Mr. David Bowie is back in the news, with a new record after a 10-year hiatus (beating the break John Lennon took to bake bread and watch the wheels) and a fancy new museum retrospective.
Re the latter, here’s part one of an interview with the curator of that show, “David Bowie Is,” which opens Saturday in London to massive publicity and record (couldn’t resist the pun) ticket sales. (Thanks to Rich Roesberg for sending me that link.) The show runs through August 11, should you find yourself in London. (In fact, it will run through August 11, whether or not you’re in London. Which I will not be.)
Re the former, on the day of its release, the new Bowie CD, “The Next Day” was happily found on my kitchen table, having been shipped by Amazon and delivered by a competitor of the USPS. I like it very much, and find it full of surprises. One of the surprises: the prominence of saxophone, an instrument I’ve never much associated with Bowie’s work. Another: that it’s a rather stripped-down album, mostly straight-out mid-tempo rock music featuring vocals, guitars, and drums. That’s rather traditional, but in the Bowie oeuvre, I think of that as rather untraditional. In some ways, this sounds more akin to the two Tin Machine albums, when Bowie decided to try to be a regular bloke in a band with three other guys, but more palatable. I miss the odd textures and surprises, circa the work he did with Eno, or on “Scary Monsters” or “Outside” (which features the fantastic “Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” one of his best songs and one of his best-produced songs).
What I haven’t enjoyed in all the recent press coverage are the blithe claims that this album is a return to form for Bowie, the implication being that he’s been off-form. I wonder how many of these people have heard his last two albums, “Heathen” and “Reality.” “Heathen” had many of the fine qualities I’m missing from the current album — which, seemingly alone, Sasha-Frere Jones noted in The New Yorker, in praising that disk — and “Reality” was a truly, truly fine pop album. I like both of them a lot, and play them frequently, and they’ve lived in my wife’s CD rotation for more than a year. Moreover, we saw Bowie on his last tour — which may have, indeed, been his last tour, but we’ll see — and he was in fine form then, too. The songs sound good on record, and sounded great live. It’s easy for critics to paint the picture that after 10 years away Bowie has had a magnificent re-emergence, but the two disks he did before stepping away bear further listening. They don’t deserve the criticism.
p.s. I hate the cover art above. Deeply. Strenuously.