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davidbowie thenextdayextra
Artists: David Bowie
Title: The Next Day Extra
Genre: (Art)rock
Release Date: 4th November 2013
Label: Smi Col / Sony Music


Album Review

It felt a bit like an epiphany, a musical incarnation that flooded the pop-cultural landscape with light and reverence, astonishment and tension, when on January the 8th a certain David Robert Jones fanned a conflagration with a little film for a little song, herald of a new album to be released just a few weeks later. No one had a clue and fewer still a hope. That day marked the end of a 10 years hiatus (caused by serious health problems), 10 lean years only filled with a handful of stage appearances and guest vocals (TV On The Radio, Scarlett Johansson (yes, the actress!), Kashmir), but then, a decade after his last studio recording and his last touring Bowie (to use a more common name) crawled back into the spotlight, musically at least, and it seemed the musical world had waited for this like a dry sponge. ‘The Next Day’ climbed the peak of the charts all around the globe and meanwhile Mister Jones remained consequently silent, he went on pleasing the hearts of his disciples with putting out four brilliant accompanying videos (the nostalgic ‘Where are We now?’, the lynch-like ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’, the blasphemous ‘The Next Day’ and the stripped to the bone ‘Valentine´s Day’).

So you can say it was good year for Bowiephiles so far, but the story goes on. November the 4th saw the release of ‘The Next Day Extra’, an updated three-piece all-round package, including the 14 “official” album tracks, a DVD with the 4 clips and an ‘Extra’ named disc with 10 special tracks, either outtakes (which failed to become part of the album thanks to their fragmentary state when ‘The Next Day’ hit the road, according to producer T. Visconti), bonus songs or remixes. Due to the fact that the official ‘The Next Day’ got its review here already (an enjoyable piece of writing by Mr. Craig Podmore) the following lines will focus only on the “new” songs and the two remixed album tracks, in other words the ‘Extra’ disc.

It is always a thrilling moment for every Bowie-addict (I confess) to listen to new stuff, cause there´s that strained expectation, covering all from sheer delight to pale disappointment (some might guess what I mean), but even the first bars of the first track, ‘Atomica’, wipe out all doubts and concerns immediately. It´s a filthy, hard riffing little rocker, owing a lot of its energy to Bowie´s voice, which shoves and whips through the chords, sounding like being preserved, cause its timbre, combined with distorted guitars, the unpretentious but effective keys and the whole straight and thrusting arrangement feel like a lost song from ‘Scary Monsters...’ (a forgotten sibling of ‘Fashion’ e.g.), the album on which he seamlessly combined solid rock & roll with sonic art, turning it into one of the most influential outputs of the early eighties. So ‘Atomica’ sounds like reflecting the own body of work (something like a common thread on ‘The Next Day’) without any regrets, free of pressure and artistic cramps and it seems you can almost feel the fun while he´s yelling the words. It could be embarrassing if a 66 year old guy comes along with lines like: “let’s rock ´til we explode”, but in that case it sounds sublimely ironic and convincing with a wink.

So the next track takes a completely different path. The ‘Hello Steve Reich Mix’ of ‘Love Is Lost’ by James Murphy (Mastermind of the deceased LCD SOUNDSYSTEM and highly praised producer of the current ARCADE FIER album) is a monster of a song, spreading over 10 minutes in time and space. Paying tribute to Steve Reich, pioneer of minimal music and especially his Clapping Music, the song´s apparent main feature is the unusual rhythm pattern, emerging from the sound of clapping hands to unfold to a dynamic and organic groove, that, wiping out the original synths and guitars and only draped with spare electronic layers, sterilizes the ether for the nucleus of Bowie´s vocals, filling the void with claustrophobic density. If the original track isn´t a sunny-day-song already wit it´s sacral organs, marching guitars and its bleak lyrics about ageing, loss and evanescence, then Murphy managed it to debone it further to its purest essence. It´s a slow burning, not much motion, just a sonic combustion point, a feverish intensity, what makes it tantamount to a release if you reach the middle segment with its open chords and appearing drums. Here Murphy conjures another rabbit out of the hat with the melodically quoting of Bowie´s 1980´s ‘Ashes to Ashes’, that puts the songs in a completely new context of reflection and contraposition, a clever and unexpected turn of meaning, like the icing on this gloomy but catchy hybrid.

The instrumental ‘Plan’ is not that new, cause it already appeared on the album´s deluxe-edition earlier the year. It´s a weird little track, build around some rusty guitar chords and a plain but straight drum pattern drifting through sonic layers of overtones, feedbacks and synthetic choirs. It wouldn´t be out of place on the second side of “Low” or somewhere among the “Outside” interludes. L'art pour l'art. ‘Informer’ is the second of the really “new” and unheard tracks and it´s anthem-like character, with its shiny and polished surface, brushed by low piano tunes and the strangely happy sounding “OH’s” and “AH´s” of the backing vocals, maliciously damaged by the sawing guitars and the way Bowie is almost barking out the words, high-registered and shaken by fervency, puts the track near to songs like ‘Teenage Wildlife’ or ‘Because You´re young’ (both from the above mentioned ‘Scary Monsters’ album), with their fragile pomposity and their cavernous pathos. Third strike.

The ‘Venetian Mix’ of ‘I´d rather be high’ (obviously done for being performed by the guest-starring Bowie in the latest Louis Vuitton campaign) is the first needlessness so far, following the same clumsy formula as with the eastern influenced guitar intro on ‘China Girl’, except that here we have a spinet, chopping and stumbling through the bars and chords. You have to know that the clip´s setting is placed in Venice (of course!) and that´s the only raison d'être for the song´s alteration. It´s not even inspired enough for being a nice gimmick, because there´s no profit for the song, on the contrary, the original´s psychedelic complexion (caused by the sitar sounding tunes) gets completely lost and so it´s linking to the lyrics. Apropos: it´s an odd stroke that Vuitton choose a song about post-war traumata for advertising! Zero points... ‘Like A Rocket Man’ is one of those lollipops with a bitter core Bowie likes to dangle in front of you (see ‘Valentine´s Day’). Wrapped in a sweet melodic arrangement (heavily borrowed from THE BEATLES’ ‘Help’), you find a story studded with obvious drug references and the sadness and decay of a life in a tailspin. Only when the guitars start to howl and the drums begin to convulse it all turns to a jerky rocking outfit, pushing its darker shades subliminally nearer to the surface for letting the frolic seem off-kilter, with a sour taste in your mouth.

‘Born in a UFO’ evokes again that kind of art rock Bowie gave a solid shape then at the beginning of the eighties. What starts as a plain bawling rock song, turns out to be a complex wolf in sheep´s clothing with shifting viscid chords, a clutter of beats and rhythms, blasts of guitars and organs and Bowie´s voice yelling and twisting, directing that mess of sounds and bars as if the fuse is already burning. Lyrically it would have been a bit too goofy for the original album´s track listing but musically it´s a great kind of prog-pop. ‘I´ll take you there’ (familiar to those who own the mentioned deluxe edition) is a distorted battering ram, a tightrope walk between musical sophistication and a simple kick-in-the-ass attitude. There are enjoyable moments throughout the song, the verses with their offbeat rhythm and doubled vocal lines or the caesura-like melodic middle part with its stirring, suppliant chant, but unfortunately all flows in that plain and stomping chorus with its puffy guitars, offensive drums and missing melody, what sounds more like a pose, like Tin Machine without Bowie, dangerously close to that coreless rock you would expect from the ones like Bryan Adams, regrettably pounding and casting a cloud over the whole song. Feels a bit like a bull in a china shop or a wrong decade´s reference.

But the bitter taste remains just for a second cause ‘God Bless The Girl’ is another jewel, whose elaborated structure turns the primarily acoustic guitar driven groovy surface (somewhere between Buddy Holly and Bowie´s own early seventies stuff) note by note into a full-blown gospel arrangement for the final chords. Barring the (again) dreary and sad lyrics (about Jackie Onassis as the rumours go) it is still impressive to witness what intensity and texture Bowie is able to create just with his voice. He´s shouting and he´s suffering in the final choruses, devotional and with abandon, just like a preacher, weaving an almost religious aura in that little catchy song.

And finally ‘So She’, a sweet little song somewhere in the intersection of Bowie´s early stages and those sentimental reflections you can find on his later works like ‘Heathen’, that seems perfect for leaving this multi-layered, brimmed collage of sounds, styles and shapes, cause it´s melancholic and bittersweet patina fits as a last sparkling gem in this musical kaleidoscope Mr Bowie granted us with that disc. Keep in mind that all the songs (except the two remixes) are all second row outtakes or B-sides and envision their stylistic variety, their eagerness to experiment and their disability to enter any mentionable chart positions and you realize that Bowie has reached an artistic level, which is free from any defaults, constraints and adjustments, whose only parameters are self-given influences and art for art´s sake. (I repeat myself, I know!) For sure, he has left the state of being a musical pioneer a long time ago and his current work isn´t setting new standards necessarily, but that doesn´t mean that he´s less influential, remaining one of the last “real” icons in the pantheon of contemporary culture, always searching, fathoming, merging...one of the last guardians of art in popular music.

Conclusion: If Bowie isn´t more for you than ‘Let´s Dance’ or ‘China Girl’ you should keep the hands off ‘The Next day Extra’ because you might have little use for this blueprint of his contemporary shape of work and if you´re a newbie in the artistic universe of Bowie I´d rather suggest one of those myriad Best Of-compilations (for getting all the links, quotes and cross references findable throughout his music), but if you like and cherish his music at the threshold of the 80´s (from 1975 to the oft-cited ‘Scary Monsters’ album to be exact) and the things he did during the new millennium (the three one-word-title albums ‘Hours’, ‘Heathen’ and ‘Reality’), then you should grab it for enjoying the fact that a lot of the unheard tracks sound more innovative, experimental and thrillingly unconventional than a handful of the “regular” album tracks. It´s not that peripheral as his “Outside” opus (I don´t want to make too great demands!), but it´s heading for a direction his best work came from. As always the next step is unpredictable , but if songs like ‘Born in a UFO’ were written at the end of the recording sessions, then I abide impatiently and jittery for the things to come…


Tracklist

CD “Tracks”
01. The Next Day
02. Dirty Boys
03. The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
04. Love Is Lost
05. Where Are We Now?
06. Valentine´s Day
07. If You Can See Me
08. I´d Rather Be High
09. Boss Of Me
10. Dancing Out In Space
11. How Does The Grass Grow?
12. (You Will) Set The World On Fire
13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
14. Heat

CD “Extra”
01. Atomica
02. Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy For The DFA)
03. Plan
04. Informer
05. I´d Rather Be High (Venetian Mix)
06. Like A Rocket Man
07. Born In A UFO
08. I´ll Take You There
09. God Bless The Girl
10. So She

DVD “Light”
01. Where Are We Now? (Director: Tony Oursler)
02. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) (Director: Floris Sigimondis)
03. The Next Day (Director: Floris Sigimondis)
04. Valentine´s Day (Director: Indrani / Klinko)


Line-up

David Bowie – Vocals, Lyrics, Guitar, Keyboards, Perussion
Gail Ann Dorsey – Bass, Vocals
Gerry Leonard – Guitar
Earl Slick – Guitar
Tony Visconti – Bass, Guitar
Zachary Alford – Drums, Percussion
David Torn – Guitar
Sterling Campbell – Drums
and further guest musicians


Website

www.davidbowie.com


Cover Picture

davidbowie thenextdayextra


Rating

Music: 8
Sound: 9
Extras: 9
Total: 8.6 / 10





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