Whether we’re sitting down with a good book, flipping through our latest stack of comics, spraining our thumbs during all-night video game sessions, or doodling in a sketchbook, The Pure Mood loves to have a record spinning in the background of our lives. Every week, we’ll spotlight a new album that demands listening.
THE NEXT DAY is, arguably, David Bowie’s most politically charged album. No one makes it out of this record in one piece, with oppressive forces, revolutionaries, celebrity culture, and apathetic youth all being targets in Bowie’s first album in a decade. The title track kicks things off in a stomping glam-guitar seething with resentment. I don’t want to make the mistake of claiming autobiography from an artist so known for creating complex alter-egos, but ‘The Next Day’ feels like a very personal, honest song about America’s obsession with celebrity, specifically the constant search for the ‘next big thing’. “Here I am, not quite dying” Bowie sings in a hollow, almost robotic voice, “My body left to rot in a hollow tree.” These ideas continue in ‘The Stars’, in which we are described wonderful beings of power over relentless bass and synth, who may be more damaged and human than we’d like to imagine; “Here we are, upon the stairs/ Sexless and unaroused / these are the stars that shine for you / hope they live forever.”
If this is what we are, media-junkies with a mad-on for demi-gods living in giant mansions, what can we do to get out of it? Apparently, not much. The caustic and funky ‘Dirty Boys’ presents revolutionaries as juvenile and ignorant, screaming loudly enough to get mommy’s attention. “Smash some windows, make a noise / we will run like dirty boys”. That’s not to say the album is hopeless; in fact, I think it’s anything but. It just doesn’t want to get your good feelings out of you the easy way. Bowie wants to work for it. The songs on THE NEXT DAY challenge your perception of trendy social movements and knee-jerk anti-establishment tendencies. Several songs seem to openly mock the often hyperbolic reactionary style of youth; “Gossip till their lips bleed / politics and all / I’d rather be dead / or outta my head” is sung in a spot-on impression of the voice of the sullen teen in the appropriately named ‘I’d Rather Be High’. More of this is seen in ‘Love is Lost’, one of my favourite songs of the album, a song about the destructive transition from adolescence to adulthood. ‘Wave goodbye / to a life without pain” Bowie sings in some of his most captivating vocal work on the record. But this isn’t sentimental, fatherly advice about growing pains – the track gets as dark and mean as much as the rest of the album very quickly – as in “Your house and your clothes / and even your eyes are new / but your fear is as old as the world.’
For all the darkness, there is plenty of love to be had as well. Songs such as ‘Boss of Me’ and ‘Dancing Out in Space’ present a more radio-friendly Bowie, pumping out funky synth-ballads like no one else can. Something like religion / dancing face to face / nothing here could be too clear / dancing out in space” prove that the Duke still has plenty of pop-sensibility. The unforgettable closing track probably comes the closes to giving us a clue about the esoteric album art. ‘Heat’ begins with an ominous building of sound, before erupting in a unique closer filled with violins, as Bowie sings in a creepy tenor voice. “And I tell myself / I don’t know who I am” Bowie sings repeatedly on this bizarre tale of a prison-warden father and other opaque subjects. THE NEXT DAY is a unforgettable entry in David Bowie’s amazing catalogue; not only does it feature plenty of his now patented introspective/jazz-dance beat tunes, with explorations of identity and celebrity culture naturally going along for the ride, it also fearlessly tells the story of our contemporary times, of internet alienation and youth anxiety and apathy. In short, it’s the kind of original, daring and complicated album we all hoped Bowie would bring us. It’s currently streaming on iTunes now, and can be purchased in stores or online March 12.