You often ask me why I don’t write. I could answer you by saying I have no sense of history. It costs me an entire day’s effort to think about the next day.
Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Tres Tristes Tigres.
EFFIGIES INDULGENCES ANARCHIST
When I engaged with it deeper, I found the longer you sit with it the better you see the trick he’s trying to pull. I can see he was trying to pull off something quite grand and meta. Whether the material started off intended for a musical or as some kind of experiment or exercise to build back his songwriting chops, maybe that’s one of the reasons why it’s got some weird shapes and so much surplus detail.
One of my conclusions about it is that it works best when you consider it as assemblage art, like the key is not only seeing what it resembles, but also seeing the various parts and remnants that comprise it, the bolts and screws and seams, the proximities of everything.
Leah Kardos, on The Next Day
VIOLENCE CHTHONIC INTIMIDATION
Not long ago at all, was it? Not very. Find a photograph from 2013 and have a look: not much has changed. Lots of superhero movies. Something ridiculous or awful happens and you complain about it on some social medium. The fashions, the haircuts, even the phones haven’t altered much. Well, you were younger: there’s that.
Number one hits include “Harlem Shake,” “Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky,” “Roar,” “Thrift Shop”: songs for which I can’t imagine anyone having nostalgia (cue young nostalgists). There are no scuffed stand-six-feet-apart footprint marks on store floors, no masks on airplanes. The President of the United States is Barack Obama. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a member state of the European Union, is David Cameron. The President of Russia is Vladimir Putin, who in September writes an editorial in the New York Times: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
In 2013, I’m doing this blog and slowly writing the book that will become Rebel Rebel. I don’t know the woman to whom I’m now married, but she has recently moved to New York from London. I’m living in a place where I don’t live anymore.
David Bowie is alive in 2013. So is Prince, Anna Karina, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Petty, Leonard Cohen, Walter Abish, Tom Verlaine, George Michael, Queen Elizabeth II, my dog.
VAMPYRIC PANTHEON SUCCUBUS
Who was “David Bowie” in 2013? That’s what was gnawing at him: was he past it? Was this a folly? Did the world need a new David Bowie record? Would he be better off remaining an absence?
The Next Day came out on the same day that Eric Clapton released Old Sock, whose cover photo is a selfie. Old Sock: now that’s a title you give an album released in your sixth performing decade, an album which only your devoted longtime fans will buy. A dad Christmas present: you’ll find it on a shelf a year later, still in its shrink wrap. Was Bowie making an Old Sock? (As it turned out, Bowie gave Clapton that title.)
It’s what Alfred Soto feared in his SPIN review:
“The Next Day is an album that didn’t need to be made. Plenty of his contemporaries—including Elton and the Stones —still release albums at his level of craft, a couple of which sundry publications have even patted on the head and cited in year-end lists. But because Bowie requires context and reactive poses for vitality—and uses distance as a muse—his albums don’t function as mere singer-songwriter collections; they demand to be accepted as statements. He can’t, at 66, suddenly cultivate a new imaginary universe commensurate with the demands of such an infamous style thief and aesthetic flâneur. Does he still require vampiric devotion at the level described in “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”?”
The secrecy of the LP’s making, its sense of being a heist in which the aim was to smuggle something into the museum, was in part meant to lessen the inevitable letdown—the first new Bowie album in ten years would be defined more by its surprise existence. The deftness of its making was more notable in the press than any of its tracks. Marketed by silence, with vigorous obscurity: no interviews, no explanations, no glad-handing, just cryptic slogans, masks, and code words. The album cover was the absence of one, an erasure of one.
HOSTAGE TRANSFERENCE IDENTITY
That was the public context, the scaffolding, of The Next Day—the Bowie “comeback” record, the one that he made as if in witness protection, the opening chapter of what would be the last Bowie narrative.
As time spools on, the scaffolding drops away. It always does. There was a context that we no longer have for Young Americans—-how a diehard Ziggy Stardust fan felt when he heard Bowie doing “soul.” How the soul Bowie fan felt when she first put on Low. How someone who loved Low felt when she first heard “Let’s Dance” on the radio, knowing Bowie was no longer hers. How a kid who only knew Bowie through “Let’s Dance” felt when he saw Bowie sing “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” on Letterman.
The privilege of a point in time is to experience something in a way that everyone who comes later can only approximate. The mistake is to think this will matter. Like a gambling house, the future always wins.
Ten years on, what is The Next Day? A Bowie “late work,” the crankier older sister to Reality, the lead-up to Blackstar, that wasn’t as good as Blackstar, that’s underrated compared to Blackstar (I’ve seen the latter argument of late). Even this sort of cause-and-effect structuring is shaky. The Next Day, Bowie’s first streaming-era album, already lacked definition: it existed in competing editions, with various songs appended (three bonus tracks currently aren’t streaming and thus, to many, no longer exist—the album already has apocrypha). Its sequencing never seemed right, as if Bowie knew its fate was to be shuffled through, to wind up as another source of Bowie Content: songs guided by inscrutable algorithm into a “Heavy Moods” playlist (“Where Are We Now”), or licensed for a moderately edgy Showtime drama in 2026 (“Love Is Lost”).
MAUER INTERFACE FLITTING
The truth was that now that I had time to stop in front of the stores after months of ignoring their existence, they had too much to say to me.
Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps.
Its first set of songs were tracked in early May 2011, though vocals were done sometimes over a year later. Many of these share a mood: they’re loud, raucous, a bit strained. Working back into shape with his fists, it’s Bowie in training montage, as if in a Rocky movie. (With asides by commenters from the original blog entries in 2015.)
The Next Day. The first track Bowie cut upon his return to the studio, and it sounds like a starter: a sparse construction, with long stays on the home chord. Here I am, not quite dying!; a lyric in part inspired by Robert Palmer’s study of Senegambian griots, who are thought to converse with evil spirits, their bodies left to rot in hollow trees. Momus: It feels to me like a movie trailer, which hypes up an action film by packing way too much catastrophe into too little space. DB self-references: “Repetition,””New Killer Star.”
Atomica. Sharing with “Next Day” a harmonic stinginess and a guitar sound that manages to seem dated without quite having a time to date back to (so, very Bowie). Meta-banality? Some lines now read as if generated by ChatGPT. It goes on too long. Deanna K: And that’s the problem with the album! Songs don’t die on their own terms, they’re put on life support but then eventually shot when it gets too expensive for everyone. ‘Just die already!’, they yell.
How Does the Grass Grow? Along with the title track, a sign that The Next Day will be stocked with old violence; the guitar solos sample Bowie eras as if moving between aisles in a warehouse. Though Tony Visconti once said the track “was very different, new Bowie, new-style Bowie,” its refrain is that of Jerry Lordan’s 1960 “Apache,” overt enough for Lordan’s estate to get co-composition credit. Gcreptile: It sounds a bit as if all the unused ideas for this album were crammed into a single song. I do like the high voice in the bridge, which reminds me of old 60s/70s songs like “Sugar Baby Love” or something like that. DB self-reference: “Boys Keep Swinging.”
You Feel So Lonely You Could Die. A keeper—it sounds even more sumptuous today. A line that makes me crack up now: how Bowie sings “you got the blues, my friend!” in this dotty, vicious register, making this nondescript line a curse by a petty God (“people don’t like you!”). Billter: I’ve been thinking more about this song’s relationship with “Rock’n’Roll Suicide.” The latter’s message was “You may think you’re alone in the world, but you’re not. There are others out there who will understand you–you may not know them yet, but they exist.” The newer song’s message is “In case you were wondering whether you’re alone in the world…yes, you are. People don’t like you and they all wish you would die.” (Shades of “Pug Nosed Face.”) DB self-references: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” “Five Years.”
If You Can See Me. One of the weirdest pieces, temporally and harmonically, that Bowie wrote in his later years. Leah Kardos, in her Blackstar Theory: “The drumbeat, guitar and percussion rhythms are in 4/4, but the bass and changing harmony is in 5/4. This creates a phase relationship where downbeats only come into alignment after five bars (counting in 4/4), or four bars (counting in 5/4)…The polymetric interplay between these elements is disorienting and cumbersome, cogs of uneven size turning at different speeds.” In retrospect, the signal change for “Sue” and Blackstar to come. Like “You Feel So Lonely,” it could be sung by a vengeful deity. David [not DB, to my knowledge]: The apocalyptic vagaries of 1Outside, Man Who Sold, Five Years and Diamond Dogs are all in attendance, but this one has a blacker soul, a buzzing, crawling feeling of imminent dread running through. DB self-references: “Ricochet,” “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family.”
ISOLATION REVENGE OSMOSIS
I didn’t think it was going to be controversial. As I say, it’s just me and David talking so I didn’t realise. But I think that’s good because I think that people don’t normally discuss albums because the golden age of record sleeve design has gone…The design process was all very secretive, as requested, to be safe. And we never used David Bowie’s name or the album name–we had a code word for it: he was just called The Artist and the album was called Table. I don’t know why.
Jonathan Barnbrook, on his album cover, 2013
CRUSADE TYRANT DOMINATION
Dancing Out In Space: Engagingly minor; a joy for the vocal arrangement alone (“big bay-bee”) Momus: 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. DB self-reference: “Lust for Life.”
Like a Rocket Man: As close as Bowie came to a first-person account of being a cocaine addict, of someone who had found, as per the novelist Edward St Aubyn, that cocaine “was an opportunity to explore the arctic landscape of pure terror.” Or as John Lennon once sang, help! I need somebody! I’ve come to love this one. Postpunkmonk: What really stood out for me when listening to this was The Return Of Anthony Newley®, for perhaps the last time, in Bowie’s vocal performance. DB self-reference: “Starman” via the knock on Elton John. EJ: “David and I were not the best of friends towards the end.”
Born In a UFO: First tracked in May 2011, then rebuilt from scratch in summer 2012: a lot of work for a song in which Bowie falls in love with his alien inamorata’s fashion sense: her A-line skirt, clutch bag, Perugia shoes, and lavender mesh (“she was all Courrèges!” he swoons). Afterallalong: I like the sound of DB cutting loose. Or, a bit looser, anyway. DB self-reference: “Shopping for Girls” (the verse melody).
INDIFFERENCE MIASMA PRESSGANG
Heat: The endemic violence of The Next Day—dying men in trees, soldiers pinned down on beaches, high school shooters, traitors dangling from ropes—stops at last in “Heat,” a world bled free of killing as anything else. Mishima’s dog is already dead, just obstructing the flow of water. MC: For me, its pastiche of Scott made it a fantastic closer for TND; it’s right in line with the album’s backward-looking (in Anger) tendencies, but with its eerie sense of movement – a perfect distillation of mid-period Walker – setting it apart from the preceding album, as you say in the entry… in retrospect Heat points pretty clearly toward The End, more than anything else on TND. DB self-references: “Nite Flights,” “The Motel.”
The Stars (Are Out Tonight): The stars of the 2010s are in the late-capitalist cycle of working longer for fewer rewards. “We have a nice life,” Bowie tells Tilda Swinton in the video. Compared to the ever-hustling celebrities of today, he’d gotten off easily, and he knew it. Soto: The album’s best track: mania as done by an aging man. Bowie’s sounding out of breath works for the track. I’m taken with the doubletracked harmonies on the “toss and TURN at night” line–an echo of a Hunky Dory moment, gone forever. DB self-references: “Looking for Water,” “Starman,” “Star” and so on.
So She: One of the three songs from the Next Day bonus CD currently unavailable on [US at least] streaming, and so deepening an already-obscure song’s obscurity. A shame, as it’s lovely. Jubany: “When I first heard this track I thought: “Bowie wrote a Neil Hannon tune!” DB self-reference: “I Would Be Your Slave.”
DISPLACED FLIGHT RESETTLEMENT
Tony Visconti, on The Next Day: “[It] started out trying to do something new but something old kept creeping in…”
The Next Day is a catalog missing half its pages. A museum exhibit, one without …’hours’ or order, without curatorial notes, the cracked mirror of the actual museum exhibit, which opened in London a week after this record came out. The exhibition of a process, no results. Bowie’s own Museum of Jurassic Technology, with its dioramas and miniatures and stuffed oddities. Lawrence Weschler, on the Museum: “It’s here that you’ll encounter, across a maze of discreet alcoves, in meticulous displays exactingly laid out, the ant, the bat, the falls, the diva, the insomniac…”
Bowie walking through David Bowie Is with his family. A knowing smile on his face, bringing to mind what he once told Nicholas Pegg, about Pegg’s definitive guides to his music. “An amazing job, but, of course, it’s all wrong!”
Did songs come out of the 100 Favorite Books list? (Nabokov via Otto Friedrich, Mishima, Waugh, etc.). So many lists made. The compilations, the redactions, the archival digs. The contracts, the bills of lading. The Amazon wishlist. Getting things done: remix Lodger, redo Never Let Me Down, talk to Brian about 2. Contamination. Piling everything up, trying to cram everything in. The man in “Conversation Piece,” with his papers strewn on the floor of Ken Pitt’s apartment. The man in Berlin in 1978, watching the skies. Any sudden movement, I’ve got to write it down. The man a decade before, looking for UFOs on Hampstead Heath with Lesley Duncan, who’s been playing him albums by her ex, Scott Walker. A see-er, also a liar.
Were the songs about exile and emigration intended for Lazarus (named after Emma, after all)? Are all of them about Thomas Jerome Newton? How much of this record is Bowie simply doing a tribute to Dennis Potter, whose works he apparently gorged on during the “retirement” years? (“Heat” is the second episode of The Singing Detective.)
A room of bloody history, you made sure of that
FUNEREAL GLIDE TRACE
Writing is the art of disorganizing an order and organizing a disorder.
Severo Sarduy, Cobra.
BALKAN BURIAL REVERSE
The second block of tracking for the album, in early-mid September 2011, yields:
God Bless the Girl: Originally “Gospel.” At the close, he sings “the years pass so swiftly” in a despairing tone, all but lost in the swirl of voices. RB: All great Bowie songs are also a little bit about himself. And this is one of them. It should be used for a soundtrack, and maybe someday it will be. DB self-references: “Underground,” “Panic in Detroit.”
I’ll Take You There: One of the Gerry Leonard co-compositions, one of the songs of exile, displacement, refugees and emigrants. Anonymous: Chris O’Leary dropped the ball on this one. There’s clearly a little bit more going on in this song than just a raucous re-tread of dippy, disgusting, guilty pleasure ‘Beat Of Your Drum’ and O’Leary…should be ashamed for not giving some of it notice….dude are you burning out? DB self-reference: “Beat of Your Drum”
Where Are We Now?: Where were we, again? DB self-reference: “Heroes.”
Love Is Lost: Along with “Where Are We Now,” the track from TND that will likely go the longest distance. Always conceived as a Lazarus song? As “Jane” wrote on the blog entry: Makes me think of “The man who fell to earth” with the new accent, maid, and eyes. The fear of losing his family. What have you done, Newton? DB self-reference: Low (viva Harmonizer).
Boss of Me: Time doesn’t improve some things. Ric: One of those where the co-writer is there to share the responsibility, rather than the credit. DB self-reference: “Shake It.”
The Informer: Hitman holed up in a bathroom, windows shattered, down to his last clip. The end is closing in, so he arraigns his employers, tries to balance his accounts. Gcreptile: The end of an era that has run all out of gas. All guitar-rich swagger and bleak lyrics, with underdeveloped melody and very standard instrumentation.” DB self-reference: “Changes” (“I still don’t know/what we were looking for”).
I’d Rather Be High: With “How Does the Grass Grow?,” “The Informer,” and “Valentine’s Day,” “I’d Rather Be High” is part of a broader theme —civilization’s recursive betrayal of its youth. Bowie’s was a generation that, for once, hadn’t been slaughtered in its prime by the wars of old men. Had he been born in 1895 or 1920, he would have been on a beach, bullets spraying around him, dreaming of pleasures that postwar British teenagers took as their birthright. Sylvie D: I find it quite extraordinary that a song about young people getting killed in stupid wars ended up in Louis Vuitton commercials.
Dirty Boys: One of the best pieces of sequencing on TND, a clean break between the title opener and “Stars.” Momus: I think what troubles me about it is the slightly reedy and strained vocal. It’s one of the tracks in which Bowie sounds old, and that disturbs me in all sorts of ways. DB self-reference: “The Gospel According to Tony Day.”
MANIPULATE ORIGIN TEXT
There’ll probably be another album not far behind this. I don’t know. I don’t think he knows. He doesn’t owe pop music anything. The next album could be this one defaced again, you don’t know.
The moment you know, you know you know
TRAITOR URBAN COMEUPPANCE
The subject of our testimony is an exceptional case. It is the story of a man who, unlike us, could not or would not adjust to this practical world. On the contrary: he explored absurd and desperate paths, and worse yet, paths where he attempted to take with him everyone he met.
Reinaldo Arenas, The Doorman.
The last songs, cut in summer-autumn 2012. As if Bowie couldn’t stop working on the album, that there was another, better version of it always just out of reach.
(You Will) Set the World on Fire: As per the Michael Cunningham piece, Bowie in the late 2000s/early 2010s was working on a musical which included “fake Bob Dylan songs”—if true, this one was perhaps a refugee from it. Recorded late in the day, and an addition to the record that never made sense; perhaps why it was included. Tresilaze: I have a quarter-baked theory that The Next Day is a muddled, non-linear narrative, maybe one that’s made of multiple abandoned stories that were forged together. Basically, it’s about someone fleeing a country torn by war and/or paranoia for America and trying to become a star. Songs dealing with where she left: The Next Day, Dirty Boys, Valentine’s Day, If You Can See Me, I’d Rather Be High, How Does…, You Feel So Lonely, Heat. The “father” in Heat is the subject of You Feel So Lonely. Songs about the girl: I’ll Take You There, Set The World on Fire, Boss of Me, The Stars Are Out Tonight, God Bless The Girl, Where Are We Now (this could be a return to her home country, or it could be set there and about living in a totalitarian state. DB self-reference: “Bang Bang.”
Valentine’s Day: Just after the blog post published in 2015, there was Umpqua Community College. As I was finishing the book revision in 2018, there was Parkland High. The line central to the refrain—he’s got something to say—perverts what Bowie had offered his fans: the belief you can transform yourself, become a star in your own world, build a life on change. Now it’s a demand— listen to me, look at me— at the point of a gun. The terrorist position, as Leonard Cohen called it in the early Nineties. “So seductive that everybody has embraced it,” Cohen said. “Reduce everything to confrontation, to revenge.” DB self-reference: “Everyone Says ‘Hi,'” his cover of “Waterloo Sunset.”
ENDCREDITS: SUBHEADS: DB. DB PHOTOS: THE EVER MYSTERIOUS JIMMY KING, 2013. BARNBROOK TND PHOTOS: BARNBROOK. DETOURNAMENDED TEXTS REPEATER BOOKS OTHERS USED IN THE SPIRIT OF GOODWILL AND FAIR USE. FOR L, R, & J. EASTHAMPTON 2013 EASTHAMPTON 2015 EASTHAMPTON 2018 SOUTHAMPTON 2023.
TRAGIC NERVE MYSTIFICATION
Just remember, duckies, everybody gets got.
I’m still reading… I never rush reading these. But the absolute chill on this cold and rainy Los Angeles morning (you didn’t get to say that often in the past, but now we say it weekly) as I see BOTH a quote from Three Trapped Tigers (the US title) AND The Lost Steps! Two of the most influential books that I read in my formative college years.
Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres, and Alejo Carpentier’s Los Pasos Perdidos were both highly impactful to me. I only read them in English and likely missed many of the brilliant passages of Cuban wordplay in Tigres.
I guess that’s all I’m saying right now; that, and the fascinating recollection of how a griot departs this world remind me why I used to always look forward to your posts.
This post today is a magic trick that there was no way you knew you were performing for me. Thank you.
What Philip MarionCancel says from rainy Ecuador on this Saturday morning!! 👍🏼❤️
Good morning, Ecuador! Disfruta de la lluvia y la paz que trae.
Thank you for another gut-punch, Chris. The Next Day never quite did it for me, except the first song, which was strange and wearingly obscure lyrically, but angry as fuck. I didn’t think you could convey anger when you were in your sixties.
I am now in my sixties. My fury since 2016 has not abated, but I have no outlet for it except posting to a dying Twitter with an obscure username and a silly handle (once fantailfan, now cartologist).
When the fury threatens to overcome me, I remind myself that, while my father is still alive and fiddling, his father died at 61 (pre-bypass days heart attack), and his grandfather died at 37 (heart, early 20th century medicine); so it comes down to death.
I assume Bowie was not doing what he had been doing for 40 years, after the Reality tour – a prescient name if ever there was one – made it clear he had to stop. He didn’t have the liver cancer diagnosis yet, but he probably knew then if he had more to say, he’d better do it before he couldn’t.
All of the recent rock-musician-of-my-youth deaths make it clear that the 70s rock life cut 5 to 10 years of a performer’s life, with notable exceptions, of course. That is, if you weren’t fucking stupid like Tom Petty and Prince (and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Peaches Geldof, and Cory Monteith). Yes, I am furious with them too. Add Win Butler to my fury list for other reasons.
I am not furious with David Bowie. He left us with “Where the fuck did Monday go,” which I first heard coming home from work the next day (a Monday), not knowing yet. That one moment.
You can see I’ve pretty much passed The Next Day by, for which I apologize.
Chris, your work is amazing. Keep it up.
Delete the 70s in “the 70s rock life”and make it “post-1960s.”
I know I was young in 2013; I remember going home and playing Minecraft all the time. I didn’t know Chris yet. I started the year in 5th grade and ended it in 6th grade, and I still fondly remember 5th grade as having been the school year I remember the most. Obviously, I was ignorant of the world (all I remember is John Kerry’s chin and cheering when Obama beat Romney, although I didn’t understand why). Knowing what I know now, this description makes 2013 idyllic. People weren’t so crazy.
I completely forgot to proofread before commenting!
I remember 5th grade as a very formative year. I’m a year away from finishing college, but I made many of my closest friends in 5th grade, who I still speak with regularly. And, of course, I remember more than just John Kerry’s chin. That aside was referring only to politics.
Gosh – has it been a decade already? I remember the sensation of waking up and checking the feeds on the web on January 8, 2013 and having the rug pulled from underneath me in the best possible way. But the movement of “The Next Day” into the world was weird and blurry for me. As I recall, it streamed first; not a thing for me. And the physical copies came in at least three variations: The CD, the CD with 3 bonus tracks, and the Japanese CD with one more bonus track nowhere else. Gambits like that stymied me, causing consumption paralysis, so in the end I simply didn’t buy it!
It was only when “The Next Day Extra” was issued in a three-disc edition, that I took the bait. I’d seen how Bowie albums of the 90s usually got a goose commercially with a bonus disc of material to reactivate their sales potential nine months to a year afterward. “The Next Day” was no different in this respect, even coming off a long artistic break, but when finally confronted with the twenty three cuts all vying for my attention, I could only think that it had failed to gel as an album for me. It didn’t break any new ground; seeming like a carry over from “Reality” which had failed to build upon the riveting final track on that [“Bring Me the Disco King”] that felt at the time like an outlier to nowhere, sadly. Nohing on “The Next Day” came within miles of that song, so I never played it very much. I should revisit it to see how the march of time and the absence of Bowie would effect my perceptions. I honestly don’t think I’ve played it since Bowie’s death.
magnificent post. I was wondering 24 hours ago when you would publish again, There it is and it’s grand. P.
I must note that the album suffers from a surplus of tracks, leading to a disjointed listening experience. Had Bowie curated a tighter selection of only 8 core tracks, the result would have been a timeless classic.
Lovely stuff, as usual. Thanks, Chris!
Yes, I suppose it was his first streaming-era album. And it was a first for me as well. I remember I was halfway on my way to the record store when I realised: “Hang on. I suppose I already own this album!” Half-doubting this, I opened my Spotify app, and there it was. Trivial today, but I remember the feeling; to me Spotify up till then to a large extent had been checking out old music that wasn’t in my record collection. Now was the first time an album I would have bought was in my pocket the moment it was released.
Also, it was the first time I had the opportunity to change the song list of a new album. And I did! I found that with a shorter list consisting of my favourites, the album was much more enjoyable. Since that day, I have my own personal “director’s cut” of TND.
This post really makes me want to revisit songs I have not listened to very much and I have already started. Thanks for recap and quotes from original song posts!
(The Eric Clapton anecdote was fun! 🙂 Thanks for the link.)
“Director’s cut of TND” – I’m certain David Jones would’ve approved! 🙂
He would’ve said, “Why do you think I made it so long? I can’t possibly know which ones you’re going to want to hear in your 32-minute mix…”
I have a feeling that I’ve listened to Atomica more than anyone else in the world- I put it on in the shower in the morning whenever I need help kicking into gear, and for that purpose, it stomps. Lets get this show on the road!
I came around to several of these songs later, after many ho-hum initial listens. Grass Grow and See Me have both become favorites, but God Bless the Girl really tracks through the lens of a parent giving a warning to their child, that all of the good things in life can become bad things without moderation and care- not to remain chaste, (living is vital and the years pass *so* swiftly) but to not get lost in one’s work or pleasures and lose sight of everything else that’s important… Made all the more poignant with David’s death leaving his teenage daughter prematurely fatherless.
Happy to come out as a fellow enjoyer of ‘Atomica’! (high five).
I am always happy to hear from the Dame site. Thank you for kicking something out, now and then. I think this could all be distilled down to “The Next Day is very good.” ‘Cause it was. I always took it as a rather violent pastiche of all the observations DB had stored up in his quietude, a lashing out in the spirit of “It’s No Game,” spread out over a whole album of many genres. Much has been said of the difficulty older rock stars have in being heard over the din of their pasts, and I think Bowie rather cannily decided to incorporate the din. I still think fading on the drum pattern from “Five Years” at the fade of “So Lonely” was another brave act in a brave career. “Go ahead,” he was saying. “Compare this to my best.” He wasn’t going to bother listening to the response, let alone answering questions about it in interviews. And as it turns out, the new one held up quite well.
Another work of linguistic art and visionary frame of reference — “smuggle something *into* the museum,” “Marketed by silence,” “the future always wins” — all top form (and that last one could’ve been said by Bowie himself).
As one comic-fan to another, I appreciate the Hickman-esque use of “X” as “10”— and as someone who’s much more familiar with European comics than with European prose literature, I welcome the resonance of the quote from The Lost Steps with the “Theatre of the Lost Footsteps” in Prague, inhabited by the Bowie-lookalike guardian angel Caleb Lost, in the Italian comic Dampyr.
It’s possible that the secrecy of TND’s making was not just accessory but endemic to its aesthetic conception; in speaking to NME in 1980 Bowie had, after all, lamented his chances for “find[ing] the Duchamp in me,” and Duchamp did close his career with a controversial, grand-scale work he’d been making in secret for much of his “retirement.”
The Kardos assessment of the album as assemblage is a quite insightful; disjunction was indeed the mode Bowie always thrived in. Chris has always been spot-on in interpreting much of Bowie’s post-1990s work as parallel biographies of a Jonesy who had followed much different paths (or not moved as much at all), and TND has always felt to me like a compilation of a decade’s work that wasn’t done. (Which to me at least is a very good thing; a romp through Salinger’s (Schrödinger’s?) bookshelf or Prince’s vault.)
The lack of an exactly definitive core version puts me in mind too of Pollack, the way he would crop his compositions out of the continuum of his creativity on larger canvases after the fact. It also, of course, could be seen as a form-follows-function tribute to the streaming ecosystem the album was born into; the era of playlists rather than albums at all (with a free bonus jab at copy-protecting suits by demonstrating that if the music is good enough, people will stream it free and *then* buy it).
The resulting good reception refreshed his confidence just as the voluminousness replenished his catalog, which in turn fostered the concentration to make a more condensed masterwork next. Blackstar may be the best episode of Bowie’s final act, but TND was the series bible.
It doesn’t quite hold together as an album for me: it’s like if someone tuned a radio to some hidden Bowie station and taped off 53:17 at random. Except that sounds really interesting and TND often isn’t.
I like bits of it. The title track. “Heat”. “Plan”. “You Will Set the World Etc” has such a great guitar tone in the intro – the rest of the song doesn’t live up to it. A nice send-off for Earl Slick, all the same.
Bowie’s classic albums tended to be perfect, self-enclosed worlds (although sometimes with a signpost pointed to the next album, like how “The Secret Life of Arabia” points to Lodger). TND is more of a loose sprawl, touching and referencing everything. So it’s very 2013, in a sense.
I agree with your sense that TND is a sprawl, yet the collage aspect of it—a kind of horror stories from throughout time—is also what ties it together. At least for me. Also, to the Atomica crowd, his vocal is stellar. The old saw about someone being able to “sing the phone book” arises here as his performance is so strong.
I’ve always had an affection for this one, though I guess I had the benefit of viewing it in hindsight rather than anticipating it, as I was only about 10 or so when it came out, and heard it for the first time as I was exploring Bowie’s discography after his death. I hope the bonus tracks not on streaming services, such as I’ll Take You There, end up being included in the next box set, whenever that ends up coming out.