We’re going to do two reviews a week here – one of a new album (less than a year old) and one of an older album. We also thought it’d be cool if our reviews took the form of a discussion, with humor and personality, rather than a dry essay. Our new album review this week is of David Bowie’s album The Next Day. Click “continue reading” to check it out.
David Bowie is one of the most prolific and legendary figures in popular music history. His career began in 1967 with a self-titled debut album, and has continued to this day, spanning such disparate genres as glam rock, soul, ambient, grunge, and krautrock. He has had a total of 14 platinum records, 18 gold records, and 8 silver records, and he may or may not have totally slept with Mick Jagger in the early ’70s. The Next Day is his first studio album in ten years. Get The Next Day here.
Oscar: OK, let’s begin.
Zen: OK. I’ve gathered my thoughts. Why did you pick this album?? (There was only one question mark meant to be there. I’m not one of those people who double question mark.)
Oscar: I picked it because I got it a while ago, soon after it came out, but didn’t really listen to it. I recently had a conversation with someone about the current music scene, in which he said that you know the music scene is great because a new David Bowie album is out and that’s not even top of his list to listen to. I agreed with him but it spurred some Bowie-centric thinking, and here we are. I mean, I also picked it because it’s the first David Bowie album in 8 goddamn years so we better review it or we’re doing a shitty job. Ten years, sorry.
Zen: And after all, our name sake is a reference to Bowie so if we don’t review his new shit, we have some serious fucking up happening.
Zen: That’s an interesting way to come to this album. What were your overall thoughts on it?
Oscar: My overall thoughts. I liked the album a lot. It’s among my favorites of his.
Zen: That’s a big statement.
Oscar: I was interested in the style of it – I hear a lot of ‘60s-sounding harmonies, riffs, chords, etc. and some of it also feels like an updated version of the style of the Berlin Trilogy, which is fitting because of the album cover.
Zen: You are correct in all that you’ve said. I was surprised at how “rocking” it was.
Oscar: What were you expecting?
Zen: At worst, I expected the disappointment of having an older, incredibly talented musician, attempt to prove how he’s still relevant my forcing the amount of rocking happening. The album opened with such a strong cut, which totally rocked and never succumbed to being “old grumpy grandpa” rocker type. But really, since Bowie is one of the coolest guys out there, I probably shouldn’t have worried.
Oscar: Yeah I never had any doubts. What was your overall opinion?
Zen: Like you, I really liked it. However, there were points where I was genuinely disappointed. I didn’t expect to almost actually dislike some of Bowie’s stuff.
Oscar: I was disappointed at points too, but there hasn’t been an album of his that hasn’t disappointed me at least once. Except for Let’s Dance.
Zen: That’s fair, but I’m not sure I’ve truly ever disliked any of his stuff. Just haven’t cared for some of it.
Zen: So what were your top picks?
Oscar: Well, first for me is definitely “Where Are We Now?” Far and away the best song on the album.
Zen: Oh fosho. What made it the best in your eyes?
Oscar: And while most of the stuff was good in terms of cool musical choices, none had the pure emotion or honesty that that song had. A lot of the songs lyrically explore other people, characters, or events, and while that’s cool, ultimately I don’t care about other characters, I care about David Bowie. he’s interesting to me.
Zen: I hands down agree with you. There’s something about his singing and the lyrics on “Where Are We Now?” that cuts right to the core.
Oscar: Yeah. Number two for me is “How Does the Grass Grow?” It’s very violent and morbid, but in a very exuberant way. And the “ya ya ya”s are great too. They add some musical discord that helps the atmosphere.
Zen: And they also sound like demented Muppets.
Oscar: Oh I was also gonna say that “Where Are We Now?” is the track that feels the most ’60s to me. It reminds me of early Beatles stuff when they would get sentimental. And all the references to Berlin are really cool.
Zen: Good comparison.
Oscar: I read that the song may be about Bowie’s assistant when he lived in Berlin, who would hang out with him and Iggy Pop all the time.
Zen: I would love to have David Bowie telling me bedtime stories about his life.
Oscar: Definitely. OK so third top choice for me is “Love is Lost.” The rhythm section is unique among the songs on the album, it’s more ‘80s and electronic-sounding.
Zen: I can dig that.
Oscar: What were your top 3?
Zen: “Where Are We Now?”
Oscar: Good choice.
Zen: Exact reasons you already said. I love when he says “You never knew, that I could do that.” The way he accents the jump of notes between “do” and “that” had a gut impact with me. I felt a flood of pure honesty hit me. I had to stop a single tear from rolling down my cheek. “If You Can See Me” is my 2nd.
Oscar: Another good choice.
Zen: I have little to know idea what Bowie is talking about, but I thoroughly enjoyed him ranting away and singing great lines.
Oscar: Word. That reminded me a lot of “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).” I love the way “If You Can See Me” is so angry and discordant and then it works its way up to a really nice assonant harmony when he actually says “If you can see me I can see you”
Zen: I can see that. But with a darker tone. 3rd is “How Does The Grass Grow?” The combined morbidness and enthusiastic beat work really nicely.
Oscar: His cadence in the verse of “How Does the Grass Grow?” is one of my favorite parts of the album.
Zen: Yeah. On If You Can See Me, I felt as if Bowie was soaring overhead and yelling about all the messed up shit in the world then he turned and flashed me a smile. What were your disappointments?
Oscar: My bottom 3… Let’s see here… I think “Heat,” “Dancing Out in Space,” and “I’d Rather Be High,” in no order.
Zen: Why those?
Oscar: They all had cool elements and concepts but I thought they ended up being less powerful than he wanted, or maybe than he thought they were.
Zen: Fair. I definitely felt that he thought “Heat” was much more meaningful and poetic than it turned out. For so much doom and gloom, I was incredibly unmoved.
Oscar: Yeah. What were your bottom 3?
Zen: “Heat” (what we just said). “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).” I love Bowie, but every now and then I’d like him to shut up about stars.
Oscar: A lot of the album felt pretty anti-fame and anti-celebrity to me.
Zen: I agree. But I meant literally. I want him to stop talking about the stars in the sky. Too much.
Oscar: But I mean… You know that song isn’t about that kind of star, right?
Zen: Obviously. But I’m a little tired of him using the stars as a metaphor. I think he’s talented enough to use other metaphors.
Zen: My bottom 3rd is a tie between “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” and “Dancing Out In Space.”
Oscar: I like “You Will Set the World on Fire.”
Zen: In my eyes it felt a bit too forced to be rocking. And I think the sentence “You will set the world on fire” has lost its magic by being used too much in songs.
Oscar: I agree on the second part.
Zen: “Dancing Out In Space” felt to me as trying to be as funky as his stuff from Let’s Dance but missing the mark and felt too rehashed.
Oscar: I agree with that. So what was your favorite musical moment?
Zen: Definitely the “ya ya ya ya”s in “Where Does The Grass Grow?”
Oscar: I think the “ya ya ya”s also, but honorable mention goes to the sax solo in “Dirty Boys.”
Zen: Definitely a sexy runner up. Lyrical moment?
Oscar: Either the whole “As long as there’s…” section in “Where Are We Now?” or the bridge of “How Does the Grass Grow?” “I gaze in defeat at the stars in the night, the light in my life burnt away. There will be no tomorrow, then you sigh in your sleep and meaning returns with the day.”
Zen: I love the “Then you sigh in your sleep…” part of that.
Oscar: Yeah. It’s really that part but I feel like you need the lead-up to that to get the context.
Zen: Fair. My favorite lyrical moment would definitely have to be when Bowie goes, “Children swarm like thousands of bugs” because I feel that way about children a lot of the time, and it’s nice to know that Bowie and I are on the same wavelength.
Oscar: Nice, relatable moment, except he has kids, and you don’t.
Zen: Well, you know, that can just add to the list of differences between Bowie and I.
Oscar: So final score out of 10?
Zen: 8. To have such a large career, to have changed the music scene forever, and to have changed the lives of musical people and non-musical people, AND after all that shit to come out and drop an album of quality music which has songs that I’m sure I will be going back to as often as some of his older albums, is astounding.
Oscar: Yeah 8 too, I guess. Maybe 7.75.
Zen: Why do you hesitate?
Oscar: Because I liked most of it, and didn’t like only a few songs, but the only song I really loved was “Where Are We Now?,” and on other albums of his that have been favorites of mine there have been at least a few songs that I’ve loved.
Zen: That’s fair.
Oscar: Any final thoughts?
Zen: Bowie, you are welcome to come into my bedroom. Anytime. And read to me.
Oscar: OK, I think that’s a fitting note to close on.
Come back next week for our reviews of Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris and Esperanza Spalding’s Chamber Music Society.