Saturday, March 16, 2013

David Bowie's New Album

An upbeat and positive review and commentary on Bowie's new album, "The Next Day," from Robert Dean Lurie, at National Review, "Throwing Shadows":

As 2013 rolled around, very few people could have reasonably expected anything new from David Bowie. Rumors of ill health had flitted about for years, and even many of his former associates had assumed he’d retired. Then, on January 8, a new single appeared on iTunes, along with an announcement of the imminent release of The Next Day. It was one of the most exquisite sneak attacks in the history of rock. And with the excitement came speculation: Which Bowie would we get this time?

David Bowie’s current image, as it turns out, is no image. He has refused all new interview requests. He has ruled out a tour. The album’s artwork consists simply of the cover of his earlier release Heroes with the singer’s face blocked out by an empty white square. At age 66, Bowie has made possibly his most outrageous move yet: He has finally gotten out of the way of his music, and in so doing has brought a little bit of mystery back into pop culture. While everybody else has a reality show, David Bowie has a white square where his head should be.

He can get away with this because The Next Day is an honest-to-God album, meant to be listened to as one piece rather than as a scattered collection of iTunes downloads. In this sense it is both archaic and forward-looking — its very existence is a sign, or a hopeful prediction, of some kind of return to craftsmanship in popular music. We’ve already seen harbingers of this in the success of Adele’s album 21 and the resurgent popularity of “roots” music among younger listeners; people are once again responding to music that sounds real. The Next Day, even with its freaked-out guitars and fuzzy synths, feels similarly authentic: It is refreshingly free of any discernible loops or electronic drums; the vocals have not been strangled by Auto-Tune; none of the musicians e-mailed their parts in from distant locales. It sounds like what it is: a small group of people working closely together in a studio, tracking much of the music live.