By Jay Powell // Features Editor
Whenever an artist returns after a prolonged absence, the resulting album and/or tour are typically met with enthusiasm.
It’s an exciting time. Mad hysteria is on message boards, but artists never live up to the level of anticipation and expectation. Eventually, the album is written off as a halfhearted attempt to recapture what once made musicians so great and lack in genuine integrity.
David Bowie is a different kind of artist. His work has always transcended genre, and he is challenging expectation in the art of sound and vision. His music was innovative in the glam movement of the 1970s and reinvented how we thought music could sound.
Upon release of the new album’s artwork, a defacing of his 1977 album “Heroes,” some were skeptical about whether their favorite thin white duke had suffered a bad case of cynicism during his decade-long absence.
His new album, The Next Day, takes us into his later years and reminds us that he still cares about music. It gives his fans a much-needed refresher course on why he is one of the world’s most respected musicians.
On Jan. 8, Bowie’s 66th birthday, he shocked the world by releasing his first single in almost 10 years, “Where Are We Now?” The song was slow and moody. The video was confusing, and fans were left scratching their heads as to why he resorted to the use of autotune for his vocals.
Thankfully, the rest of the album is classic Bowie and pushes the boundaries to give us something fresh to overanalyze for years to come. With The Next Day, Bowie reassures doubters that he still takes his music seriously and isn’t phoning it in during his twilight years.
One thing that has made Bowie so popular throughout the years is his ability to transcend genre and appeal to more than one kind of audience. On The Next Day, he explores rock (“The Next Day,”” (You Will) Set The World On Fire”), jazz/funk (“Dirty Boys), psychedelic rock (“I’d Rather Be High”) and pop (“Boss of Me”), among others.
The unfortunate thing is that, like most Bowie albums, it’s too soon to tell if The Next Day is a classic. The songs are listenable. Bowie’s vocals haven’t sounded better in ages, and it seems like he’s genuinely enjoying the music he is making.
However, it isn’t a straightforward album, and that works to its benefit. Like a good book or a classic film, each listen will introduce another element that wasn’t there before to the listener, which is hard to come by these days with so much disposable music being sold at face value. If there is anything missing in the music industry, it’s depth.
The music doesn’t sound overproduced or as if millions of dollars went into it. It’s classic and timeless. A few of the songs could hold up next to what many would call his last true masterpiece, 1980’s Scary Monsters.
It is uncertain whether we will see future Bowie releases – God knows the world needs a few like it. The fact that fans now have 17 new songs to memorize is a testament unto itself. Bowie swore off playing live after a near fatal heart attack during a stop on his “Reality Tour” in 2004. In the meantime, the world can rejoice that a new album exists by the timeless rock musician.