooooowwww...."

You can listen to the album in full on Spotify, of course. I won't bother linking to it. You know where to find it. And you should find it. Tell me what you think, especially if you are predisposed to liking/loving Bowie.

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