Crash Course for the Ravers
Album: The Next Day (2013)
Prior Level of Acquaintance: High
Three-Word Review: angry, precise, defiant
So I was trying to listen to Bowie only in order, but I admit that The Next Day was where I turned the morning after November’s presidential election. The combination of shouty and defiant – “Here I am/not quite dying” – plus the apparent critique of celebrity culture – “Satyrs and their child-wives” seemed acutely appropriate to the day. That morning, the album got me through the anger part of the seven grief stages many of us were experiencing then. The next day, indeed.
Other than Ziggy, The Next Day was the first Bowie album I came to know deeply, and it’s from its release almost exactly four years ago that I date my intense Bowie fandom. So there’s a certain starting-out-returning quality now. I find I have more context for the sound; it’s not wildly distant from elements of Earthling, Heathen, or Reality. It’s also produced by Tony Visconti, providing those wonderful crystal-clear vocals over deeply complex instrumentals where I find new details every time I come back to them.
Bowie’s voice, thickened by a decade’s cigarettes since Reality, sometimes sounds old here, but it’s authoritative old, not decrepit old. The album allows for some nostalgia while concentrating on material that’s just as vibrant as anything before. I enjoy the sweet grandfatherly works of many more or less from Bowie’s generation (the ever-delightful Paul McCartney comes to mind). But this is not that kind of album. This says screw that kind of album.
I’ve probably listened to this song hundreds of times. It still makes me want to hide under the bed. In a good way.
I love how this video acknowledges the eerie resemblance between Bowie and Tilda Swinton, a natural coincidence that just throws his singular androgyny into further relief. She resembles him in looks and vibe, c. Man Who Fell to Earth, much more than do the twiggy younglings playing the ‘stars.’ When Swinton first appeared onscreen in the new film Doctor Strange, I projected an intense magic-chemo-ghost-Bowie thing onto her that took minutes to dissipate.*
Back when I was listening to …hours…, I kept thinking I’d heard ‘Thursday’s Child‘ much more than I actually had. I had the sensation again with ‘The Loneliest Guy,’ which I’d really barely heard before. Then I realized that both share a very similar chord progression with ‘Where Are We Now?,’ a song I knew intimately. Bowie is far less prone to habitual progressions than are many other prolific songwriters. (Ask me sometime about the Pete Townshend Change or the Taylor Swift Cadence.) Still, can’t deny the internal resonance and shared wistful tone among these three. On purpose? If I use the cut-up technique on the lyrics, I get something like this:
Throw me tomorrow
Now that I’ve really got a chance
Throw me tomorrow
Everything’s falling into place
Throw me tomorrow
Seeing my past to let it go
All the pages that have turned
All the errors left unlearned, oh
Well I’m the luckiest guy
Not the loneliest guy
Where are we now?
The moment you know
You know, you know
As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s me
As long as there’s you
Dunno, except to say that if they form a set, it comes out affirming.
Next: The inevitable.
*Don’t take this as an endorsement of Swinton’s casting where it should have been an elderly Tibetan man. Nonetheless, she’s so inherently bizarre (and excellent) – how many good parts are there for Martians, really?