Dancing Out in Space


Dancing Out in Space.

A problem when discussing The Next Day as a complete work is that it isn’t quite one. Four versions of the album exist, as of today: the original 14-track CD/download; the “deluxe” edition, with three additional tracks (also the sequence of the 2-LP set); the Japanese issue, which adds another bonus track to the deluxe set; and The Next Day Extra, which includes a second CD with the aforesaid bonus tracks, plus four “new” bonus tracks and two alternate mixes. Bowie’s likely not done with it yet.

So it’s wound up a sprawling group of songs. Had Bowie released all of these tracks together in the analog age, he would’ve had a 3-LP set to rival George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (and Next Day has a similar “back catalog clearout sale” feel to it). But Bowie’s taken advantage of the download/streaming era to erode the concept of a final, static “album.” The Next Day is more a fluctuating set of assorted tracks, its sequence owed to each listener’s budget or interest.

A track like “Dancing Out in Space,” in a tighter time, may have been slotted as a B-side or even scrapped, just another outtake in the vaults. Now it’s scattered on the floor with the rest of the toys: perhaps overlooked but still there, shining in its way.

What to say about it? It’s a well-made minor song. Its verses mainly shuttle between G major and E minor; its refrains are pegged on sets of parallel steps (on the “ooooohs”), first Db to Eb to C major, then Ab to Bb back to the verse’s G major. There’s a lassitude in its construction, with long stretches between vocals where nothing much happens.

An octave-doubled Bowie sings in a tone of jaunty hysteria, with a vocal arrangement that includes a touch of doo-wop bass in the refrains. Gerry Leonard and David Torn’s guitars are wintry colors; Gail Ann Dorsey and Zachary Alford rumble up a subdued “Lust For Life” beat for the refrains; the synthetic “harmonica” fills reek of 1988; a faint suggestion of piano shivers through the track’s last seconds.

The lyric, haunted by water imagery, can also seem like a set of Bowie crossword clues. The city of solid iron: Ferropolis, the German open-air excavator museum? Detroit? Bowie’s lover being as “silent as Georges Rodenbach could nod to the Symbolist writer’s Bruges-la-Morte, in which a man obsesses over a woman he believes is his late wife (the novel would influence Hitchcock’s Vertigo a half-century later).* Or maybe it’s Rodenbach’s ultra-Romantic tombstone in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, in which a patina bronze nude seems to be languorously rising from the grave, clutching a rose.

Call it a love song about a beautiful death (to dance out in space is to expire out in space, like a drowning swimmer), set in a shuttered world, like Rodenbach’s Bruges (a port city that lost its sea). Recall that Bowie used “vampyric,” “succubus” and “chthonic” to describe the album to the novelist Rick Moody. Rodenbach would’ve been flattered, though he may have raised an elegant eyebrow at Bowie rhyming “ghost” with “ghost.”

Recorded: (backing tracks) 3 May-ca. 15 May 2011, The Magic Shop, NYC; (vocals, overdubs) spring-fall 2012, The Magic Shop, Human Worldwide, NYC. Released on 8 March 2013 on The Next Day.

Top: “In Sappho We Trust,” ” ‘Nysnc at Madame Tussaud’s, New York,” 2012.

* Translated literally as Bruges-the-Dead and more euphoniously as The Dead City, it was the basis for Korngold’s 1920 opera Die Tote Stadt. There was something of a Rodenbach revival in the 2000s, with some fresh English translations issued, which possibly caught Bowie’s interest.

45 Responses to Dancing Out in Space

  1. crayontocrayon says:

    Who doesn’t love a slightly goofy Bowie song referencing space? Can we confirm that he is saying ‘Big baby’ in a deep voice during the chorus? I really hope he is.

  2. Darren says:

    I strongly believe that the ‘true’ album ends with ‘Heat’. Bonus tracks are so common now that a line needs to be drawn if we want to stick with the concept of an album as artistic statement. The album is those 12 tracks and to be honest the overall quality of ‘The Next Day’ is diluted if we view it as a 24 album. I think it’s telling that the bonus tracks were all shunted onto a 2nd disc for ‘Extra’.

    • fluxkit says:

      I agree with that.

    • Mike says:

      I totally agree. I like the Next Day a lot, but if the Next Day was limited to the number of songs a record could hold, it would have been stronger tenfold. The ‘extras’ do indeed dilute it a bit.

      I even have a playlist that’s basically my imaginary Next Day single LP. Basically the first side is the same song order, starting with the song Next Day and ending beautifully with Where Are We Now. “Side 2″ bangs off with Valentine’s Day and ends with ‘Heat”. Perfect. B-Sides Can You See Me, Boss of Me, and Dancing Out in Space don’t make the cut.

      • s.t. says:

        Looks like you’d have to lop off another song on Side B, either Grass Grow or World on Fire. I’d keep Grass, but I’m probably in the minority there.

      • Mike says:

        @s.t. I like “Grass grow”. The guitar solo is really enjoyable and I like Bowie’s delivery in the verses. “Rather Be High” I never got into either. “”…Set On Fire”, is kind of goofy, but I like it.

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        It’s all very subjective isn’t it? Personally, my least favourite songs on the album are Love Is Lost (though the remix on the bonus disc is far superior), World On Fire, and Heat (that line about my father ran the prison just irritates me no end).
        Dancing Out In Space is a fine, enjoyably goofy song referencing space as Crayon to Crayon suggests. And my personal favourite on the whole album is the insanely catchy Where Does The Grass Grow, so the idea of deleting it altogether is abhorrent to me. Maybe in the light of all this subjectivity Bowie had done the right thing by just throwing the whole thing at the wall and seeing what sticks.

      • s.t. says:

        I thought a little more about my preferred track list. I couldn’t stick to the LP format, but what I have is a very pleasant 47 minutes:

        The Next Day
        Dirty Boys
        Valentine’s Day
        Love Is Lost
        Where Are We Now?
        Like a Rocket Man
        If You Can See Me
        The Stars Are Out Tonight
        God Bless the Girl
        How Does the Grass Grow
        Feel So Lonely You Could Die

        I need some of those obnoxious artier moments in the mix. I do really like So She, but it feels like a great B-side to me rather than a single or a album’s deep cut.

      • billter says:

        As long as we’re playing “Make your own Next Day,” here’s mine:


      • I very much agree with everyone here about the bonus tracks diluting the rest of the album a bit. I have had my own tracklist for a while.
        I cheated by adding one bonus track. 😉

        The Next Day
        Dirty Boys
        Love Is Lost
        The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
        Valentine’s Day
        If You Can See Me
        Dancing Out In Space
        How Does the Grass Grow?
        (You Will) Set the World on Fire
        I’ll Take You There
        Where Are We Now?
        Boss Of Me
        You Feel So Lonely You Could Die

    • verdelay says:

      Of course, we haven’t yet moved on to a discussion of the album cover, but it can be interpreted as a statement along the lines of ‘insert your preferred Bowie here’. What will the new Bowie record be like? Chock full of synthy hits like back in the 80s? Wildly off-kilter and arty like the late 70s? Loaded with big ballads? Fizzing with pop gems? Goofy Bowie? Gothic Bowie? Unhinged Bowie? Romantic Bowie? Or a smattering of each? Insert your Bowie here. I honestly think that the release pattern for the album is a consciously contrived artistic statement rather than a haphazard consequence of indifferent planning. Here is a Bowie album for the playlist era. Insert your Bowie here. Here’s mine. I haven’t listened to any of the other songs across the album’s sprawl since I worked this one through (a real fanboy’s pleasure). My version is heavy on the art-rock, leavened by a tuneful pop sensibility, and lyrically comprises a cohesive rumination on mortality. But no two TNDs are alike. They are like snowflakes – unique in their individual composition, but all beautiful, and all cold.

      1. The Next Day
      2. Dirty Boys
      3. So She
      4. How Does The Grass Grow?
      5. I’d Rather Be High
      6. Where Are We Now?
      7. Valentine’s Day
      8. If You Can See Me
      9. The Informer
      10. God Bless The Girl
      11. Feel So Lonely You Could Die
      12. Heat

      • Kikouyou says:

        Impossible to have The Next Day without Boss Of Me imo. This song gives the DNA of the 2013 bowie sound. It’s still the best of the lot for me.

      • verdelay says:

        That’s just what I mean – what for you is the essential beating heart of the album is for me a middling, despensible tune (what is WRONG with me?!?!). Bowie clearly understands that his chameleon legacy poses a challenge with any new release: he has accrued so many fans at so many different stages of his career that he can no longer safely ‘play to the galleries’ as once he might have – there are too many galleries, too many disparate tastes to appeal to in order to satisfy the fanbase. Better then to release a wide smorgasbord of songs and let the fans pick from it what they wish. It doesn’t hurt that they have to pay more for the different releases than they would for a single, canonical album.


  3. Mike says:

    I’ve tried, but I can’t get through a minute of this song.

  4. Deanna says:

    I’m not a huge fan of this one, but I’m trying to let it grow on me. It kind of sounds like the result of something Bowie came up with after being locked in a room with his band and told he wouldn’t be let out until he produced something, anything. It’s quite plain.

    I also agree that ‘Heat’ is the true end of TND.

  5. but … it’s not Major Tom again; is it? Won’t go away, rising static, repeating refrains – the cacophony of communication drowns out the voice until it is white noise …

  6. Ian McDuffie says:

    I’ve always appreciated the casualness of this song. Yeah, it’s not an attempt for the epic— but good! The Next Day is littered with them, whether honest epics or songs that for better or worse sound like “David Bowie Does Epic.” It isn’t helped by it’s location in the tracklisting— whatever follows “Boss of Me” is going to have a rough time being “the second song in a row you skip,” (and that’s said as someone who *likes* Boss of Me).

    This is an album with “Heat” and “The Next Day” and cod-prog like “If You Can See Me.” The very next song is “How Does The Grass Grow,” which goes again to that “Bowie writes about Death” vibe that’s all over the album. I’d argue that “Dancing” needs to be here to liven the mood.

    But, of course, when was Bowie ever that good at sequencing, or even picking the best songs he had for an album? The “death” of the rigid album is best for him. That kind of permission to adjust is all over the Next Day, cover on down. I haven’t listened to “You Will Set The World On Fire” in over a year. It seems more like I’m allowed to do that.

  7. wirestone says:

    Always amused that this song steals quite a bit of its melody from “At the Hop.”

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      Are you referring to “Life Begins At The Hop” by XTC?

      • col1234 says:

        i imagine he’s talking about the Danny & the Juniors thing from the ’50s (later sung by Sha Na Na)

      • wirestone says:

        Nope, At the Hop by Danny and Juniors. 9https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh5x8CtBsmI) Just compare the chorus there to the bit of Dancin’ that starts “something like religion.”

  8. s.t. says:

    It’s a Neu! song performed in Goblin City. A fun little ditty.

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      Maybe that’s why I enjoy this song so much, I’m just so into Neu! and that whole 4/4 Motorik beat. It’s fabulous to run to, perpetual motion indeed.

  9. Vinnie says:

    Here’s what I think:

    Bowie instructed everyone to vamp on “Lust for Life,” and then, using Iggy Pop’s style of random half-hearted improvised lyrics from, “Fall In Love With Me,” Bowie came up with some nonsense about space. “Need to fill the CD up,” Bowie said out loud as they were sequencing the album. Everyone thought, “You know, David, no one really ever wants an LP to be over 44 minutes. It’s just not right,” but no one could say it out loud.

  10. Mr Tagomi says:

    This is definitely a minor song but very likeable in a slightly silly way.

    I think the first run of 4 or 5 songs on the album is very strong indeed.

    The points where it dips for me are Valentine’s Day, Boss of Me and Set the World on Fire. Not that any of these are bad as such, but they try one’s patience given the length of the album.

    Plus, many of the extra tracks are far superior.

    • Vinnie says:

      I know it’s something we-dorks do on forums for each of our favorite music acts (thinking of AtEase Web and the multitude of Hail to the Thief tracklisting variation-threads), but yeah, The Next Day needs a bit of help to make it great.

      And you’re right, the extra tracks are not throwaways. “So She” is so simple, and the production is killer. 2:31 of classic Bowie-pop. (I’m willing to fight anyone who doesn’t like “So She.” And by ‘fight,’ I mean, cry a tear and ask, “why don’t you like it? It’s so pure! Bubblegum and lovey-dovey-romantic!”)

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Yes, “So She” is an achingly beautiful melody with a lovely lyric.
        My only criticism is that at 2:31 it’s too short. I just want it to go on and on…

  11. Momus says:

    1. Bowie has always been an absolute master of backing vocals. I think it might be the single thing he does which most impresses me. (And let’s not forget Eno’s line: “Starting to think that all of the world’s major problems can be solved with either oyster sauce or backing vocals.”) Here, he does a two-note “whoo” mid-chorus in which the vocal is one note above the bass anchor. It shouldn’t work — it’s a discord — but it does.

    2. Why do songs — especially Bowie songs — about space make me roll my eyes? We’re at an “anxious interval” from the space program. In the late 60s and early 90s people sang a lot about space, and it became a symbol not just for mainstream cultural aspirations — Kennedy’s “we will put a man on the moon” — but also a way to talk about inner voyages: the distances involved in drug experimentation and schizoid detachment.

    3. When Bowie sings about space on The Next Day, it makes me think two things. One, that he’s winking in the direction of Duncan’s Moon film, and that space has become the family franchise, rather like right-wing populism is to the Murdoch clan. Two — and this is more interesting — that the “wrongness-for-our-era” of songs like this and Like A Rocket Man is willed, deliberate and cool.

    4. To seem wrong and deliberately out of step is a mark of greatness of spirit. Why suddenly do a soul album? Why wear no socks, too-short suit trousers and make-up that looks like you have a black eye? Why, for that matter, sing about space in the early 20-teens, when we’re all focused on more mundane problems? Could it be that Bowie is rubbing our face in space as a way of pointing out our culture’s failed aspirations? It was all so important when he was 20, and now it’s not. But is that any reason to shut up about space?

    5. You could say the same about the Cold War and divided Berlin. Why suddenly sing about that, thirty years after the wall falls? I mean, just how untopical can The Next Day be? Why not call it “the old days”? But Berlin, like space, is the perfect symbol for something schizoid, a divided self which is nevertheless aspiring to unity. Sure, Bowie is an old man harking back to the Cold War and the Space Race, because those were the big stories of his youth. But they’re also bigger and more dramatic canvases than anything we have going on now.

    6. Or are they? What could The Next Day have been about, if it were actually about our “next days” in the future? In the mid-90s Bowie was embracing the big subjects of our time: the internet, biotech, contemporary art. It’s as if he’s stopped thinking about the future, stopped caring. What about “the clash of civilisations”, Islamophobia, the mannerist theatre of internet identity politics? Did he also stop listening when he stopped speaking?

    7. Two of the most memorable “late Bowie interview” quotes: In 2002 he said “I had rosy expectations for the 21st Century, I really did… But it has become something other that what I expected it to be.” And also: “I’m not going to enjoy being dead much.”

    8. If The Next Day sounds geriatric in some ways — this backward-looking, death-oriented, future-oblivious thematic — it’s worth remembering that the medium itself, rock music, is essentially an oldies artform now, with a rock press firmly in retro mode. Oldies make the music, which itself refers back to oldies. Bowie seems to be having explicit fun with this on The Next Day, referring back not just to his own back catalogue (the Lust For Life beat here, the past-prime space topic), but oldies like At The Hop, and even to song titles by old rivals (Like A Rocket Man).

    9. It’s all too easy to sing The Beatles’ Help along to a song like Like A Rocket Man. But so much of contemporary rock is “naggingly familiar” — retreads of old songs with shinier or beefier production, because “it works”. Insofar as it fails to experiment, to break off from its past, to create something new, the medium is condemned to this sort of dull self-repetition. It’s partly economic: ageing boomers still buy records, so “the pigs in the pipe” get the music they want, imposing a certain remunerative stasis.

    10. I have to agree with the comments the other day about Tony Visconti as producer. Here, the guitars are gooey-pretty and the drums are efficiently coffined in clinical reverb. Much as we love Tony and respect his past achievements, it’s telling that the most admirable production moment on The Next Day — for me, anyway — is the snare sound on Love Is Lost, a great big smiley wink back at Low and the Eventide harmoniser trick it pioneered. But done in a “late rock” way, shinier and beefier than before. What’s the point? Is it all just about asserting brand, firming up the family franchise, mirroring the glory days? What’s wrong with The Next Day — The Old Days — is that so little sounds “wrong”. And that’s why I sighed a big sigh of relief when ’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore came out. Wrong has never sounded so right.

    • MrBelm says:

      Is it possible Bowie reads JG Ballard, who mourned the death of the space age throughout his writing career?

  12. Maj says:

    It’s very pop, but this being Bowie it’s pop in a subversive way.
    It’s the kind of song the Master/Missy* would play as he watches people being sucked out of the airlock, after pushing a button.

    Back when the album came out, after listening to it for a few days I said that it was like a (really good) box of pralines…I think that metaphor still holds after all the bonus songs having materialised…well, if boxes of pralines were self-refilling, that is.

    Great. Now I have a chocolate craving. And in this heat.

    (*Doctor Who reference)

  13. David says:

    Is the rhyming lyric ghost or coast?

    Cutting through the water
    Hands upon the ghost
    To the city of solid iron
    To the kingdom on the coast

    It could work either way I suppose, which when I think about it, is part and parcel of his penchant for ambiguity.

    Dancing out in Space-is it another Moon reference I wonder, Sam Rockwells character, flailing to some forgotten radio hit on a ‘wave of phase’? The isolated figure exiled on an Island planet, finding a moment of magic, of connection to an imagined home through a forgotten pop artifact.

    Out in space, music is timeless, signals traveling through the celestial ether-always prescient and new to the distant ears that hear them. Somewhere out there, one imagines extraterrestrials grooving on Elvis.

    Who is the girl that he is urging to take the floor though? The girl who has his name and number-could it be Lexi?

    • col1234 says:

      the lyric sheet says “ghost” and “ghost” but DB sings it in ambiguous way, as you say.

  14. Ramzi says:

    A fun song.

    A quick word on the 42 words given to Nick Moody. Do they all describe the entire album or are they specific to songs? Divide 42 by 14 and you get 3. Going down the list 3 at a time, some of the more obvious words line up to their ‘relevant’ song: Succubus to TSAOT (as seen in the video), Mauer to WAWN, Balkan to HDTGG, etc.

    Although that leaves the words for this song as Funereal, Glide and Trace, so who knows.

  15. Patrick says:

    One of the weaker tracks on TND, a bit of a “skipper” and murkily produced , which doesn’t help as some have mentioned. More a throwback to the blandness of Never Let Me Down than the Lodgeresque opening title track of the album. Still, there’s a certain bitter- sweetness about the fact that after rumours of his frailty if not impending death that he could come out with a song that musically if not lyrically, he might have made almost 30 years ago, even at his creative low. So not one to enjoy for what it is, but for what it implied in terms of a perhaps not always focused (youthful?) energy still lurking. But in a ideal world would have been lucky to get on a B Side and weakens the album as originally released.

  16. David Clinton says:

    My worst track from the official album. Worst than the bonus tracks, which I think should have never been released, except maybe “God Bless the Girl”.
    I’m looking forward to reading the posts concerning the rest of the album.

  17. Starperson says:

    Oh, you grumpy things. Or as NME said, in their review of The Next Day: just what is it that you people want from David Bowie? Expectations of the man are that high that a well-crafted pop song is a disappointment. This song is like a light amuse you get in between courses of a great dinner to balance the whole thing out.

    Or to quote from the review: “Loveliest of all though is ‘Dancing Out In Space’, whose shimmying rhythms and warm, twangy licks are carefree as a giggle. The key change going into the chorus and the adorable resolution are the stuff musical love is made of, and love is of course the subject. The fact that Bowie quietly slips in a reference to Symbolist poet Georges Rodenbach into this irresistible dance tune makes it all the more delightful, the most invigorating moment on an album that bubbles over with life and creative curiosity.”

  18. MC says:

    I would say the album proper (the sequence ending with Heat) has three tracks I would call duds. Dancing Out In Space for me is the weakest of these, the only TND track I find irritating and borderline unlistenable. Almost any of the bonus tracks could have been swapped for it, in my opinion. That being said, it’s so weird and anomalous I can’t bring myself to really hate it, or even to skip it when I play the album; It’s like a mildly deranged re-visit of Bowie’s Let’s Dance-era revivalism. No less than TND’s better songs, it demonstrates, I think, that DB has achieved the state of not-caring-a-fuck that can be one of the joys of the later work of artists who’ve been around for decades. It reminds me of what Jean-Luc Godard said in his review of a late, much-reviled film by Charlie Chaplin, A King In New York. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something to the effect of the movie being the work of a free man. Well, so too is Dancing Out In Space, I think.

  19. gcreptile says:

    Really a bit of a silly song. The boogie woogie feeling is getting destroyed by the thick, muddled production. The weakest song of album (not counting Heat which I like even less, because of the comparison with The Electrician).

  20. Joe The Lion says:

    I was in Forbidden Planet in London today and this played on the speakers. It suited the environment perfectly, and actually sounded better when not surrounded by other Bowie TND tracks.

    I like this one, certainly more than I’d Rather Be High. It’s a little bit odd, but a little bit not odd, and it works for me.

    • I’m surprised by how many dislike the song! It’s actually among my faves on the album. Although totally different musically, I find it’s got that Fantastic Voyage – looking-towards-new-horizons feel to it. With a drum line à la Modern Love. I definitely like it much better than most of the extra tracks which don’t really do it for me.

  21. cansorian says:

    This definitely reeks of b-side, and not top tier b-side either. It starts off fairly well and just stays that way until the chorus, that’s where it really goes downhill for me. The chorus is some jaunty but bland 1980s throwback that always gives me visions of those silly Glass Spider tour dancers prancing around the stage.

    I don’t have a problem with Bowie referencing his back catalogue as Momus suggests, I just wish he picked a better period than his artistic nadir for this particular song. At least with God Bless the Girl he had the good sense to lift from Panic in Detroit.

  22. s.t. says:

    A dash of Panic in the intro perhaps, but a dollop of Like a Prayer for the chorus.

  23. Mike says:

    “..to dance out in space is to expire out in space…”.


  24. StoweTheLion says:

    I always enjoyed this song, it’s a real moment of coming up for air in the album too.

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