# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - April 2013

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 24 / 3 / 2013

Miscellaneous - April 2013


Ben Howarth in 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' asks if David Bowie's first album-in-a-decade, 'The Next Day', is against-the-odds a classic

So, weeks after David Bowie released his first album in a decade, we can still only speculate about his motivations for coming out of retirement - he hasn’t given any interviews and, heaven knows, the songs themselves give us nothing to work with, enjoyable as they are. Personally I doubt that it is a coincidence that Bowie was jolted into action at the same time as work began turning his career into a museum exhibition. I won’t be going to the V&A exhibition – in fact, if I have to see that photo of Bowie in stupid massive trousers one more time, I am likely to lash out violently at someone. But I have been enjoying listening to his new album. Bowie seems to be using the album to remind people that not only is he still alive, but he can still sing as well. Is ‘The Next Day’ actually any good, though? Certainly there are some excellent songs, but little by way of genuine invention. ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’ could be a Manic Street Preachers song, while you wouldn’t have blinked had ‘Valentine’s Day’ popped up on the new Suede album. The tunes are always good, often great – but ‘The Next Day’ doesn’t really tell us anything about Bowie we didn’t already know. The real test will be how often we play this album in a decade’s time. You may have forgotten, but the two albums he released immediately before his exile began got equally laudatory reviews – ‘The Next Day’s is Bowie’s third consecutive “return to form.” Musically, he is in much the same territory on ‘The Next Day’ as he was on ‘Heathen’ and ‘Reality’ – same band, same producer, same feeling that Bowie is presenting a carefully constructed self-portrait - not letting you into his soul. Eventually, ‘Heathen’ and ‘Reality’ albums got filed away and we went back to ‘Hunky Dory’ and ‘Low’, but I suspect ‘The Next Day’ will have a longer shelf life. Appreciating pop music is as much about context as it is about content. Having popped out the first single without advance warning, Bowie raised the stakes. Then, he made us wait two months - impatiently in my case - for the album itself. It eventually landed on my doormat on the day of release, and I kept the evening free in order to do nothing but listen to it. I then spent the rest of the week listening to it again and again. Inevitably, it meant more to me than his last album, bought on a whim and only listened to a handful of times. I went back to ‘Reality’ recently, the first time for a decade I played it - objectively, it is no worse than ‘The Next Day’, but I doubt I will listen to it again. It is just an album, while the ‘Next Day’ was an event. Bowie has, perhaps inadvertently, hit upon what is missing in our modern listening habits. Exacerbated by the easy availability of anything and everything on Spotify/YouTube, listeners are less loyal than they used to be. The record attendances at Bowie’s exhibition, and his unlikely return to the top of the charts, are a testament to a more old fashioned kind of music fandom - sticking loyally with Bowie as he mucked around with soul/drum ‘n’ bass/his website/Tin Machine/inactivity - eventually getting the pay-off of a run of catchy songs in the classic Bowie style. Pop fandom, of the old fashioned ‘blind-loyalty-to-your-heroes’ variety, seems as much a nostalgia piece as any of the music these days. And yet, sticking with bands through thick and thin - though not always good for one’s sanity - is a lot more fun than desperately trying to keep up with the trendy new thing. There will probably be better albums than ‘The Next Day’ released this year, but very few will be as good conversation starters. And you can’t ask for much more than that.

Also In Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll

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