The Bowie Paradox is not yet recognised as an official musical phenomenon, but hopefully it will be soon. The paradox is this; if a large part of Bowie’s reputation is to repeatedly release new material which is starkly different to previous material, then is Bowie not being Bowie if he releases an album which sounds like Bowie? Maybe it’s not quite as complicated as that, but it sounds quite good if you say it out loud. Keeping this idea in mind, take a look at his first album in over 10 years, The Next Day.
One of the album’s strongest elements is that a lot the tracks sound genuinely modern. A real problem a lot of older artists can face when they release new albums is that the music can just sound dated, like its dragging out a sound which died a long time a go. Tracks on the album such as its single, “Where Are We Now?”, sound fresh and interesting. Its minimalistic and ambient sound give the indescribable ‘Goosebumps’ effect many artists’ seek to create, at the same time, the lack of instrumental role really makes it a great track for Bowie’s distinctive voice.
Another similar strength is that in many places it sounds pretty innovative. “So She” offers the strange mix of an Indie-Pop sounding dance hook with an echoey effect which sounds like a record playing slightly too slowly. Just like “Let’s Dance” in 1983 blending Blues-Rock guitar against a dance format, this is Bowie innovation at its best (keep that paradox in mind if it’s not too much of a headache).
The album isn’t fresh right through; and it’s debatable how – if at all – intentional this is. Probably the weakest parts of the album are the songs which are based more around ‘Dad-Rock’ guitar openings. Other parts of the album also sound like regurgitations of his previous work. But with the album cover being a defaced version of 1977’s Heroes you can’t help but feel this is, at least partly, intentional.
The moments that sound most like ‘regurgitations’ generally pop up pretty randomly in songs, whether these are brief horn additions or funky background electronics. It sounds more like Bowie is using them like they’re samples a lot of the time. Another distinctive flashback is a lot of the album’s quieter songs like “Heat” are built on the same slow industrial grind which was the basis of 1977’s Low. However, the vocals and added instrumental work then develop these songs into something much more distant from Low. The theme with any similarities found is that they seem to be set up like highlighted progressions. Sign-posting that The Next Day is built on yesterday if you will.
…Ian has been listening to Foxygen – “Shuggie”