Sunday, March 02, 2014

A Godawful Small Affair: Twenty-Five "The Next Day"

"THE NEXT DAY" (2013)

COVER: Bloody pathetic.  Easily the worst thing about it, though.

You can hear it from track one: this won't be another "Heathen" or "Reality".  The title track sounds like Bowie's entire career chewed up, minced and spat out to excellent effect.  "Listen", he implores.  He doesn't have to.  I'm already listening harder than I have since the mid-nineties, and I can't wait to hear what comes next.
Let's rewind a little, though: Bowie goes to ground for a decade, seen only occasionally, appearing at his son's movie premiere (the excellent "Moon" - check it out, dudes) here, being photographed nipping out for some milk and twenty Gitanes there.  As it turns out that wasn't all he was nipping out for - an album was being recorded between 2010 and 2012, under an unprecedented cloud of secrecy.
Meanwhile, and for no apparent reason, me and my peer group were actually discussing Bowie more than when he was last releasing records.  The silence from the once-prolific artist was fascinating; he'd even plugged the gap between "Never Let Me Down" and "Black Tie White Noise" with Tin Machine, so this was huge, and whilst it was becoming assumed that he'd quietly retired, that seemed at odds with a man who had previously made a big deal about one of his characters retiring.  The other persistent worries were the rumours of failing health, updated obituaries and affliction with the big "C".
Then - bosh.  "Where Are We Now?" was released as a single with absolutely no fanfare.  The introspective ballad namechecks Berlin landmarks, immediately linking it to an instantly evocative and fertile creative period for him.  More importantly, it's really, really good; reflective, misty-eyed and optimistic in equal parts, it made for a stunning comeback.  Another 'single' was released before the album - sadly, "The Stars Are Out Tonight" wasn't nearly as good, with many observers rankling at a celebrity dissecting celebrity itself.
No need to worry though - the album's a stonker.  Any doubts about the opening tracks being a fluke are kicked in the head by the sleazy crawl of "Dirty Boys", and maintains this run of great and very different tracks for the majority of the album (if you ignore "The Stars..." at track three, which I will for convenience's sake) - in particular, "Love Is Lost" is up there with his best tracks.
There's a bit of a wobble with the ordinary "Boss Of Me" and the nice but a bit unresolved "Dancing Out In Space", but it gets back on track with "How Does The Grass Grow?" and particularly the closing track, "Heat".  A genuinely stop-everything-and-listen offering, it's a haunting song that demands your attention and deposits you, open-mouthed and blinking, back into the world.  Then if you've got the version I have, the throwaway nonsense of "So She" starts up and somewhat ruins the moment; ah well, you can't have everything.
It's a great song to end on, not just for Bowie's career (to date, of course), but also for A Godawful Small Affair.  Throughout the year, which was supposed to only be a month, we've gone from vaudeville to folk, glam to soul, electronica to corporate pop, hard rock to industrial and out the other side into simple respect.  Thank you for coming along for the ride.

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