David Bowie’s new single, The Stars (Are Out Tonight), unveiled today with a short promotional film, is a return to business as usual after the weird understated beauty of his comeback, says Neil McCormick. (Warning: video contains nudity( YAY !).
Taken from his forthcoming album The Next Day, it’s a swinging, urgent rocker with an edgy little lead guitar motif and the kind of swaggering one-note declamatory vocal Bowie has been pulling off since the days of Ziggy Stardust. The track’s driving forward momentum is counterbalanced by the melodic sweetness of Bowie’s own “ooh ooh” backing vocals, a sheen of swimming strings and a Motown-style bridge.
It really couldn’t be anybody else. And that’s before you even get to the subject matter: an acute, poetic comment on how celebrities have assumed the roles of minor Saints and Gods in our secular society.
It is, of course, a role Bowie himself occupies for many fans, a human being transfigured by fame into a celestial body, and his pithy lyric showers sympathy on each side of the divide. Although written from the point of view of a star-struck admirer on the wrong side of the red rope, whose life is mysteriously enhanced by this illusory relationship, he is well aware that the stars themselves are not what they seem behind the windows of their stretch limos, “gleaming like blackened sunshine”. They are “sexless and unaroused”, “broke and shamed or drunk and scared”.
There is a little cameo for “Brigitte, Jack, Kate and Brad” but it is interesting that Bowie counts himself out of the equation, just as he puts himself back in with a sharp, sexy promo film-cum-music-video, teasing us with ideas of Bowie both as an aging recluse and an ageless androgynous rock star. It is the return of the master, showing every other rock and roll star, old or young, how things should be done.