Bowie's big comeback

20:46, Feb 28 2013

Well, we heard this week that the music press has started gushing over Bowie's new release. You'll know for yourself this time next week if it is actually any good. But I'm certainly excited to hear the new album by David Bowie, his first in a decade.

I liked the first song released - out of nowhere on his 66th birthday, coming with the announcement of a new album. And I liked the newly released second single.

Some people couldn't get on board with that first single - but still welcomed the idea of a return. From what I've read regarding the new record, Where Are We Now? is something of a sore thumb on The Next Day; whereas The Stars (Are Out Tonight) seems to be getting the nod as more indicative of where the rest of the album travels.

My first thought - after hearing Where Are We Now? (and I think if anything I prefer that to The Stars, I like Bowie sounding just a bit vulnerable) - is that the parent album would end up being about as exciting as Hours or Black Tie, White Noise. These aren't exactly terrible albums and though some fanatics might want to make a case for each - or both - they are among the weaker efforts in Bowie's canon.

It's a remarkable run of albums though - I don't agree that the good stuff stopped with the 1970s, I think Let's Dance (as I said here, recently) is unfairly maligned; it's a bit like Peter Gabriel's So album in that it achieved (the) big time, it doesn't deserve to be mocked or relegated because of that; it still has the same nose as others in the family, it's still recognisable as the artist coming close to his best/better work.

So The Next Day might not be Ziggy or Heroes or Low or Station to Station - or you can substitute any one of close to a dozen other titles in there - but does it have to be? Bowie is now - on the back of this hype, particularly from the British media - the new Dylan, in that his albums are now compared to his other albums, the past triumphs. And that's both the best and worst outcome; it's totally fair and completely unfair at the same time.


Hype is a killer. But it's also kinda fun - don't you think? You need to know how to cut through it, enjoy its energy but dismiss the absurdities. People who feel they are so net-savvy and so hip to the new model vs. the old model laughed off Bowie's out-of-nowhere single and its album announcement; they talked of him having no traction, of it meaning nothing.

But Bowie is an artist of, and for, the old model. He's a shapeshifter, a borrower, an artiste and all of that, but he's also a guy who grew up, and through, the golden era of records and record sales. And a lot of talk has now been generated about a new album. A new album from a guy we figured might only appear in public again in a walk-on for Zoolander 2 or some such; a new album from a game-changer turned family-man; a new album from a guy who, at his peak, could play you two completely different sets of great songs on two nights and have you wowed beginning to end - there really aren't all that many artists that can do that.

And this new album brilliantly references the past - and it's not even remotely self-conscious so much as it is shrewdly self-aware. There's the album cover art - Warholian, just a tad, right? There's the old crew back in the fold. And there are the (already) countless mentions of which Bowie albums it might sound like.

I like hype. And I like cutting through it.

The album could end up being a turkey - but I'll take that risk in being excited. It's good to feel something towards an album still upcoming. That doesn't happen all that often in this smug game of one-upmanship, a game of who hears it first wins, those who dismiss it as not being all that great will be mocked by sheep pleased with the early reviews telling them it's the best thing since Scary Monsters (the acknowledged cutoff period). Never mind that they haven't listened to the hints of brilliance scattered across Heathen and Reality and before them Outside and Earthling, The Buddha of Suburbia and - well everything (save for two rubbish 1980s albums and, er, Tin Machine).

Those who have done the listening will sit enthralled. Those who haven't bothered will either dismiss it or embrace it. Either way they (still) won't have done the listening.

And as is always the way, somewhere in all of that will be the truth about the new David Bowie album, The Next Day. A brilliantly named return after 10 years in a form of hiding. And the truth will be different for all of us.

Bring it on. I look forward to hearing it. I'll be among the last to get hold of it, of course. But I don't mind. I like having a new record to look forward to, to purchase. I got into this as a music fan. And I'll go out that way too.

I don't think Bowie is about to release the record of the year, the record of his career, or even the comeback of 2013. But I'm up for hearing it. And I'm delighted to think he might have come close to any one of those overly earnest accolades.

Bowie's Big Comeback - well, we all need a story to get excited about now and then, right? Dylan and Bruce and Lou have all let us down in the past few years, Neil Young has made a career/habit of it - it allows him his freedom. So now Bowie - praised to the hilt this year, the hero of music for 2013? And then an old dame spat out, couldn't hack it in 2014? We shall see.

More important, next week we'll be able to hear - our own (subjective) truth.

What's your prediction for Bowie's new album? Dud or gem? Have you heard the singles? What do you think? Have you heard a sneak-peek of the album? Will you be in the (virtual) queue to pick it up late next week? Or are you bored and baffled by the hype already?

Postscript: I enjoyed this track-by-track assessment.

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