Posts Tagged ‘ David Bowie ’

Best Albums of 2013

In 2013, I reviewed 57 albums, 34 of which were released this year. Here are my picks for albums of the year, with the usual caveats: I know my experience was far from complete, but I think I do a good job of picking out the things I’ll be interested in. If the list seems weird, it probably has more to do with my taste than with the number of albums I bought. I pick my top 5, with confidence that even if I heard all the popular releases this year, these ones would still likely fit in my top 10. And if I discover the ones I missed later, I’ll include them in my list of the best “old discoveries” of the year.

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David Bowie – The Next Day (Music Review)

The Next Day cover

David Bowie – The Next Day

After the longest absence of his career, David Bowie makes a triumphant return with The Next Day. The first question people ask when he releases a new album is always what he sounds like this time. Surprisingly, he simply sounds like David Bowie. After a career of creating and shedding personas, anxiously trying to get a jump on the next musical trend, this is maybe the most comfortable he’s ever seemed in his own skin.

Of course, there’s always been more commonality to Bowie’s works than the common wisdom claims. There’s a reason that most people are either fanatic or lukewarm about Bowie in general, rather than saying things like “I’m a fan of Aladdin Sane, but not the Thin White Duke.” Those personas were never truly different artists, but instead different views into the same performer: An intricate composer with a simple but sincere voice, who was alternately torn between savvy commercial moves and a distinctly unmarketable fascination with disasters and dystopias.

The title of The Next Day, along with album art repurposed from “Heroes”, may imply that his next identity is that of the aged rockstar, but that’s only half-true. He has stopped worrying about revamping his image or keeping fresh for a fickle audience, but there’s little sense that he’s cashing in on his past or worrying about his relevance. This is made clear when the title track turns out to have nothing to do with his career’s “next day”, but is instead a classic Bowie look at humanity’s dark side. It kicks off this album with a tale of religious zealots whipped into murderous rage, subverting any expectation you may have for an old singer shuffling off into retirement. It’s also one of the few energetic songs on the album, but it still manages to define the atmosphere of the whole thing. Yes, the album gets a lot of mileage out of celebrating Bowie’s career, so it’s best for people who are familiar with him. But rather than pining for past glories, he uses his current position as skillfully as he always has.

Darker topics like the title track’s show up regularly, especially on the sympathetic but passive observation of a killer on “Valentine’s Day”. Bowie’s still interested in the pop crowd-pleasers, though. “Dancing Out In Space” has a synthesized retro-groove that will sound comfortable to people who mainly know “Space Oddity” and “Ashes to Ashes”, and “Boss Of Me” is a schmaltzy love song saved only by a voice that’s capable of dismissing cynical evaluation.

And, of course, songs about pop stardom are also natural to Bowie. As always, though, he doesn’t sing them about himself, but instead pretends to be an observer of the dizzying heights he’s attained: “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” is a rocking celebration of someone’s future success, with an energetic build-up and only brief moments of release, implying a climax still to come. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, arguably the album’s highlight, is a crooning, introspective song about the nature of fame. He describes a reciprocal relationship between celebrities and fans that is sometimes symbiotic, and sometimes mutually parasitic. The contradictory conclusion, “we will never be rid of these stars… but I hope they live forever”, sums up everything he was trying to say in the days of “Ziggy Stardust” and “Fame”. Maybe that’s the real defining aspect of this album: Bowie has the same obsessions as always, but now he finally understands and controls them.

Grade: A-