The Next Day

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The Next Day.
The Next Day (video).

Object one: Album cover art (CD: 5″ x 5.5″; LP: 12.5″ x 12.4″). Designer: Jonathan Barnbrook (photo: Masayoshi Sukita). Designed September-December 2012; issued 8 March 2013.

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I thought that some fan made a joke cover,” Tony Visconti recalled his reaction upon first seeing Jonathan Barnbrook’s The Next Day image. He wasn’t alone.

Commissioned by Bowie in September 2012, Barnbrook proposed that the Next Day cover image should be the defaced cover of an earlier Bowie album. “I thought it would be quite a shocking thing to do and also play with this idea of image,” he told the journalist Rob Meyers. He experimented on nearly every Bowie LP cover, with Aladdin Sane a promising candidate. But “subverting [Aladdin] didn’t work because it’s subversive already…if you subvert Aladdin Sane, you’re adding to it, not destroying it.”

In Sukita’s “Heroes” cover photograph, by contrast, “there’s a distance.” The photo is highly stylized (Bowie replicating a hand gesture from a favorite Egon Schiele painting) and completely contained: it’s Bowie as a god in a universe of one.

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Barnbrook first scrawled over the “Heroes” photograph and titles: it looked like a bitter ex-fan had wielded a magic marker (it was the scabrous recycled look of some Fall and Pavement album covers). It didn’t quite work. Then he struck upon having a white square obscure much of the photo. “It had to be something that was in direct contrast to the image underneath but that wasn’t too contrived (we know all design is contrived, that is the essence of the word ‘design’),” Barnbrook wrote in a blog entry in January 2013. “It would have been clearer to many people if we had scribbled all over the cover but that didn’t have the detachment of intent necessary to express the melancholy of the songs on the album.”

Although the album hadn’t been titled when Barnbrook started his work (the code name for the design project was “Table”), The Next Day and the defaced “Heroes” image worked in tandem. “We can be heroes—just for one day,” Bowie had sung. Now his beautiful alien 1977 visage is covered by what looks like a Post-it note. Because it’s the next day, the day after being heroes, back to her being mean and him drinking all the time.

It’s also Bowie’s first album cover not to show his “current” image.* At some point, out of boredom or necessity, the likes of Dylan and Paul McCartney and Neil Young have issued albums whose covers were a painting or a photograph of something other than the aging artist. Not Bowie: his albums are a sequence of magazine covers, his “current” look as important as his current sound. (And recall that “Heroes” had extra impact because it was the first commissioned Bowie cover photo since Young Americans.) The Next Day offers messy shorthand. Bowie isn’t quite “back”: no interviews, no tours, no new cover picture. And rather than claiming he’s offering any new sound, he’s openly scribbling and pasting over his old work.

* Exceptions include Tin Machine II and the original Buddha of Suburbia.

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Object two: Music video (2:58). Dir: Floria Sigismondi. Starring: David Bowie, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Megan Neal Bodul, Catherine Jolleys, Brigitte Hagerman, Folake Olowofoyeku, Joshua Blake Shiver. Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth. Executive producer: Colleen Haynes (Black Dog Films.) Producers: Jennifer Chavaria, Oualid Mouaness. Released 8 May 2013.

A corrupt priest goes to his favorite bar, populated some possibly depraved Catholic icons, and dances with a woman working there. The music is courtesy of a prophet who’s apparently been out in the desert for a while. The woman develops stigmata, blood sprays everywhere, the prophet’s attacked by false priests and harlots until the deus ex machina ending, complete with heaven-sent white light and the prophet being raptured away.

The reaction was to be expected. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue attacked Bowie, though more for aesthetic incoherence than blasphemy (“it’s a sure bet [Bowie] can’t stop thinking about the Cadillac of all religions, namely Roman Catholicism. There is hope for him yet,” he concluded). A former Archbishop of Canterbury said Bowie didn’t have the guts to make a video that played with Islamic imagery. YouTube briefly deleted the video (though apparently in error, not in response to complaints), which made fans excited for a moment that Bowie was “dangerous” again. A few tabloids got to run some two-page spreads with blood and half-dressed women, which they always like doing.

It does all seem a bit tired: épater le bourgeois catholique is a very Eighties thing, and Madonna had gotten there first. What saves Floria Sigismondi’s video is its cracked sense of humor, its taste for the grotesque and Sigismondi’s eye for a shot: the way Gary Oldman’s priest, with his ducktail haircut, looks like an aged greaser; the way Marion Cotillard seems to be willing herself out of the frame though abstracted bliss.

“‘The Next Day’ is a song about a tyrant, let me leave it at that,” Visconti said in an interview, while in another he described the tyrant as a medieval Englishman [or “Catholic cardinal”] who “was very insignificant. I didn’t even know who Bowie was talking about. But if you read the lyrics, it’s quite a horrific story.”

A weary sense of obligation led me to spend a couple days trying to track down which “English tyrant” Bowie had read about, but searches for tyrants who were stuffed in hollow trees, or who cavorted with whores, or who were chased through alleys, turned up nothing in particular. Anyway Bowie’s character is far more a general idea of some grasping second-tier Shakespearean villain, a rabble-rousing priest who winds up being killed by his rabble. The video plays with this: all of its medieval Catholic imagery (Joan of Arc is at the bar, as is the eyeless St. Lucy, though the flagellant barback is more a Dan Brown nod than anything else).

It’s all a bit of theater, but the main joke is about Bowie. The sequence of Next Day videos is a storyline. “Where Are We Now” is the returned ‘Bowie’ as a mummified museum exhibit, supervised by the “real” Bowie who keeps off stage. “The Stars Are Out Tonight” is Bowie playing himself as a senior citizen. And “The Next Day” is his big, vulgar Cinescope resurrection, with Bowie howling, jumping around, cursing, performing ‘live’ again. “The normalisation,” as the blogger How Upsetting described it. “Bowie performs. He hams it up. The curtain is pulled back. The deity figure is snuffed out at the end.”

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Object three: Musical composition/recording (3:27). Composer: D. Bowie. Performers: D. Bowie, vocals, guitar; David Torn: guitar; Gerry Leonard: guitar; Gail Ann Dorsey: bass; Zachary Alford: drums; Antoine Silverman, Maxim Moston, Hiroko Taguchi, Anja Wood: violins, viola, cello (string arrangement: Bowie, Tony Visconti). Producers: D. Bowie, T. Visconti. Spiritual influences: Mick Ronson, Macbeth. Recorded: (backing tracks) 3 May-ca. 15 May 2011, The Magic Shop, NYC; (overdubs) spring-fall 2012, Magic Shop; Human Worldwide, NYC. Released 8 March 2013.

The doctors tell me I shouldn’t be here now. But I don’t go to the doctors for chemotherapy or anything anymore. I just put one foot in front of the other, and the next day is the next day, and you do your best. I’ve still got so much to do.

Mick Ronson, 1993.

You can talk about the drums: Zachary Alford harping on the beat, brooking no distractions, sparing little time for fills, pacing everyone with his hi-hat. Or the guitars: the crunchy off-beat figure that comments throughout the track, and the trebly guitar that comments on its comments, and the spectral guitar that plays a rising E Dorian line to ladder up to the refrains, or all the other dubs happy to make the occasional clatter. Or the other touches, like the barely-audible rising string lines in the refrains.

You can talk about the song, happy to stay in its bright E major (some verses seem to pull off into G major, only to be dragged up or down, depending where they are, back to E), with its chassis a set of fat seventh chords (G7-C7-E7, and so on).

All well and good. But “The Next Day” is Bowie’s vocal and little else. Sequenced as the opening track, it’s Bowie offering a demonstration, in a few minutes, that he’s alive and unwell and full of piss and vinegar. His phrasings are delicious consonant runs (“ignoring the pain of their partic-u-lar dis-ease-es“), hooked on simple dumb rhymes (“yeah” with “yeah,” ending with “yeah”). His words blur into runs of aggressive sound, as if Bowie’s been penned up for a decade and needs to get this stuff out. Can you believe this? Echoing “Breaking Glass,” he kills off a verse by saying: Listen! Or how a stray line catches the ear—listen to the whores, he tells her—but before you process it, here comes another refrain battering at you.

And what a refrain. Bowie, seemingly doubled by a pantheon of himself, hollers down a world that wants him dead (it wants everyone dead, if you think about it). Who knows whether a line from one of Mick Ronson’s last interviews was in his mind as he wrote it, but “The Next Day” winds up being a curse at death from the ranks of the living. Whatever credos Bowie has offered, whatever dreams he’s encouraged, his work boils down to a line he’d sung at age 22, in “Cygnet Committee“: We want to live.

Even if you’re left half-dead, some near-corpse stuffed into a tree by fanatics, you’re not dead yet. So give ’em the finger, if you can. HERE I AM: NOT QUITE DYING. The anti-epitaph. The bitter pleasure derived from living despite God or the fates’ best intentions. The joy of the numbing business of life, all the small routines, all the breaths and footsteps, the eye-blinks and stomach rumbles. The small beauty of just keeping on, however pointless it all may seem. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, a doomed Scot once said. And the NEXT DAY and the NEXT and ANOTHER DAY, offers the man from Bromley, roaring out those last words. One foot in front of the other. Live, live, goddamn you: live.

61 Responses to The Next Day

  1. Patrick says:

    We can be heroes, just for one day….
    and the next day….and another day

  2. Nick says:

    Thanks, I have been particularly waiting for your view on this song. I’ve written about this elsewhere on the internet but find it really interesting that the last verse of the last track on Reality, prior to Bowie’s 10 year album hiatus goes:

    “Close me in the dark, let me disappear
    Soon there’ll be nothing left of me
    Nothing left to release”

    That, of course, is from Bring Me The Disco King (I fully appreciate that BMTDK is an old, old song that has been rattling around Bowie towers since the early 1990s whilst Bowie battled to find the right treatment for it). That said, the poignancy of that final verse as well as the line “stab me in the dark” is undeniable. Who knew that Bowie’s recording studio sabbatical was about to begin?

    Contrast those final words with this rampaging album opener. As you mentioned, It was Tony Visconti that said the track was about a medieval tyrant king but, like you, I wondered who that could possibly be. It has always seemed to me that the song was referencing Bowie himself… is he now the tyrant king? Now he seems so far removed from the disco king.

    Bowie’s vocals on The Next Day on robust, powerful and defiant “Here I am, not quite dying”. A million miles away from the last verse on the last studio album.

    I particularly liked your description “a rabble-rousing priest who winds up being killed by his rabble”… now, who could that possibly be!?

  3. John Morgan says:

    I wonder if that phrase “here I am: not quite dying” is a retort to the Flaming Lips’ Is David Bowie dying?

  4. David says:

    I hadn’t seen that Mick Ronson quote before, that gives the piece a whole different gravitas.

    Regardless, it struck me that the whole thing smacked of Bowie thumbing his nose at those who thought he was beleaguered with some terminal illness, the ‘body’ manifest as a symbol of his legacy, or artistic cannon, rotting in some contemporary musical purgatory-‘the hollow tree’, he’d bemoaned it before of course on Reality-” These blackest of years | That have no sound” -but formulated as The Next Day was, within a turgid arena of auto tuned sputum, were the kind of homogenized afterbirth such as Gaga was being championed as ‘pops cutting edge’, the hollow must have echoed like Voronya.

    The branches cast shadows on the gallows, but this isn’t the mountain called Freecloud that he can call boulders down from, the hangman plays no mandolin and the singer is no longer a wild eyed ingenue. Paper dolls wash ashore like essays lying scattered, and the unwashed hordes are those who ‘can’t get enough of the doomsday song’-the choir of the Flaming Lips et al, chanting in unison like vultures-“Is David Bowie dying?”

    He wasn’t, but the sense of discord that existence is interminable, is reinforced by the churning chord sequence from another song “Repetition” -it’s day after day…day in day out…the next day, but the venom contained here is the sound of an aging artist, fully aware of less time ahead than behind, refusing to go quietly.

    When I hear it, I think of Goya’s painting-“Fight with Cudgels” or even late Picasso daubing images of sirens pissing into the Bay of Biscay.

    Needless to say, its my favorite song from the album.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      Speaking of Repetition, the first couple of bars of this song feature a bit of guitar noise strongly reminiscent of Repetition.

      I wonder whether this as a deliberate ploy to subliminally make people think “classic Bowie”.

      Reviewers in 2013 were straight out of the blocks comparing the new album to Lodger, and my suspicion is that this noise had a lot to do with that.

  5. Dave L says:

    Great post, yes that does seem to be Bowie himself snarling from within that hollow tree. I laughed at your line about obligingly searching the ether for some mention of a medieval figure that would fit the story in the lyrics.

    Re: the music video, your line “it does all seem a bit tired” sums it up perfectly.

    Re: the album cover, I think it is a misfire, both in theory and execution.

  6. Vanyo says:

    I always thought the line “my body left to rot in a hollow tree” oddly echoed the incident in Also Sprach Zarathustra where Zarathustra stuffs the dead man in the hollow tree saying “let the dead bury their dead”.

  7. Mike says:

    Anyone else hear Peter Murphy’s vocal style when he sings,
    “They can work with satan while they dress like the saints
    They know god exists for the devil told them so
    They scream my name aloud down into the well below”?

  8. s.t. says:

    This is yet another Bowie song that knocks off “Pretty Pink Rose”–that simplistic rock chug drives me nuts–but it’s one that I can forgive and even love.

    Because it also calls to mind edgier rock gems like “Beauty & the Beast” and “Fashion,” and it’s got Bowie finally summoning some drama and bile after years of “tasteful” (bland?) restraint. It’s a great intro song for the album, and also a great counterpoint to the singles that preceded the album proper.

    • steven says:

      BABY UNIVERSAL

      • s.t. says:

        I can see what you’re saying with the Iggy-does-Neu! drums and the “baby, baby” chant, but Baby Universal’s dynamics are so much more exciting. There’s the off kilter vocals, the regal guitars, and drums that actually change up!

  9. billter says:

    Great call connecting this to “Cygnet Committee.” It’s a great paradox to me that in everything Bowie does, however dark, bleak, and cynical. there’s always this countercurrent of an indomitable will to live and create. Just bothering to make music at all is a statement that not all hope is lost, that there is a point to carrying on, though it may not be clear at the moment what that is.

    I think also of “Win”: “Somebody lied/I say it’s hip/To be alive.” A rebuttal to nihilism in 9 simple words (and just before punk made nihilism fashionable). I first became familiar with this song when the Ryko reissue of “Young Americans” came out, right around the time of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. As a result I always connect Kurt with the lyrics “Someone like you should not be allowed to start any fires.” (Someone like you should not be left alone with drugs and firearms.) I’ve always imagined that if someone had been there to put “Win” on the stereo, Kurt would have changed his mind.

    This is why I’m willing to bend over backwards to give “The Next Day” (song and album) the benefit of the doubt. 68-year-old bad-heart David Jones is still in there trying, still has some things he wants to say. What more can we ask?

  10. James says:

    A very Lodgeresque track, I hear Repetition in the background.

  11. verdelay says:

    A wild and wonderful fist-shaking howl, quintessentially Bowie. And I thought the album artwork was masterful. I mean, how very dare he!

  12. Steven S says:

    This might sound too obvious, but I took the song to be about a false messiah, as made explicit in the refrain. Jesus of course was left to die on a tree, but on the next day after the next day transcended death. The followers of this guy wait, but after so long “and another day” it’s clear the game is up – he wasn’t the real deal. So they scrub out the image of the Hero and look for someone else.

    • Me Tagomi says:

      There certainly seems to be a messiah-like pattern to the narrative anyway. With a mediaeval or renaissance feel to it somehow.

      I think the lyrics are really outstanding, actually.

      A great song.

  13. glasshalfdrunk says:

    I loved this song and I was amazed when the album came out it got very little attention in reviews. So very glad to read your review of it, confirming all the things I love about it!

  14. doctorsweet says:

    You mentioned the series of videos for “The Next Day”, but I couldn’t help but notice you skipped “Valentine’s Day”. Was it an oversight, or do you just not see it as part of that grand scheme?

  15. Shoop says:

    Can you imagine if THIS was the video we were surprised with on his birthday?

  16. Momus says:

    1. “Ranty rock chug” is how I’d characterise this one. I find the guitars and chords particularly uninteresting, and — as in other Next Day songs — the lyrics seem to be sung in a way which diminishes their impact. Since there’s no melody line to speak of, it’s only the forceful rhythms of the later lyrics which give the song some impact, the triple hits of “HERE-I-AM-(GAP) NOT-QUITE-DYING-(GAP)…”

    2. I happened to be listening to What In The World yesterday, and — just on the level of sound — it’s light years ahead of The Next Day. Eno’s blippy-boppy suitcase-synth rhythm is so fresh, the drums bash around joyfully, the song rushes ahead unpredictably yet purposefully, with a crooked charm. Nothing is by-the-book, everything is up for grabs. The fragmented lyrics take us to a girl’s room, and to that place where personality disorder and charm intermingle (like crooked British teeth, I’m tempted to add). Full of a kind of joyful uncertainty and playfulness, this is a song from a person who is used to off-kilter experiences, and loves them. Even the “ahhh” backing vocals are inventive and daring, each running on longer and bending more foppishly (and Iggyishly) than the last.

    3. In The Next Day there’s none of that charm. The guitars are so session-man, so boilerplate, the overall sound is so neglected, so retro (this rock book was written years ago, nothing is up for grabs, there is no future for this music), and yet the vocal it serves is incoherent, with disappointing rhymes of “yeah” with “yeah” and “there” with “there”. (Admittedly What In The World doesn’t have much in the way of melody or rhyme either, mostly substituting word repetition.)

    4. I get that it’s supposed to be a mesomorphic rock rant, but the mix is all wrong for that — the very opposite of Watch That Man, which sacrificed vocal clarity for guitar power. Here the multi-tracked guitars are tiny, inconsequential, muscular-in-the-distance (therefore-weedy), while the ranty voice is way too prominent. The result is like being showered with saliva at Speaker’s Corner while a dinosaur rock festival plays far off in Hyde Park.

    5. One often wonders whether Bowie has become an irascible old man. The naughties were a decade in which opinion — in blogs, on messageboards, in clickbait commentary — became all-important, and this song seems to be Bowie weighing in, naughties-style, on a blogworthy and bloggily-boring topic: the hypocrisies and crimes of the Catholic church. There were headlines about it, then there weren’t. Bowie wrote the song, and the obligatory Twitter shitstorm duly arose and subsided — a storm in a PR teacup — with Catholic anger directed mostly at the video, which is Sigismondi at her most tediously fashionista, recycling Pierre et Gilles kitsch (and, yes, Madonna-level provocation) two decades too late.

    6. I thought the Barnbrook cover was good, at once canonical (because self-references on Bowie sleeves go back to Edward Bell’s Scary Monsters sleeve) and thumbing its nose at the canon. It’s iconic desecration, which is also what this song is playing around with, but at least the Bowie team owns the Bowie religion, and can do what it wants with the cult imagery. It was great to see the posters in cities all over the world, looking as if ancient posters had seeped back through layers of paper and wheatpaste. Beneath the Planet of the Apes it’s always 1977.

    7. I also like that this entry starts with the sleeve, and discusses the video, because — long before “360 deals” became a music industry standard — Bowie has always been an exemplary pop figure, in the sense that his impact can’t be pinned down to any one element. It certainly isn’t the guitars here, nor the melody. In the 360 idea of an artist, you might discard everything and just choose to value a way of colouring hair, or a particularly resonant sleeve image. Bowie has always understood the importance of these non-musical things, and it’s what makes us forgive him for “rock ordinaire”: the action might well be elsewhere. It might be visual.

    8. The overall impression I take away from this song is that it has — as David notes so well upthread — that late-Goya, late-Picasso feel of bilious energy. Even a bit of Bosch, perhaps. It wants to be an angry late masterpiece, or maybe just a mad daub on the hospital wall. I don’t think it succeeds. It’s merely making the moves, growling the growls. It feels to me like a movie trailer, which hypes up an action film by packing way too much catastrophe into too little space. There’s a crowd scene, whores, an evil priest, gallows, unjust authority, some weird ritual involving floating paper sculptures on water, the devil, the mob howling, people dying on their knees, and the central character (naturally) surviving it all by the skin of his teeth.

    9. Too much fire, too many explosions, underpinned by one of those generic scores you feel like you’ve heard a million times even when you’re hearing it fresh. Anger without ideology, finger-pointing purely for dramatic effect, blogging for clicks. When I imagined a new Bowie album in 2012 — Vivid Old Man, I was calling it — it was far, far from this. It was Harry Partch (Bowie has talked him up in interviews), it was microtonal, it was shanties arranged by Penderecki.

    10. I had to go off and do something like that myself, but even this I credit to my idol. He was always someone who encouraged you to go off and “be the Bowie you wish to see in the world”. The pact you have with your hero includes this in its 360 degree span: that he can have whatever next day he wants — with whatever rants and venting and clickbait blogging he needs to do — and you can go off and have, quietly somewhere on the margins, another next day altogether, one extrapolated from the idea of “new music night and day”.

    • s.t. says:

      I admit I’m a bit puzzled by all of the chanting on the album. I sometimes get the urge to sing Toni Basil’s “Mickey” when it’s on.

      • Momus says:

        You know, I think it’s something to do with Bowie being sensitive about his voice sounding weak and quivery. When you sing in a shouty, ranty way, really pushing air out from your thoracic diaphragm, you can disguise that quite easily.

      • s.t. says:

        Yes, very likely.

    • David says:

      I agree, I think perhaps the song suffers as a stand alone piece, as a result of the video accompaniment. Of course, Bowie is a past master at this, and it’s hard for instance not to have your minds internal projector, splice through a retinue of personae, when hearing anything that had a promo attached to it.

      I think the danger here however, is the notion that a socio-political or in this case socio-religious statement, somehow translates as a cause of the day. To say-the Catholic church-‘oh that’s so 1990 Madonna’, is to ascribe that the litany of ills,one can still levy against that established doctrine, as unfashionable, and therefore beyond the remit of investigation.

      Of course, it’s an easy target, except the historical tableau of horrors, from the inquisition, its connections to the Nazi party through to the ongoing controversy surround victims of sexual abuse, is a slate that shouldn’t be wiped clean, purely on the belief that it existed momentarily within the mono cultural spotlight of pop, forever consigning it to bargain bin status

      That said, Bowie is probably just playing with imagery here, his love of Italian renaissance Art- flagellation’s,lamentations, annunciations,ascensions, Bellini,Raphael,Dela Francesca all in attendance-except as a rock band in a south London dive. It’s pomp stripped bare of its artifices, trails on a leash, and in fact having seen the story boards for the aborted Diamond Dogs movie, the video is almost a surreal memento from that period, a timeless artifact in a sphere were pop has no meter, like a radio wave in space.

      Listening to this album, I’ve come to think of Bowie as a kind of Rod Serling figure, a narrator of timeless aphorisms, dipping into various timelines of his Twilight canon, no longer anchored to this or any other period, no latest haircut, or this weeks pair of shoes, its as Timothy Leary once said ” Each imprint is added to the previous imprints, as well as reinterpreting former imprints.”

    • Kento says:

      I feel the same way about the feeling of energy. The worst aspects of both Reality and The Next Day to me are that they seem motivated by the idea that excitement is exciting. That wasn’t how people who were interested in David Bowie in 2013 were likely to feel.

  17. ERayLankester says:

    Somewhat “angry from Mayfair”, but it’s a gleeful fury, a thunderbolt from Olympus. I’m with Chris on taking the self-referential perspective on the lyric, the source of its power. Spittle-flecked, impolite Bowie is fine by me. It’s also, again, a feint towards Scott Walker and his allusive pop-history (especially ‘Clara’, another portrait of a tyrant’s fall).

    So it depends where you place the bar. Compared to “Hours”? It would raise the dead.

    But to “Watch that Man?/What in the World”….. well, what could?

  18. MarinaSofia says:

    Excellent, detailed and nuanced review – thank you!

  19. Superb review as always.

  20. Phil Obbard says:

    Interesting to read everyone’s comparisons to LODGER and “Repetition”. I can see where that comes from (though, to me, the LODGER influence in stronger on “The Dirty Boys”), but for me, the rhythm track here sounds like a pretty straightforward reworking of “New Killer Star”, the last track to open a Bowie LP.

  21. gcreptile says:

    Quite a juxtaposition when it came out, just after the calm, weary Where Are We Now. I’m still ambivalent about whether I liked that “return to form” which also implied a certain stagnation. Stil, as an album opener, it’s a very fitting statement. And I quite like it, but a song like this in the middle of an album would get easily overlooked.
    The story about the album cover was very interesting. I can appreciate it because it’s not just “adding to it” as Barnbrook says, but a very radical destruction. It hurts the eye and the mind, and that’s the intention. Artistically, it delivers.

  22. steven says:

    I think the worst thing Bowie could have done, in terms of securing the legacy of TND, was releasing Pity and Sue so soon after. Both songs seemed like broadcasts from the Bowie album I’d hoped to get and didn’t.

    This song more than any other would have benefitted from a much rougher, scrappier production than it got – if Bowie wanted to write rock songs like this I wish he’d got them sounding like P J Harvey’s did on Rid of Me.

    Also loved the cover from the second I saw it and still do. Seemed to piss off all the right people in the press. Jonathan Barnbrook’s work on this and Nothing Has Changed was astonishingly well judged and I hope Bowie gives him an even better project to work on in the near future.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I agree – Pity and Sue are the kind of DB stuff I really want to hear.

      I mean, I really like The Next Day LP. I think there’s at least 40 minutes of Grade A Bowie on it.

      But at the same time, like Heathen and maybe Hours – not so much Reality – it feels like there’s something very slightly too clinical, too technically correct about the execution of some of the songs.

      Mind you, I wouldn’t number The Next Day (the song) as one of those.

  23. MajorTomCat says:

    Thank you (as always) for this brilliant write-up, Chris.
    This is just to say that I distinctly remember Bowie actually quoting Ronson’s phrase in a remote interview I discovered after TND was published, which also made me think of the title song as an intentional reference.
    Alas, I cannot remember the source!

  24. Lux says:

    I must have my wires crossed but that line sounds like the Keebler theme song, baked by little elves in a hollow tree.

  25. Maj says:

    You did it, dammit, Chris. A perfect entry for this song, probably my favourite on the album.

    WAWN is special, Heat is cool but this wee song just does it for me. One of the best rock songs he’s written.

    The yeahs, and the Listens…perfection.

    One of the few Bowie songs I loved at first listen. And haven’t got tired of yet.

    The video? Catholic blah blah. Love Bowie, love Gary, Marion is great. No video could ever live up to the video playing in my head when I listen to this song.

    TND cover……….well I get the intention, doesn’t mean I particularly like it. I can live with it though, I think there was an album cover or two which were worse (hint: the 80’s).

    • BenJ says:

      Since Bowie doesn’t come from a Catholic background himself, the video is probably more down to the director, who is, after all, Catholic. I’d agree that the song is itself so exciting that it doesn’t need a video, but I did love Bowie thanking the actors by name at the end.

      • Anonymous says:

        The catholic church were up in arms over this, labelling him a “switch hitting bisexual senior citizen”

        Of which he took it in his stride

  26. Starperson says:

    I love the Ronson-reference and the passion of your conclusion, it really moved me.

    I find it funny though no one mentions the humour of the video. Sure, it’s critical, but mostly it’s so grotesque it’s kind of a pitchdark comedy, making fun of his status. Especially the ending, where Bowie vanishes: you can see him swallowing some serious laughter.

    Lyrically, I think it mostly is a big middle finger to everyone taking him so seriously they made a messiah out of him during his absence (his time in the desert, just like Jesus and some other holyish figures fond of brown robes). Well, there you have it, he seems to say: here I am, your messiah, ressurrected. Happy now? Bowie’s lyrics often are more straightforward than we like to think, the medieval stuff might just be a pun to send us the wrong way, googling non-existing tyrants.

    As for his body in the hollow tree: I definitely see this as a referral to his body of work, to his past he keeps dragging with him, persona’s people still worship as messiahs. In Also Sprach Zarathusta, Zarathusta – a Nietschian-styled prophet preaching Supermen (remember them?), moonlighting as a shepard – doesn’t want a flock of followers anymore, but companions. ‘I need companions, living ones – not dead companions and corpses (…). I need living companions who will follow ME because they want to follow THEMSELVES-and to any place that I wish.’ And: ‘The creative man seeks companions, not corpses or flocks and believers. The creative man seeks co-creators (….).’

    Zarathusta buries his dead companion in a hollow tree, a primitive way to bury the dead and protect them from wild animals, so the appearance stays preserved. I like to think Ziggy’s in the tree, Man Dress Bowie, Duke-Bowie, Pop-Bowie and all other Bowies we like to worship. Their appearance is preserved so we can still look at them, but Bowie considers them dead and left them behind, in need of some new living companions.

    Here I am, Bowie says. From now on I’m going to do whatever the hell I please creatively. Join me if you want, leave me if you don’t. I don’t want followers, I want companions who want to follow me because they want to follow themselves. To any place that I wish.

    When he disappears in the video, I see Ziggy leaving the building, and all the other Bowies in the hollow tree. I consider The Next Day a grand exorsism of the concept of Bowie, with David Bowie Is as a visual companion. It had to be done to be able to experiment again. Now he’s free to do crazy jazz improvisations, vortic home recordings and musical theatre with awesome Belgian directors.

    But on the other hand: it would be a very Bowie thing to know about a highly unknown medieval tyrant🙂

    • Maj says:

      You’re entirely right about the humour in the video. I haven’t watched it in 2 years but now that you mentioned it I immediately remembered I found it absolutely hilarious and was amused by people’s reaction to it, here, and in the media.

  27. BenJ says:

    The album cover reminds me of the work of John Baldessari, a California artist whose practice involves targeted vandalism of stock-footage type images in much this way. I’d be rather surprised if Bowie weren’t familiar with his work.

    “The Next Day” the song sounds like what he was going for on Never Let Me Down but mostly wasn’t able to achieve. Like if he’d listened to the demo of “Day In Day Out”, scrapped it, and come up with something more playful.

  28. Patrick says:

    On the Goya references, I would possibly look at his Disasters of War, specially “This is Worse” and “Grande hazaña! Con muertos!”
    Corpses in trees abound. Referenced by Bunuel in L’Age D’Or which I’m sure DB would be aware of.

  29. roobin101 says:

    I like it, boilerplate guitars, thin vocals included. It should have really been the second song people heard from Bowie, not Stars. It is what it is, an overture… Only the symphony doesn’t quite arrive.

  30. While the song maybe doesn’t stand up on it’s own, it’s still an excellent choice for the first track to his first LP in a decade. After ten years of rumours and speculation regarding Bowie’s health, the line “HERE I AM NOT QUITE DYING” is very satisfying indeed. One can’t help but think there must be an autobiographical element to the lyric. I do think it suffers from the classic Heathen/Reality Visconti production. The chaos is all there but it doesn’t quite hit the mark somehow.

    I was a fan of the album cover as soon as I saw it. I knew it’d bemuse and even annoy some people. I think it even possibly raised my expectations for how the music would sound. If it wasn’t for WAWN I’d have been convinced that Bowie had finally gone all out avant-garde.

    I do like the music video. I liked all the Next Day videos actually. I liked that this video, even for a moment, stirred up controversy. Sure Catholicism is an easy target these days, but the video was so tongue-in-cheek that I don’t think for one second anyone thought this was a straight faced criticism of the church.
    I also don’t agree with the idea that criticism of something can become unfashionable. I feel that it’s a somewhat dangerous mindset to have.

    • s.t. says:

      I don’t think people meant to say that targeting the Church itself is unfashionable—a song or video addressing sexual abuse would still be very relevant—but playfully desecrating Catholic iconography and doctrine feels very 1980s. Not edgy at all. People still do it: like Lady Gaga in her Alejandro and Judas videos, for instance, but it’s well worn territory at this point.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        Have to say, it came as a surprise to me that there was any “controversy” at all over the video. It didn’t even occur to me initially that that might have been the intention.

        The video seems more humorous than anything else. The priests in it seem no more a commentary on the RC church than the priests in Father Ted.

  31. Phil Obbard says:

    This video seems like Bowie’s just having a lot of fun – not making a serious statement. More “Blue Jean”, less “China Girl” (from a music video perspective). I *do* think he’s trying to make a serious statement with the “Valentine’s Day” video, but we’ll get there…

  32. Mike says:

    I’m sorry, but this song would’ve been right at home on Tin Machine III.

  33. Deanna says:

    I absolutely love the connection you made with the fact that we don’t see a “present” Bowie and the fact that we don’t really see Bowie anymore. It’s so perfect, and I never thought of it that way before.

    Excellent entry!

  34. MC says:

    Even two years later, away from all the excitement around Bowie’s return, The Next Day still sounds to me like one of Bowie’s most exhilarating opening gambits, easily matching and possibly surpassing Beauty And The Beast on Heroes. Love the touch of Lydon (or Peter Murphy) in the vocal. My main complaint about the video is the edit of the track it uses; cutting back on the refrain merely dampens its rabble-rousing fury.

    Terrific piece; beautiful job pulling together all the strands (cover, promo clip, song). Not as much as I expected on the track’s resemblance to the Berlin/Scary Monsters period, but then it is possible to go overboard on these comparisons, as many reviewers did at the time. I always felt that the similarities to the late 70’s records hinged mostly on this song and Track 2, where the rest of the album moves into less-familiar territory, but that’s a subject for later.

    • Patrick says:

      As mentioned, it s a kind of brash “I’m here, back and not dying” energetic overture for the album. It doesn’t over stay its welcome and the “springy” rhythmic “creak” during the last part is strangely entertaining, like listening to a child’s toy, when you were five.
      Sometimes though I prefer not to have seen the video interpretation.

  35. Brian says:

    You know, something I thought about while reading this entry and looking at the video again is if the tyrant Bowie is referring to is himself [Not an original thought evidentally, as many above felt the same]. Bowie was no doubt saavy enough to know things hadn’t really changed since ‘Teenage Wildlife’, with its new romantics looking to him for guidance, to modern day musicians still trying to pull a Bowie by shifting their style/genre or dressing flamboyantly. Basically, a generation of musicians are slaves to the canon of Bowie and Bowie is probably the most distraguht by it all. The thing about prophets are that they aren’t alive- but at the time of the song Bowie was, so we get to see a ‘prophet’ angry about how people are interpreting his words. I think in that respect the song is a predecessor to Blackstar- in that song Bowie knows it’ll be interpreted as the words of a ‘departed’ prophet rather than a ‘fallen’ prophet, so he expanded on the idea more in that song and video.

    Or it really could just be a medieval flavored lyric, which is the most likely.

    As a song I quite like it, but admittedly it is inferior to it’s older sibling ‘Scary Monsters’, and as a harder rock song is inferior to it’s slightly older sibling ‘Reality’. Some of the vocals seem muddled to me, which also drags my appreciation of it down. While the instrumentals are great I wish they were a little more daring. (Wait didn’t I say I quite liked it?)

  36. stowe says:

    In reflection, it is very easy to see The Next Day as an album of Bowie’s decade of reading books. You can imagine he read so much in those years he was “at home”. And I think it shows in the album a lot. He was a man who loved books, and I’d say this is his ode to them.

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