Special Guest: Gerry Leonard – is a Dublin born freelance guitar player/writer and producer who (as of today) has worked on three David Bowie albums, including “The Next Day” Bowie’s latest album released today, March 12. Leonard secured the coveted position of a David Bowie axe man, along-side such greats as Mick Ronson, Adrian Below, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Earl Slick, Robert Fripp, David Torn, and Reeves Gabrels. He has also worked with other artists like Laurie Anderson, Susanne Vaga, Duncan Sheik and Cindi Lauper. But many fans of his know him for his solo projects under the name Spookyghost and the Dublin based duo Hinterland. His style of playing has been described as ambient in nature, mixing, looping and layering sonic sounds over top of one another, creating a cool and original psychedelia that is unmistakably his.
David Bowie: “The Next Day” Album Review
As the title of David Bowie’s new album “The Next Day” seems to suggest, time has passed, but not by much, relatively speaking. Musically speaking, I think the past nine years that Bowie has been away was mainly because he was aware he was entering another creative low in his life. One of the things I’ve learned about Bowie and his career’s trajectory is that his best work comes in waves. The reason for this, I think, is that his creative output has always depended on feeding off of other creative people who are on the cusp of new discoveries and then fostering those ideas to create for his own work – for example, feeding off of the androgynous energies of people like Marc Bolan to create his Ziggy Stardust album or pinching innovative concepts from Kraftwerk to make his Berlin Trilogy. And I would say that by the time that his Reality album came out, he scoped the landscape for new ideas, found nothing to feed off of and decided to retreat from the public rather than put out something that sounded rehashed. Only Bowie knows the true birth of the songs, and most likely, being as secretive as he is, we’ll never know the origins of their initial spark.
“The Next Day” is Bowie emerging from the shadows, knowing that he hasn’t missed much in 10 years, (musically speaking) but is now confident to surface with enough interest in music to excite him again. And although this is not a ground breaking Bowie album in the sense that these are innovative sounds to usher in a new epoch of musical innovation, it is one of the best albums of his career. It’s too early to safely say exactly where it stacks up overall in his catalogue, but, I’d say it’s better than any of his later day (second phase) Tony Visconti material, and if history repeats itself, his next album will be even better. His albums launched after a creative struggle are always fantastic and always followed by albums that build upon that energy. After having taken at least 2 years whittling away secretly on the album we can deduce two things – first that this album was a struggle for him, and second that this album was extremely important for him to get right. This is a calculating Bowie like we have never seen him; laboring over songs then allowing the ever important time to be his compass.
After having talked to musicians with whom Bowie has worked, I realized some of the techniques Bowie makes use of. One of the techniques that keeps popping up in Bowie’s recording sessions when talking to people like Earl Slick or Gerry Leonard is that Bowie has a bunch of unfinished songs that he is constantly working on. He has just a skeleton framework of songs that he pulls out and tries now and again to see if they go anywhere; one such song is “Bring me the Disco King” off the Reality album. Mike Garson told me that he first was introduced to that song way back in 1975 during the Young American sessions and was told to play it yet again during the Black Tie White Noise sessions using a different style but only got the approval during the Reality sessions. I have a feeling after listening to this album that many of these songs were first conceived of years before, and so, in this review of the album, I try to place what album and time period these songs first came into existence.
1. “The Next Day” 3:51
The album starts off on an apocalyptic note, sounding like it could have been pulled off the “Scary Monsters” a la the “Screaming Like a Baby.” Bowie’s delivery has a desperate feel to it and the song has great screaming guitar sounds that bounce along to Bowie’s hypnotic chant “Here I am, not quite dying / my body left to rot in a hollow tree.”
2. “Dirty Boys” 2:58
Starting off sounding like a Tom Waits song with horns; weird time signatures and all. Who knows where he pulled this from. Although sounding nothing like “Sweet Thing” you have to love hearing the interplay between Earl Slick (guitar) and Steve Elson (sax). I’m looking forward to hearing this live someday, hopefully.
3. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” 3:56
This is classic Bowie covering a topic that he’s familiar with – the absurdity of fame. One of the stronger songs on the album, the song is reminiscent of something off his “Hours” album.
4. “Love Is Lost” 3:57
My favourite track on the album; Gerry Leonard owns this track and speaks to his unique and amazing guitar style. The rhythm section is something also phenomenal. It sounds like it could have been written for the “Earthling” album.
5. “Where Are We Now?” 4:08
One of the most somber and reflective songs that Bowie has ever released, and a song that only gets stronger with repeat listens. Although I think this is a new song, if I had to guess which time best incorporated it, I would say between “Heroes” and “The Buddha of Suburbia.”
6. “Valentine’s Day” 3:01
A song about a massacre style tragedy. Bowie exploits an ironic doo wop “pop” element reminding me of a track off his “Aladdin Sane” and mixes it with shocking lyrics that don’t hit you right away. A commentary about the disconnect from humanity that these shooters who carry out these awful catastrophes possess.
7. “If You Can See Me” 3:15
It has those weird voices that he used on “Outside” but with the energy of “Scary Monsters.”
8. “I’d Rather Be High” 3:53
One of the catchy, ear-worm songs on the album – this song will get in your head. Bowie delivers the lyrics like a British infantry drill sergeant “I’d rather be flying, I’d rather be dead, than out of my head and training these guns on those men in the sand.”
9. “Boss of Me” (Bowie, Gerry Leonard) 4:09
This song could have been included on Bowie and Tony Visconti’s excellent B-side EP off the Heathen album. I wonder if these lyrics are a reference to his marriage with Iman?
10. “Dancing Out in Space” 3:24
This is the song that got me thinking of how his songs on this album could have been written earlier and updated for this album. It sounds like something he could have been working on when he released “Never Let Me Down.”
11. “How Does the Grass Grow?” (Bowie, Jerry Lordan) 4:33
This song could have easily been a release from the Labyrinth soundtrack and even has the goblin chorus in the background.
12. “(You Will) Set the World On Fire” 3:30
Having a “Tonight”, or something off of Iggy Pop’s “Blah Blah Blah” album (at their best moments); this track is dripping with classic 80’s Bowie energy.
13. “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” 4:41
One of the best in the business when it comes to expressing a reflective sadness and desperation, this is one of Bowie’s ballads that he often includes on his albums. Once again, I think this is a new track but is closely related to “I Know It’s Going To Happen Some Day” off his “Black Tie White Noise.”
14. “Heat” 4:25
Not my personal favourite track on the album and a bit of a bummer to me; sounds like something off side two of “Earthing.”
Bonus Tracks [Extended Edition]
The first question people have about the Expanded Edition is “Is it worth it?” The answer here is a resounding yes.
15. So She 2:31
This is happy Bowie and takes me back to the first time I heard “Lucy Can’t Dance”; another bonus track off Black Tie White Noise.
16. Plan 2:02
A neat guitar instrumental ditty that fits perfect with the overall atmosphere of “The Next Day.”
17. I’ll Take You There 2:41
Another high energy track that seems to incorporate elements from his 80’s period and a really strong ending to the Extended Edition.