Sometime last week Spinal Bap was invited to an exclusive playback of David Bowie’s new album The Next Day in a dank hovel in Soho decorated with browned photographs of pre-1989 East Germany. Sony’s PR staff were wearing sinister surgical masks and Hoggle from Labyrinth kept touching my leg. Here is a brief summary of what we heard:
The Next Day
A brash, confident opener on which the 66-year-old demonstrates that he’s back and he means business, and if not business, then at least something. Post-ska strum patterns provide the cadence around which tempestuous cymbals crash harder than cannon fire, autotuned sirens squeal like tortured seals, and the Thin White Duke reads out the final First Division Football League positions of the 1973-74 season in reverse order. Climaxes with a 26-minute trumpet solo played using a freshly-caught jellyfish as a makeshift mute.
A slower-tempo futuristic Afro-ballad with a quasi-Heideggerian twist. Resembles the second Tin Machine album re-recorded by an overly oppressive sixty-man kazoo choir.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
Oscar winner Anne Hathaway provides a tearfully intense, slightly mucus-ridden verse on this unashamedly operatic number partly inspired by pseudo-fascist Danish punks Iceage. Faster than ‘Young Americans’. Fluffier than ‘Thursday’s Child’.
Love is Lost
Jokey filler piece featuring ex-Walker Brothers singer Scott Walker making infantile fart sounds with his armpit. Unlikely to secure the Grammy.
Where Are We Now?
The location is modern Berlin. Bowie once knew the city but has not visited in years. Many of the streets have changed since the late ‘70s. Besides, back then Bowie was so high that all the roads throbbed orange and the Charlottenburg Palace resembled a giant effigy of the eagle from the Muppets with thousands of tiny almonds crawling out of his eyes. It’s the present day and Bowie’s satnav has broken. He didn’t think to bring a map. “Where are we now? / Where are we now?” he croons in vain to his unresponsive computerised compass. Possibly a commentary on mankind’s emasculating reliance on technology and consequent depletion of traditional survival instincts. Would be more effective if it didn’t sound like ‘Funny Little Fat Man’ off of Derek or whatever.
Carnal Fecophelia Due To Prolonged Exposure To Methane
Surprisingly rootsy cover of Cattle Decapitation’s deathgrind classic. Poignantly brutal.
If You Can See Me
Not entirely dissimilar to Erasure’s Vince Clarke boiling the disembodied carcass of Cream’s racist Clapton in a purple G-Funk tuba.
I’d Rather Be High
Iggy Pop makes a welcome return to the Bowie fold, providing characteristically ragged backing vocals. However, the grizzled Stooge now sings exclusively in French while looking like a cross between Jennifer Aniston’s rotting corpse and one of the Californian Raisins. Lou Reed was also invited to jam in the studio but was denied entry when he turned up with Lars Ulrich and a several tai chi instructors.
Boss Of Me
On which Bowie attempts, with moderate dividends, to replicate the sound of Dillinger Escape Plan kicking Danny Elfman’s cellist down the stairs of Jay-Z’s skyscraper. Ricky Gervais contributes to the ambience. He only plays xylophone but still manages to do it in an obnoxious, bullying way.
Dancing Out In Space
A mind-blowing, hair-raising, masterpiece vaguely reminiscent of the song widely considered to be Bowie’s greatest musical achievement. In some respects, it may even surpass ‘Everyone Says Hi’.
How Does the Grass Grow?
Starts thrillingly. An underlying ‘Jean Genie’ glam-tinged stomp joins a Low-esque sense of isolated melancholia accompanied by ambiguous, post-PC hints towards China Girl’s orientalist outlook. Goes downhill towards the end when the track becomes immersed in a Sunn O)))-tinged migraine-inducing bass drone while Bowie repeatedly howls the phrase “Fluoxymesterone sandwich” until he sounds like a demonic porcupine is trying to force its way out of his throat. Was Eno involved?
(You Will) Set The World On Fire
Epic. Bombastic. Heroic. Inspirational. Primal. Jaw-droppingly profound. Not a million miles from Andrew WK’s ‘Make Sex’.
You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
Awful. Just awful. The kind of unequivocally objectionable novelty record you’d think would be below Bowie. A horrible cross between ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’, ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo’, and ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ by Arvo Pärt. B-side material at best.
HeatCovering those classic Bowie themes of alienation and identity, ‘Heat’ closes the album in style with its brilliantly odd string arrangement. The track is let down, however, by Bowie shamelessly thieving lyrics from Azealia Banks’ hit ‘212’. Did he really think he could sing “I’m a rude b****, n****, what are you made up of / I’m-a eat your food up, boo” and get away with it?
An admirable addition to the Bowie canon, The Next Day doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of Never Let Me Down, but as a disorientating cocktail of meta-panoramic Romani beats and multi-sculptural bebop pleonasms, the record would certainly have Andy Warhol saying “hmm, kinda half neat”.