Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’: Forgiveness on a global scale

I’ve been listening to every Bowie album I own back-to-back in the closed sound booth that is my car. There’s an 80s-shaped gap in the discography with the exception of Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. 90s? No Tin Machine, Earthling or the drab Heathen and Hours. Check out Last.fm kids: listeners steer well clear of these albums like they’ve been sprayed with hot excrement.

When the Beeb aired the nearly-excellent documentary Five Years a few months back, it was rather telling that they didn’t bother to cover anything after the release of the Niles Rodger’s produced Let’s Dance album. Five years in a period of ten, basically. There’s been no critical reappraisal of his Nine Inch Nails-inspired industrial concept album 1. Outside, nor did follow up 2. Contamination see release likely because Mr. Jones feared a further critical mauling. I have a soft spot for Outside because it coincided with my own discovery of the Duke and the Rez, but it is ten tracks too long. There’s a great album trapped in filler. For an artist that has always been tight when it comes to extras and never released a double LP, Outside is unusually flabby and suffers from a lack of self-editing. Now we’ve got playlists, so the Segue dross can be happily excised.

Five Years was knackered for me by the inclusion of total gobshite and public masturbator John Harris, hilariously credited as ‘journalist and author’. Bowie doesn’t give interviews and loathed giving them during his prolific periods, so it’s incredible that the documentary makers included this utter bellend who has no credentials other than ownership of a Best Of from the HMV Christmas sale. “It’s magical – he’s seen the cosmos in the bus stop” spurts forth the strangled cock on ‘Life On Mars’. “To be on Dick Cavett meant you had arrived.” How do you know, Harris? You’re British, for fucks sake. You weren’t even born or in the right country when this interview aired. Nor did any Brits know who the hell Dick Cavett was, or is. Thank you for wasting valuable screen time when we could have been watching the Dame strut around in a feather boa or hanging out in a Berlin drag club. Excellent writer and ex-NME columnist Charles Shaar Murray is permitted three brief voxpops, and Cameron Crowe disappointingly absent. Both of these journalists are important to contextualise Bowie having met and interviewed the man in person during the period the doc covers. I’m wondering if the running time was an issue and they ended up using footage from Dicksplash Harris simply because they were stuffed for material. Then again, I imagine that the current Bowie management were involved and didn’t want to include too much material that could taint his legacy or focus on all the powder he put up his beak.

 

That brings us to the latest album, The Next Day. Allegedly EMI didn’t realise a new album was due until a week before the release date, which is a little unbelievable. However, you’re not exactly going to balk when one of your biggest stars and money-spinners decides to drop a new record for the first time in nearly 10 years. And while there are some great songs on there, over repeated listens I’ve become more jaded with what now comes across as a pastiche of his previous self. The appalling album sleeve, which quite rightly has been slated from Beckenham to New Brunswick, is completely baffling. If the implication is that everything Derek has released post-Heroes is shit, then he could have at least used another photograph by Sukita Masayoshi (an exhibition of whose work I sadly missed in Osaka recently).

There are great tracks like ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’ which I’d play over and over. Then there’s stuff like ‘I’d Rather Be High’ and ‘Dirty Boys’ which cause me to grimace at the thought of a pensioner snorting blow off teenage girls, or worse. No overanalysis of the lyrics are required. This is the problem for the aging musician. Is he drawing in new fans or appealing to the old guard? The latter, I’m sure is the case. The album is as a whole a more enjoyable listening experience than the previous two, yet the positive reviews that emerged after the media scrum were all positive. SPIN gave it 5/10, and Mark Fisher called The Next Day an album of “quotidian mediocrity”, saying it was entirely undeserving of its wide acclaim and that the “wave of hyperbole it generated point to a wider malaise in contemporary music” because it proved that anything of low artistic merit could achieve success via “artfully timed PR”. That previous sentence was lifted from Wiki entirely because I couldn’t find a link online. THAT’LL DO.

Yawningly, The Independent, The Telegraph and Q gave it 5 stars and The Guardian 4 stars (and whose pre- and post-release coverage was daily and mind-numbing). Publications that all appeal to the dull demographic I belong to: white, male, 18-34. Though I doubt many 18 year olds were buying either the record or reading about it.

Yet I haven’t eradicated The Next Day from my iPod. I didn’t go so far as to buy the vinyl or the double CD set, which I’m thankful as I recently purged my entire CD collection. Perhaps it’s still too new to appreciate. It took me five years (bumtish) to understand what the hell Tool were doing with Aenima. It’s bland, it’s inoffensive and oft unmoving. But it’s Bowie, and we have to be thankful that he could be arsed to give it one more push before he heads off to the great big cloud in the sky for multi-millionaires. We aren’t invited.

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