David Bowie, The Next Day, streaming free on iTunes now and ownable March 12
David Bowie is not young, but he’s forever present. That’s the happy ending that The Next Day starts at, the fittingly timeless first vid, for “Where Are We Now?”, being a Berlin reminiscence that finds him traveling back to haunt his younger self and bump out whatever demon’s been in there for the years since; the second clip, for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, a menopausal gothic that flips the Twilight/Beautiful Creatures aesthetic, deleting the supernatural content and making the magazine-cover perfection itself the source of the horror.
Ironically, the spectre of youth is the shadow of something that will end, and Bowie has long outlived that, engineered the escape with every terminal identity.
Bowie works best free of expectation, and ten years without an album will provide that cleanly. He’s like a fresh immigrant to the current moment, gorged on references while detached from all precedent.
Our heads are in the Cloud, and he can see its shadows gathering, in a bleakly dreamy, obsessively catchy masterwork.
Bowie’s mash of found buzzphrases and poetic originals (“walking the dead”; “tell them your secrets, they’re like the grave”) is like a Ouija-engine of everything that’s worrying us (the perpetual-war anxiety of “I’d Rather Be High”; the mutual-stalker paranoia of “If You Can See Me”; the symphony of global-warming metaphor and inner-cooling memoir in “Heat”); the lines of car-alarm guitar and angel-mob vocals and rising-ocean strings and trapped cave-in survivor club-beats and pastel-nebula keyboards twist like those wires that connect with what, we couldn’t say, and lead we know not where.
These are the loud noises that get our attention and the sweet personal tones that preoccupy us across a big picture we’re lost inside. I don’t know when I’ve heard so many songs sung in the second person; Bowie is the mirror’s reflection that’s checking you. He’s been away for very long, but stopped watching never, and The Next Day is like a secret classic novel stuffed under prison mattresses; his new best.
David Bowie is not young, but he doesn’t have to ask anyone what day it is. It’s this one.