David BowieThe Next Day meditates on a couple of recurring and sometimes intertwining themes: the futility of fame and the inevitability of death. These are two things that David Bowie has had to come to terms with over the last decade, in the wake of his heart attack and subsequent withdrawal from the public eye in 2004. Bowie’s twenty-fourth – twenty-fourth! -effort is also permeated by a sense of nostalgia, making reference to Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Scary Monsters and beyond in both “sound and vision.” But the album is far from a trip down memory lane. Indeed, 10 years may have passed since we last heard from him, but Bowie still has plenty of new things to say in 2013.

The Next Day

David Bowie“Here I am,” Bowie growls defiantly on The Next Day‘s title-track, “not quite dying!” Well, self-deprecatingly comparing yourself to a savage tyrant who has spectacularly fallen from grace is one way to rip open an album. But, despite his decade-long hiatus, Bowie is not ready to renounce his throne just yet. And why should he, when he still has exhilarating juggernauts like this one up his ever-majestic sleeve?

Here I am
Not quite dying
My body left to rot in a hollow tree
Its branches throwing shadows
On the gallows for me

Where Are We Now?

David BowieFor a man who has built his entire career on “being one step ahead,” it is both curious and charming to hear an elder Bowie pausing to reflect on the time that he spent in a divided Germany in the late 1970s, when he wrote the illustrious ‘Berlin Trilogy’ – which this beguiling, elegiac and ambient ballad would not have felt so out of place on all those glorious years ago: [LISTEN]

Sitting in the Dschungel
On Nurnberger strasse
A man lost in time near KaDeWe
Just walking the dead

I’d Rather Be High

David BowieHe has repeatedly cited his good friend, John Lennon, as one of his favorite songwriters, so dare I call this Bowie’s “obligatory Beatles moment?” Nevertheless, do not allow the soaring, neo-psychedelia chorus and radiant, guitar curlicues to take from the severity of the subject matter – a traumatized soldier, who, in the face of another harrowing battle, finds solace in his vibrant, if not over-active imagination:

I’d rather be high
I’d rather be flying
I’d rather be dead
Or out of my head
Than training these guns of those men in the sand

You Feel So Lonely You Could Die

David Bowie Album highlight, ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’ is as miserable as that ode to Elvis Presley would suggest. He may be more comfortable than ever in his own skin, but this suicidal waltz proves that Bowie has not yet lost touch with, nor sympathy for, the outsiders among us – a sentiment that is reiterated when, amid the ballad’s dying swell, the “Five Years” drum motif emerges. Spine-tingling:

I can see you as a corpse hanging from a beam
I can read you like a book
I can feel you falling
I hear you moaning in your room

Heat

David BowieProducer and Bowie’s current voice on Earth, Tony Visconti, told Rolling Stone that this apocalyptic slice of Scott Walker rock, which closes The Next Day, is “certainly not about Bowie.” On the surface, that would appear to be the case, as Bowie croons from the menacing perspective of a son whose “father ran the prison.” But when King Chameleon segues into the line, “And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am,” Visconti’s interpretation is surely called into question?

And I tell myself, I don’t know who I am
My father ran the prison
My father ran the prison
But I am a seer, I am a liar