David Bowie, The Next Day (ISO/Columbia)
Bowie is my all-time favourite. I was indoctrinated as a toddler, when my older brother would play all his records for me. He learned to love Bowie from my even older sister, who was a total fangirl (I’ve still got her hand-me-down badges and calendars kicking around).
I remember, just barely, the Let’s Dance era, and how confused I was by hearing that material and Ziggy Stardust and Low all at once. With such a disparity in musical styles, looks, even voices, how could this be the work of one person? (Todd Haynes’s 1998 film Velvet Goldmine uses that question as a basis for its elaborate glam-rock fantasy — it’s kind of ridiculous, but really worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.)
On this new record, Bowie’s first in a decade, there are some answers to that question. Like 2002’s Heathen, it evokes the albums he made during his creative apex in Berlin (1976–1979). But it also bears traces of other eras, maybe even every Bowie era. The Next Day was produced by Tony Visconti, who’s been involved in each major stage of Bowie’s career, from “Space Oddity” through 2003’s Reality, via Young Americans and “Heroes” (to which this album cover alludes in its painfully postmodern way), bypassing the grim years (1984–88) and the (almost) return to form in the mid-’90s.
But the Bowie palette that seems to be in play is rooted in the songwriting as well as the sound. There are echoes of his most experimental latter-day album, 1994’s Outside (and not the quasi-industrial stuff), and even of the Ziggy phase, both of which Visconti had no hand in. (But as for glam rock, he did produce pretty much every T-Rex LP.)
What makes this different from any of those records, particularly the relatively stark Berlin material, is that it’s in many ways a big pop statement, an airtight, major-chord blast of energy. I don’t begrudge him, at 66, for wanting to make a record brimming with vitality. When even the fans had counted him out, and rumours of permanent retirement and chronic illness abounded, he returned to prove people wrong, and bridge his coolest sound with his most popular sound.
Maybe he tried a little too hard — you can hear the strain in the lead/title track. But as the record progresses, and especially when you get to the sweet spot at its centre, there’s plenty of treasure to be had as Bowie draws not only with his own palette, but with a number of timeless pop tropes. Just listen to “I’d Rather Be High” and you’ll see that this record doesn’t rely on its creator’s past glory. It’s strong enough to stand alone, and that hasn’t happened since the ’90s.
Azealia Banks, “Yung Rapunxel”
Say what you will about Azealia Banks and her never-ending string of beefs (the latest involves the Stone Roses, if you can believe it) but on the basis of her 1991 EP and tracks like this (produced by Chicago’s LILINTERNET), I look forward to her debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, and her Osheaga set. Please don’t cancel!
Ain’t No Love, “Gone Already”
Good on local/Toronto crew Ain’t No Love and this fine new piece of film, directed by Samuel Fluckiger.