Straight to it: Over the years, David Bowie’s continual shifting and remaking of his persona struck many as a case of someone trying too hard to convince the world that he was not simply a pop star, but was actually some kind of artiste.
Admittedly, for the longest time he was in step with the ever-changing pop scene; he always seemed to be riding the right trend at the right place and time. He went through his various phases: spaceman, androgynous glam rocker, techno Berlin nightclubber, and so on. And though some of his albums were spotty, it’s hard to deny he seemed to have a lot of great singles: “Space Oddity,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Suffragette City,” “Jean Genie,” “Golden Years” … well, pretty much everything found on Changesonebowie.
And regardless of his infatuation with pop presentation, he showed an equally keen rock and roll sensibility when he basically restarted Iggy Pop’s career after the Stooges imploded; as well, he gave Mott the Hoople a second chance in the biz when he passed along “All the Young Dudes” for a make-or-break album with their new record company. History shows how Mott’s fortunes changed when “Dudes” became the great single that up until then had eluded them.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Tony Levin joins us to talk about keeping this David Bowie project a secret, along with new collaborations from his Stick Men group, Peter Gabriel and the Crimson ProjeKct.]
But after a point, Bowie seemed to just carry on and fade away. He released some moderately successful albums in the 1980s and ’90s, but after 2003’s Reality he kept rather quiet, releasing no albums of new material.
Until 2013’s The Next Day. Apparently, this was recorded on the sly. No one knew he had been working on writing and recording anything in recent years, so it’s taking long-term fans by surprise. They’ll probably like it — or maybe not: A lot of people who have had an opportunity to hear it are saying that even though they’ve never been big fans, they like it anyway.
And what’s there not to like? It sounds like a well-produced pop/rock album by an old timer — someone who’s been around long enough to deserve to do whatever they want — like McCartney, Dylan, Springsteen, and Jagger, to name a few. Bowie’s version of what he thinks senior citizens of Rockville should do is pretty simple: Get some catchy songs that still fit your voice; get a good band together; and come up with some good arrangements that are modern, interesting and can attract an audience willing to pay good money to see you on tour in your old age.
Yeah, it’s verses, choruses, guitars mostly here — very little in the way of bleeps and bloops and synthesizers. Very little in the way of jagged edges and harsh sounds, except when the band occasionally takes it up a couple of notches. In a nutshell: it’s a pretty solid modern rock album. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of reaction this will get a few months after its release. Will the mainstream audience decide Bowie playing rock and roll without theatrics and an “artsy” agenda is good thing after all, or will fans accuse the Thin White Duke/Spaceman/Glam Rocker of giving up his art for something as mundane as making music?