The Next Day

  1. The Next Day [3.26]

  2. Dirty Boys [2.58]

  3. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) [3.57]

  4. Love Is Lost [3.57]

  5. Where Are We Now? [4.09]

  6. Valentine's Day [3.02]

  7. If You Can See Me [3.12]

  8. I'd Rather Be High [3.44]

  9. Boss Of Me [4.09]

  10. Dancing Out In Space [3.21]

  11. How Does The Grass Grow? [4.34]

  12. (You Will) Set The World On Fire [3.32]

  13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die [4.37]

  14. Heat [4.25]

Bonus tracks on Deluxe Edition and LP:

Additional bonus tracks on Japanese Deluxe Edition:

The Next Day

Released:

  • ISO/Columbia 88765 46186 2 - March 2013 (CD)

  • ISO/Columbia 88765 46192 2 - March 2013 (CD: Deluxe Edition)

  • ISO/Columbia 88765 46186 1 - March 2013 (LP)

  • ISO/Columbia 88883 78781 2 - November 2013 (2CD/DVD The Next Day Extra)

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Percussion, Backing Vocals

  • Gerry Leonard: Guitar, Keyboards

  • David Torn: Guitar

  • Gail Ann Dorsey: Bass, Backing Vocals

  • Tony Levin: Bass

  • Zachary Alford: Drums, Percussion

  • Henry Hey: Piano and Keyboards

  • Tony Visconti: Guitar, Bass, Recorder, Strings

  • Antoine Silverman/Maxim Moston/Hiroko Taguchi/Anja Wood: Strings

  • Earl Slick: Guitar

  • Sterling Campbell: Drums, Tambourine

  • Steve Elson: Baritone Sax, Contrabass Clarinet

  • Janice Pendarvis: Backing Vocals

  • Alex Alexander: Percussion

  • Erin Tonkon: Backing Vocals

  • Morgan Visconti: Acoustic Guitar

  • James Murphy/Matthew Thornley/Hishan Bharoocha/Jordan Herbert: 'Clapping Chorus' on "Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix)"

Recorded:

  • The Magic Shop, New York/Human, New York

Producers:

  • David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Recorded in secret, and made known to the world only with the surprise 'drop' release of "Where Are We Now?" on January 8th 2013, The Next Day was more than two years in the making, giving it the longest gestation period of any Bowie album. Work began a trifling seven years after the release of Reality, but by the time The Next Day appeared it was, as every breathless headline pointed out, Bowie's first album in a decade. It wasn't the first time that David had gone quiet for a few years before making a chart-topping comeback - one thinks of Let's Dance and Black Tie White Noise - but the sheer length of this sabbatical, and the years of snowballing rumours that he had quit the business for good, meant that this comeback was of a different order altogether. David Bowie's sensational act of self-resurrection was a talking point of 2013, and The Next Day became his most lionised album in decades.

 

"I don't think artists ever retire," Tony Visconti told The Times in 2013. "Why would he retire? Some artists have long periods of not creating: they need to accumulate experiences and have something to write about." In the wake of the health problems which had brought A Reality Tour to its premature conclusion, and in particular after it became known that Bowie had declined repeated invitations to perform at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, speculation had begun to grow that he was unwell, that he had lost his voice altogether, or even that he was suffering from cancer - rumours which were, at the time, entirely unfounded. "They're categorically not true," said Tony Visconti in 2013. "He does not have cancer. If there is one thing I would like to dispel it's the rumours about his ill-health. He's incredibly fit and takes care of himself. Obviously, after the heart attack, he wasn't too thrilled but he has an amazing family and friends."

 

During the quiet years, David had remained in touch with his old friend. "I saw him socially," said Visconti. "It was good that he took some time off to reflect on the music scene and the business in general. He was probably wondering if it was worth making another record again in this age - was it just going to be another download? But even I was shocked when he eventually rang me out of the blue and said, 'Do you fancy making some demos?'"

 

That telephone call came in November 2010 when Visconti was in London, working with the Kaiser Chiefs on their album The Future Is Medieval. "He said, 'Well, when are you going to get back?' I said, 'In a few days.' The next morning after I returned, I was in the studio with him playing bass." The studio in question was Manhattan's 6/8, where Bowie and Visconti were joined by two familiar faces: guitarist Gerry Leonard and drummer Sterling Campbell. "We went into this tiny, tiny little rehearsal room downstairs in the East Village," Leonard later told Rolling Stone. "It was like a little dungeon. We went there from Monday to Friday one week." Bowie had been writing new songs at home and recording one-man demos of his own; about eight of them at this early stage. "They were quite fleshed out," recalled Visconti. "He had nice bassline ideas and drum patterns."

 

"He had this book bag with a legal pad and a little four-track recorder where he'd cut these little scratch demos," Leonard recounted. "He would pull out a song and we'd chart out the chords and try to figure it out. We'd play it through a few times, kind of extend it a bit, come up with a form and then put it away. By the end of the week, we'd cut all these demos, just for him." The demo session lasted five days but, as Visconti explained, "We didn't record anything until the last day. We just kept writing down notes. On the fifth day, it was hard to try to remember what we did on the first day. But we got them down."

 

At the end of the week, Bowie took the recordings home and a long silence fell. "He disappeared for four months and said, 'I'm gonna start writing now'," explained Visconti. "So he wrote more songs and then he fleshed those out even more. He came up with lyrics and melodies, which he didn't have at first. But that's typical...Scary Monsters - every album - started out with maybe one finished song and ten ideas."

 

By April 2011 Bowie was ready to begin recording, and the search began for a New York studio where work could begin in earnest and in secrecy (Looking Glass Studios, the venue for many recordings from Earthling to Reality, had closed down in 2009). The first choice of venue, whose identity remains undisclosed, was swiftly dropped before recording even began. "We told them to keep it a secret and they blew it within 24 hours," Visconti later told The Guardian. "We hadn't even started the album but we got a phone call: 'Is it true you're making a record at such and such a studio?' We just denied everything."

 

"Apparently this photographer had called someone from David's office and asked if it was okay for him to take pictures of David at the studio," drummer Zachary Alford later explained. "They were like, 'What? Who told you there was even a session?' Obviously, someone from the studio leaked it out. We got an email after that saying, 'Okay, change of plan. We're doing it at Magic Shop'."

 

Situated on Soho's Crosby Street, barely a stone's throw from David's apartment building, Magic Shop was a studio new to Bowie and his producer. During Visconti's initial recce, and for some time thereafter, the proprietors of Magic Shop were unaware of the identity of their prospective client. "It's not an exaggeration to say that we didn't know what was going on until the day that David showed up," the studio's owner Steve Rosenthal later admitted. That day - the first day of the sessions proper - was May 2nd 2011.

 

Engineer Mario McNulty, a veteran of Reality and a regular associate of Visconti's, joined the team at Magic Shop. "For many of the songs there were five people performing live in the room at once," McNulty explained. "I used Magic Shop's two isolation cabinets for guitar amps and the bass cabinet, but even with those cabinets, you have to deal with the small amount of bleed. Because of this bleed and the fact that the performances were captured live, this might be a nightmare for many bands...but this band was incredible. When a group plays together that well you can record this way." McNulty's duties included setting up workstations for each artist in Magic Shop's live room. "David's station was laid out around the Baldwin piano. I made sure there was plenty of room for him to move about and also take notes if he needed to. In addition, David had his Trinity keyboard workstation, an acoustic six-string and twelve-string, a tambourine, and a digital mixer which he had some recordings on for reference."

 

Recording at Magic Shop would proceed on and off, punctuated by long breaks until the autumn of 2012. Over this period there were three distinct core bands who contributed to the sessions at different times: players with, as Visconti later put it, "a lot of Bowie DNA between them". For the first two-week block of recordings in May 2011, Gerry Leonard was joined on guitar by fellow Heathen and Reality veteran David Torn, while bass was played by Gail Ann Dorsey, who admiringly described the new songs as "different from anything else that's going on in the music world. The main thing I noticed about David was that he seemed really comfortable in his own skin. There's nothing to prove any more. So he had a kind of relaxed, total confidence, just enjoying the process of making the music. I don't think I've ever seen him this settled." Sterling Campbell, who had drummed on the demos, was already committed to a tour with the B-52s, and so was replaced for the first block of sessions by Zachary Alford, making his first appearance on a Bowie album since Earthling; he would go on to become The Next Day's principal drummer.

 

"Gerry would hand out charts while we listened to the song so we'd have something to follow, and we could make any notes we needed," Zachary Alford told Rolling Stone. "We listened to the songs about two or three times, and then it was time to go play it. That was the drill." Alford estimated that most tracks took between two and five takes to nail, although "on a couple of occasions it was only one take."

 

"I was involved in about eight days where we basically tracked live," Gerry Leonard later recalled of the May 2011 sessions. "We'd all huddle around the piano and David would play a rough demo that he'd either made at home or that we'd done back in November 2010. Then we'd all go to our stations and work on sounds and ideas. The sessions all moved really quickly, but we were never rushed. David likes to work hard in short bursts and get it done."

 

Songs tracked during the prolific first session at Magic Shop included "The Next Day" and "Atomica" (May 2nd), "How Does The Grass Grow?" and "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" (May 3rd), "If You Can See Me" (May 4th), "Dancing Out In Space" (May 4th and 7th), "Like A Rocket Man" (May 5th), "Born In A UFO" (May 5th and 10th), "Heat" (May 6th), "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" (May 9th) and "So She" (May 12th). Work would continue on many of these during the subsequent sessions, with overdubs added by other musicians; the version of "Born In A UFO" cut in the May sessions would be abandoned altogether in favour of a later recording. Mario McNulty explained that "David's process was that he would record for a couple of weeks, then disappear for a couple of months to analyse what he had."

 

Sure enough, there was now a hiatus until the summer, when Bowie visited Gerry Leonard at his Woodstock home to record some new demos, including the co-written "Boss Of Me" and "I'll Take You There". These were among the tracks that formed the basis of the second session at Magic Shop in September. For this block, which lasted just a week, Leonard was joined again by Zachary Alford on drums, but Gail Ann Dorsey was now touring with Lenny Kravitz so bass was taken over by Tony Levin, who had previously played on Heathen and was best known for his groundbreaking work with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson. The songs tracked during this session were "I'll Take You There" and "God Bless The Girl" (September 12th), "Love Is Lost" and "Where Are We Now?" (September 13th), "The Informer" and "Boss Of Me" (September 14th), "I'd Rather Be High" (September 15th) and "Dirty Boys" (September 17th).

 

A few days later, Bowie reconvened with Visconti to begin laying down his lead vocals, most of which were recorded not at Magic Shop but at Human, a nearby studio co-owned by Visconti's son Morgan. Human was where most of the album's backing vocals and additional overdubs were also added. Lead vocals recorded by David in the autumn of 2011 were "The Informer" (September 21st), "Where Are We Now?" (October 22nd), "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" (October 26th), "God Bless The Girl" (November 2nd), "Heat" (November 5th), "Love Is Lost" (November 19th) and "Boss Of Me" (November 26th). Following a Christmas break, Bowie cut his lead vocal for "How Does The Grass Grow?" on January 16th 2012, and on January 19th-20th laid down the instrumental track "Plan", on which he played everything bar drums.

 

As 2012 dawned, most of the musicians were none the wiser about the state of progress. "I heard they were doing vocals and a little bit of strings or saxophone or piano," Gerry Leonard later recalled, referring to the contributions of saxophonist Steve Elson, whose Bowie credits stretched from Heathen back to Let's Dance, and pianist Henry Hey, a newcomer to the Bowie camp whose CV included stints with George Michael, Dionne Warwick and Rod Stewart. "I first worked with Henry on a light jazz album for a singer called Lucy Woodward," Tony Visconti told me. "I loved his versatility and flawless technique. He played on several other small projects for me. I recommended him to David and the two of them hit it off great. Henry has a lovely, calming personality." All of Hey's contributions were recorded as overdubs, his first task being to augment Bowie's own piano part on "Where Are We Now?", followed by contributions to other tracks including "The Informer", "God Bless The Girl" and "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die", over several sessions at Magic Shop and Human. "David was always interested to hear what a particular musician might do on a song before he gave any guidance," Henry Hey told me. "It's a great way to work as it allows people to put forth their most prominent instinct on a passage. After that, he might mention parts of what you played that he liked, or in some cases may be something that he'd rather you avoid - yet he was always such a gentleman about it." Impressed by Henry Hey's work and by the rapport they struck up in the studio, Bowie would later enlist him as musical director of the stage show Lazarus.

 

In March 2012, Gerry Leonard was summoned back to Magic Shop "for a couple of days to do more guitar over drums," and at around the same time Bowie embarked on his second concentrated period of recording lead vocals: on March 2nd he laid down "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" and "Like A Rocket Man" and began work on the vocal for "I'll Take You There", to which he returned on March 5th and 14th. Other lead vocals recorded during this stint were "The Next Day" (March 16th), "If You Can See Me" (April 4th), "Dirty Boys" (May 8th) and "I'd Rather Be High" (May 9th).

 

The third and final principal block of tracking sessions took place in late July 2012. This time Visconti undertook bass guitar duties while joining the sessions for the first time were guitarist Earl Slick and drummer Sterling Campbell, his touring commitments with the B-52s now over. The first track to be recorded was a new take of "Born In A UFO" (July 23rd), this being the version that was eventually released; also tracked were the late additions "Valentine's Day" (July 24th) and "(You Will) Set The World On Fire" (July 25th), and several overdubs including Slick's guitar parts on "Dirty Boys" and "Atomica".

 

"I learned a long time ago with David that nothing happens until it happens," Earl Slick told Mojo, "so it was more a pleasant surprise than a shock." Slick found the sessions "relaxed and fun", and explained that "I generally do the rockers and Gerry Leonard does the ethereal stuff." As ever, Bowie was treating the styles of individual players as colours on the musical palette. "He doesn't expect me to do what Adrian Belew does," Slick told Rolling Stone. "He doesn't expect Adrian to do what I do, or Gerry Leonard, or vice versa. When I'm there, he needs me to do what I do best." In Ultimate Classic Rock, Slick emphasised Bowie's continuing dedication to spontaneity: "As sophisticated as some of his records sound, he's not anal about this stuff. And neither am I, and that's why we get along so well. I'll do a take that's really not perfect, but it is perfect because it feels great. Therein lies the perfection. It lies in what it feels like and what it does to you emotionally, not the exact notes. I can play a note that's a little bit on the outside - like, 'What the hell was that?' - and then we listen back to it and we go, 'Wow, that felt really good.' And we just leave it alone. Whereas some guys will sit there and they'll try to fix a weird note. Those weird notes, to me, is what really makes it happen."

 

A final block of vocals and overdubs followed in the autumn of 2012: David recorded his lead vocal for "Valentine's Day" on September 18th, followed by "Born In A UFO" (September 26th), "(You Will) Set The World On Fire" (September 27th), "Dancing Out In Space" (October 8th) and "So She" (October 23rd).

 

Like everyone involved in the sessions, Earl Slick was asked to remain silent about the project. "The whole thing was so secret," he told Uncut, "that Gerry Leonard didn't even tell me he'd been in before me, and we'd had coffee together a number of times. I said to him, 'You bastard!' But we all understood that's how it was. That's David's call. After forty years of working with the guy, you have to respect that." To Mojo, Slick confessed that "it was rough. I was bursting to tell people that I'd been back in the studio with David, that he looks good, he's singing his ass off, that we got this great album. And I couldn't say a thing."

 

The conditions of secrecy under which The Next Day was recorded were taken seriously; all those involved in the sessions were required to sign non-disclosure agreements. "It was difficult keeping it a secret," Visconti told Q in 2013. "It wasn't anything sinister. David wanted it to be a complete surprise. Even his label didn't know. The hardest thing has been the past two years telling people I was working on a secret project. They'd immediately guess, 'It's Bowie, isn't it?' And I'd have to fake 'No,' all the time." Despite the best-laid plans, the clandestine comings and goings at Magic Shop resulted in a few close shaves. "A lot of people would try to guess who we had in there," recalled studio manager and assistant engineer Kabir Hermon. "They'd say, 'Is it the Rolling Stones?' and I'd go, 'Well, I don't know...' Sometimes I'd get people going by saying it was a Smiths reunion."

 

For a brief moment in October 2011, it seemed that the cat was out of the bag, in a bizarre turn of events which was no more than a coincidence crossed with a misunderstanding. Veteran Bowie guitarist Robert Fripp posted on his blog about a vivid dream he had had in which David was working on new material, and had invited him to contribute: "Eno also got involved," Fripp wrote, "and what a flowering of ideas!" The blog post was seized upon by the inattentive and the optimistic as sure-fire proof that something was afoot; in reality, Fripp had no knowledge that Bowie was back in the studio, and was doing no more than innocently writing up his dream. The rumour soon shrivelled up and the trail went cold, but this didn't stop a garbled version of the story resurfacing in 2013 after The Next Day had been announced, when the claim went around that Fripp had turned down an invitation to work on the album and had blown the secrecy clause by blogging about it. Fripp was moved to issue a public clarification, paying tribute to Bowie and Visconti and confirming that he had known nothing about the project.

 

A genuine close call happened during Earl Slick's stint at Magic Shop in July 2012. "One day I went out to have a cigarette in front of the studio," Slick later told Ultimate Classic Rock. "I would hang out in the doorway, in a little alcove; I didn't even walk into the street. And something felt weird, and I peered across the street, and there was a guy there with a camera on a tripod. So I put my cigarette out and went back inside. Cause if they see me, they can put two and two together."

 

The leaking of the unreleased Toy album in March 2011 came just weeks before the commencement of the main sessions for The Next Day, a turn of events with which David can hardly have been delighted; but there were more pressing reasons than this for his decision to record his new material behind closed doors. Since the premature end of A Reality Tour, David had made only a handful of appearances on stage and screen, and by the summer of 2007, he had all but withdrawn from public life. Journalists, biographers and commentators had begun to declare with increasing confidence that David Bowie had slipped quietly into retirement. Under such circumstances, any pre-emptive announcement that he was back at work would have created a stir which would have rebounded straight back into the studio and placed David and his colleagues under a burden of expectation that would in all likelihood have been to the detriment of their work. "If he had told people two years ago that he was making a new album, he would have been flooded with opinions on what it should be like," was how Tony Visconti put it. By keeping the project secret, David was able to work in peace, to retain control over the timing and the ultimate outcome of the project - and even to decide, should he so wish, to abandon it altogether.

 

There was another reason for maintaining silence. Ever the canny operator, Bowie can't have failed to observe that in the years since his last release the world's media had embraced a post-Twitter age of spoilers and previews and orchestrated leaks; an age of smartphone espionage in which it was increasingly difficult to keep anything under wraps; an age in which it had become de rigueur for film trailers to give away twists, and for soap operas to chase ratings by revealing in advance exactly which episode was due to feature a surprise return or a dramatic death. It took an artist of Bowie's counter-intuitive intelligence to recognise that the best way to cause the maximum stir in this new age was to take precisely the opposite approach: to maintain a total information blackout, and simply to drop something onto the internet one morning without any fanfare whatsoever. Radiohead had dipped their toes into such a notion with their 2007 album In Rainbows, released online after just a few days' notice, but it was widely known that they had been recording for many months. The surprise release of "Where Are We Now?" on January 8th 2013 was something else: it was the first of its kind by a major artist, and it duly caused a sensation. In no time at all, the tactic had become a recognised marketing strategy, adopted a few months later by Beyoncé, who in December 2013 became the first big name to pull off the trick not just with a single, but with an entire album, the unheralded Beyoncé. In 2016 she repeated the trick with Lemonade, cementing her status as the queen of the surprise release. The subsequent familiarity of the tactic has dulled the impact of that extraordinary morning in January 2013, but it was David Bowie who showed the way. The fact that he managed to keep The Next Day a secret until the moment of his choosing was little short of miraculous, and within the context of his own career, the "Where Are We Now?" coup went beyond a simple PR stunt. At a stroke, in transformed his years of silence into a work of art in their own right. To paraphrase that famous line from The Usual Suspects, the greatest trick that David Bowie ever pulled was convincing the world that he'd retired.

 

Even within the Bowie camp, knowledge of the album was on a need-to-know basis. Rob Stringer, president of the Sony Music Label Group, was only informed of its existence in October 2012, when he was invited to hear some tracks. "He came to the studio," Visconti told The Guardian. "He was thrilled. He said, 'What about the PR campaign?' And David said, 'There is no PR campaign. We're just going to drop it on January 8th. That's it.' It's such a simple idea, but Bowie came up with it."

 

By the autumn of 2012, preparation was well underway on two major Bowie-related projects which were due to be unveiled the following spring: the Victoria & Albert Museum's lavish exhibition David Bowie is, and the BBC2 documentary David Bowie: Five Years. Although neither project involved Bowie himself in a hands-on role, they both enjoyed his tacit patronage; but only David was aware of how auspicious the timing was. Neither the V&A curators nor the Five Years production team had any advance knowledge of the forthcoming album, and they were as surprised as everyone else when "Where Are We Now?" appeared that January morning. For Bowie and his inner circle, the forthcoming V&A extravaganza offered a useful smokescreen, as The Next Day's graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook later explained: "We had a secret codename for the album, which was 'Table'. Because we were using the cover of "Heroes" for the artwork, and because we were involved with the V&A exhibition, I just told people it was to do with that. But I think people were starting to suspect. I found out about the album in September, and the idea was always to release the track on his birthday. It had to be out by then. We worked on his new website and couldn't tell the programmers why it was being restyled...All along the way, we had to lie to people about our reasons for doing things."

 

Barnbrook's provocative cover artwork for The Next Day would become almost as much of a talking point as the album itself. "We wanted to do something different with it," Barnbrook later wrote on his blog. "Very difficult in an area where everything has been done before - but we dare to think this is something new." Pushing to a fresh extreme the images of scrubbed-out art and struck-out typeface which Barnbrook had created for Heathen a decade earlier, The Next Day places front and centre the effacement of one of the pivotal images of Bowie's career: the cover shot of 1977's "Heroes", on which a black line now crudely redacts the title but leaves the artist's name intact, while his face is obscured by a plain white square which contains, in austere black Doctrine font, the title The Next Day. "We went through many different designs for the album cover," Barnbrook later told the NME, "but the starting point was an image he had of this concert he did at Radio City. He was telling me about how isolated

he felt at that time, and that was the basis of the feeling he wanted. We tried out every single Bowie cover there's been, but it ended up as "Heroes" because it's such an iconic album, and the image on the front has the right kind of distance. Originally the album was going to be called Love Is Lost, which is one of the other tracks. But The Next Day, in combination with the "Heroes" image, and what the album is saying about somebody who's looking back at his age...it just felt appropriate."

 

The Radio City image to which Barnbrook referred was a shot taken during Bowie's New York residency in the autumn of 1974, during the same week that he recorded his famous appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. Depicting a stick-thin David leaning at a 45-degree angle with his microphone stand, the monochrome image was turned upside-down for the abandoned design which, although rejected as the album cover, was instead used as the download image accompanying the "Where Are We Now?" single. This and several other abandoned cover roughs for The Next Day were released by Barnbrook as last-minute additions to the V&A show. Another rejected design depicted the Aladdin Sane cover defaced with red paintbrush strokes, another the Pin Ups sleeve with black circles obscuring the faces of Bowie and Twiggy. A fourth reject departed from the 'effaced artwork' theme and instead offered the album's title against a riot of op-art monochrome patterns in the style of Bridget Riley.

 

As the release date of "Where Are We Now?" approached, the final tracklisting of the album was still being decided. The sessions had yielded a pool of 29 tracks, of which 14 eventually made it onto the album proper: "The running order and song selection changed a few times in the final month before declaring, 'This is it, this is the album'," explained Visconti, who finished work on The Next Day only a few days before the single was due to be dropped.

 

The release of "Where Are We Now?" relied for much of its impact on the accompanying video, spawned by a revolution that had occurred during the decade since Bowie had last released an album. Back in 2003 there were no smartphones, no tablets, and no YouTube - the site was launched some eighteen months after the release of Reality - but ten years on, they formed the bedrock of the interface between artists and their audience. As a happy consequence, The Next Day saw Bowie returning to the cutting edge of rock video, an area in which he had shown every sign of losing interest after the millennium. "Back in the time of the Heathen album shoot, I had asked him if he was going to do a video," recalled photographer Marcus Klinko, "and he said, 'Why should I? MTV won't play it.' And I said, 'What are you talking about? You're David Bowie.' He said, 'They're not gonna play it. Maybe they'll play it one time at 2.00am. I'm not gonna do it'." In the brave new world of YouTube Bowie's enthusiasm was reignited, and Tony Oursler's elegiac clip for "Where Are We Now?" became the first in a flood of exceptionally brilliant videos - some eleven in all - which would accompany Bowie's releases for the rest of his life.

 

Preceded by a stream on iTunes from February 28th 2013, The Next Day was released over three dates in different territories: on March 8th in Australia, New Zealand and several European countries, on March 11th in the UK and a raft of other territories, and on March 12th in the USA, Canada and everywhere else. Within days it became one of the biggest hits of Bowie's career, entering the UK chart at number 1 - his first British chart-topper since Black Tie White Noise - and making number 1 in a total of twenty countries. It topped the iTunes chart in more than sixty. In the USA it was pipped to the top spot by Bon Jovi's What About Now, but its number 2 position nonetheless gave Bowie his highest-charting US album yet, one place above his previous best with Station To Station.

 

Following the pattern established by Bowie's previous two albums, the initial release consisted of 'Standard' and 'Deluxe' editions, the latter featuring three bonus tracks - although, unlike the two-disc editions of Heathen and Reality, the Deluxe CD of The Next Day was a single disc with the bonus tracks tacked on at the end. The double vinyl format included the bonus tracks and a copy of the Deluxe Edition CD for good measure, while the Japanese CD included the additional track "God Bless The Girl". All four of the bonus selections, plus a further four previously unreleased tracks and new remixes of "Love Is Lost" and "I'd Rather Be High", would later appear on the November 2013 release The Next Day Extra, which also included a DVD of the videos for the first four singles.

 

The four new songs unveiled on The Next Day Extra had remained unfinished and unmixed at the time of the original album sessions, and further work was carried out on them in August 2013: "Most of the lyrics were completed at the time of The Next Day sessions," Visconti told the NME, "but David added some extra lyrics and sang some new vocals, including backing vocals and harmonies. The new versions were then completely fleshed out and freshly mixed for the new release." Among the most substantial of the August 2013 recordings were Henry Hey's harpsichord part for the "I'd Rather Be High" remix, and David's lead vocal for "Atomica", which was not recorded until August 26th.

 

Including bonus tracks, a grand total of 22 songs from The Next Day's pool of 29 were released in 2013. The remaining pieces were destined to be sidelined in favour of fresh enthusiasms. Of those elusive seven tracks, Tony Visconti said in 2016 that "they were left in various states of uncertainty, and for the life of me I can only remember the working title of one track, "Chump". Other song titles just had numbers, probably related to David's note-keeping. Of the seven remaining, none ever had melodies with lyrics, or just 'la las' added, so nothing can be done with them. David's voice is not on them. He moved on and resumed writing afresh for Blackstar. Nothing from The Next Day was used for Blackstar."

 

Reviews for The Next Day were overwhelmingly positive. Q's Andrew Harrison commended "a loud, thrilling, steamrolleringly confident rock and roll album full of noise, energy and words that - if as cryptic as ever they were - sound like they desperately need to be sung." The NME's Emily Mackay opined that "Above all, this album is about songcraft. Rather than reinventing Bowie, it absorbs his past and moves on, hungry for more." In Uncut, David Cavanagh commended Bowie's singing as "magisterial, spanning an actorly range of voices with such ease that other singers will be left wondering how he does it. There are some criticisms, of course; it's not a flawless masterpiece and it loses its way badly in the middle. But its aggression and intelligence demand our unconditional attention. The lyrics are fascinating...He's come back, clearly, because he has plenty to say, and new ways of saying it, and couldn't keep silent any longer."

 

"That His Davidness can trounce the meagre competition around him in 2013 is no surprise," declared Time Out. "He's buried his imitators in every decade he's worked in, from Slade to Suede. The crucial thing though is that The Next Day stands proud when judged against his own exceptional back catalogue. This one fact alone makes it a five-star album - an album that's sincerely deserving of your attention." The Independent noted approvingly that it was "rare to hear a comeback effort that not only reflects an artist's own best work but stands alongside it in terms of quality." USA Today welcomed "an emotionally dramatic, stylistically diverse, sonically bold and lyrically complex song cycle tackling a chaotic, war-scarred, celebrity-driven world of bewildered souls." Mojo's Mark Paytress judged the album "Bowie's most impassioned and convincing work in decades."

 

In stark contrast with his tireless promotion of albums like Heathen and Reality, Bowie chose to maintain an enigmatic silence about The Next Day, declining interviews and undertaking no promotional activities besides the videos and a handful of photo-shoots. In January 2013, Tony Visconti told The Times that David had told him he would "never do another interview again" - a declaration which turned out to be true. His long years out of the spotlight had, in effect, forged Bowie a new media persona. The voluble, witty chat-show guest of ten years earlier had been eclipsed by the silent, enigmatic recluse: the Dietrich, the Garbo, the Salinger. It was a role which, just like its predecessors, Bowie had played to the hilt. "I think he's reinventing the wheel," said Gerry Leonard in 2013. "The silence is part of it. He's letting the record come out, letting the artwork out, letting the video out. In his mind, those are the artistic statements - not getting on the phone with everybody and setting it up with all kinds of chatter. So I really think it's just part of his aesthetic right now."

 

Only once, in April 2013, did Bowie break his silence about The Next Day, and in gloriously abstruse fashion. In response to a request by the novelist Rick Moody (author of, inter alia, the 1994 novel The Ice Storm whose excellent film adaptation uses "I Can't Read" in its closing credits), Bowie unexpectedly provided a list of 42 words which he considered of relevance to The Next Day. "I persuaded Bowie, somehow, to give me a sort of a work flow diagram for The Next Day," Moody wrote for The Rumpus, "because I wanted to think about it in light of what he was thinking about it,  I wanted to understand the lexicon of The Next Day, and so I simply asked if he could provide this list of words about his album, assuming, like everyone else waving madly trying to get his attention, that there was not a chance in hell that I would get this list, because who the fuck am I, some novelist killing time writing occasionally about music, and yet astonighingly the list appeared, and it appeared without further comment, which is really excellent and exactly in the spirit of this album, and the list is far better than I could ever have hoped, and it's exactly like Bowie, at least in my understanding of him, impulsive, intuitive, haunted, astringent, and incredibly ambitious in the matter of the arts; Bowie is a conceptual artist, it seems to me, who just happens to work in the popular song, and he wants to make work that goes somewhere new, and this is amply demonstrated by the list."

 

Bowie's list of 42 words ran as follows:

 

  • Effigies

  • Indulgences   

  • Anarchist                 

  • Violence      

  • Chthonic

  • Intimidation

  • Vampyric

  • Pantheon

  • Succubus

  • Hostage

  • Transference

  • Identity

  • Mauer

  • Interface

  • Flitting

  • Isolation

  • Revenge

  • Osmosis

  • Crusade

  • Tyrant

  • Domination

  • Indifference

  • Miasma

  • Pressgang

  • Displaced

  • Flight

  • Resettlement

  • Funereal

  • Glide

  • Trace

  • Balkan

  • Burial

  • Reverse

  • Manipulate

  • Origin

  • Text

  • Traitor

  • Urban

  • Comeuppance

  • Tragic

  • Nerve

  • Mystification

 

This being David Bowie, there's more to his artfully constructed list than meets the eye. While all 42 words can rightly be said to illuminate the album as a whole, it's also true that there are 14 tracks on The Next Day, making three words per track. Divide the list into groups of three, and it becomes clear that each trio applies to an individual song in the album's track order: so the title track's three words are 'Effigies', 'Indulgences' and 'Anarchist', while "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" gets 'Vampyric', 'Pantheon' and 'Succubus', and so on. Bearing in mind Bowie's sense of humour, we would also do well to remember that the number 42 comes with an in-built resonance of its own: in throwing out his cryptic list for us to pore over, perhaps David was tapping into the tongue-in-cheek portentousness of the quest to answer "the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything" in the Douglas Adam's classic The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, in which the answer is revealed to be 42.

 

"One thing the album's got is a lot of substance," Tony Visconti told The Guardian. "You're going to have to listen to it many times because the lyrical content's going to take a long time to absorb." He was right. The Next Day is one of the most lyrically dense of all Bowie's albums, and it sets aside the abstract spiritual enquiries of Heathen and Reality in favour of a more situationist approach. In its disparate vignettes and snapshots of characters, times and places, The Next Day has more in common lyrically with Lodger or Tin Machine, or even with 1967's debut album: this is one of David Bowie's short-story anthologies.

 

If there is a common theme it's a dark one. In song after song, we are confronted by images of tyranny and oppression, violence and slaughter. There are new additions to Bowie's gallery of demagogues and false messiahs. We encounter religious persecution, Cold War espionage, high school shootings and wartime atrocities. Especially notable, on this 66-year-old's album, is how young his protagonists are: a 17-year-old soldier, a 22-year-old girl, a tiny-faced schoolboy, Balkan teenagers, juvenile street gangs, an idealistic young protest singer. Time and again, young people are wounded, damaged and exploited, their lives blighted by war, politics and religion. Bodies and souls are violated and corrupted, and there's an undercurrent of disgust and despair. A word that keeps cropping up in the lyrics is 'whore'; others include 'hate', 'jealousy', 'pain', 'prison', 'blood' and 'death'. Whichever way you slice it, The Next Day is one of Bowie's bleakest albums.

 

It's also one of his most bookish ones. David was always an insatiable reader, his tastes ranging from poetry and history to philosophy and pulp fiction, and The Next Day is an album which, like Hunky Dory or Station To Station before it, is the work of a man with a head full of books. Find another rock album that references the writings of George Rodenbach, Yukio Mishima, Vladimir Nabokov, Evelyn Waugh, Erskine Caldwell and Joseph Stalin's daughter. During his long sabbatical from music Bowie had, according to Tony Visconti, been "doing a phenomenal amount of reading: old English history, Russian history, the monarchs of Great Britain - what made them bad and good. Everything he reads makes it into the lyrics of his songs."

 

When it came to the music, Visconti suggested that The Next Day's influences were closer to home. "In the studio, the only records we referenced were our own," the producer said. "We listened back to Lodger a lot, as well as Scary Monsters and Heathen. I'd say The Next Day is an amalgam of those records." Zachary Alford described The Next Day as "a new millennium record, he's not trying to make it sound like his old stuff," but the evidence would suggest that Visconti's analysis is closer to the mark. "The Next Day started out trying to do something new," he remarked in 2015, "but something old kept creeping in." With so many familiar players present it's hardly surprising that there are textural echoes of Heathen and Reality - in particular, the ambient guitar sounds of Gerry Leonard and David Torn - but there's more to it than that. Bowie's customary habit of self-referencing now seems to be embedded in the songwriting, and there are times when The Next Day begins to feel like a tour d'horizon of his past sounds and styles. "Where Are We Now?" revisits the wistful fragility of 'hours...', while "Heat" resurrects the sinister Scott Walker-esque soundscapes of 1.Outside. There's a taste of Earthling on "If You Can See Me Now", and a blast of Never Let Me Down in "(You Will) Set The World On Fire". The wheezing synthesizers and distorted percussion effects of Low are dusted down for "Love Is Lost". Perhaps most obviously, "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" collides the torch songs of Ziggy Stardust with the soul ballads of Young Americans.

 

None of this is accidental, still less the sign of an artist who's resting on the past. Like the album's history-disrupting sleeve design, these persistent echoes are part and parcel of The Next Day's self-scarifying manifesto. "No matter how much we try, we cannot break free from the past," Jonathan Barnbrook wrote on his blog in 2013. "When you are creative, it manifests itself in every way - it seeps out in every new mark you make, particularly in the case of an artist like Bowie. It always looms large and people will judge you always in relation to your history, no matter how much you try to escape it." The Next Day finds Bowie not just acknowledging this fact but harnessing it, converting it into an energy source to power his next leap forward. The title track's cry of "Here I am, not quite dying" transcends the setting and subject matter of that song, becoming an existential battle-cry not just for an ageing rock star, but for the entire process of forging into the future, of creating new work and living new life, even as death looms large: "pushing through the darkness, still another mile" is the way ABBA once put it, but Bowie offers the altogether grimmer image of a hollow tree, "its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me/And the next day, and the next, and another day." There's a pellucid echo here of Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy, one of Shakespeare's most celebrated meditations on mortality and a speech that Bowie had long riffed upon, as he would continue to do on Blackstar. Ever since his teens he had been singing songs about death - his own and others' - and the tyranny of that ominous word 'tomorrow' had loomed over his lyrics for decades. Much of his songwriting concerns itself with, as "Loving The Alien" has it, "tomorrows and the yesterdays" - and The Next Day is an album on which those two imposters lock horns. This isn't an artist ready to call time on himself; to borrow the words of another poet, this is the sound of Bowie raging against the dying of the light, dredging up his legacy, kicking it into the long grass, and defiantly announcing that the future is all that matters. "Draw the blinds on yesterday, and it's all so much scarier," he once sang on Scary Monsters. On The Next Day, he does just that, paving the way for his final masterpiece.

 

The critical adulation which greeted The Next Day was, perhaps, inevitable: the europhia surrounding David Bowie's return lasted through 2013, buoyed up by the V&A exhibition, the Five Years documentary, a Mercury Prize nomination and, towards the end of the year, the release of The Next Day Extra. Such was the air of celebration that it barely seemed to matter that the album happened to be excellent. Yet excellent it was, and time has only burnished its reputation. Like much of Bowie's later work, the songwriting is deceptively subtle and sophisticated, and repays repeated listening; The Next Day is full of vocal melodies which, like Cole Porter's "Night And Day", hang stubbornly on a single note while harmonic sequences shift like sand beneath them. Another hallmark of the album is the exceptionally beautiful bridge sections, often bookended by exhilaratingly unexpected chord changes which could come from nobody but David Bowie. It's an album of many moods, from the nostalgia of "Where Are We Now?" to the despair of "Love Is Lost", from the grandstanding melodrama of "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" to the snarling mania of the title track; and through it all, Bowie sings with exceptional grace, control and power.

 

Tony Visconti's contribution is as immaculate as ever, orchestrating and governing the project through one sonic landscape after another, and creating a unity of sound across the album which, given its two-year gestation period and the musical and lyrical diversity of its songs, is an achievement in itself. If there is a weakness, it lies perhaps in that very diversity, which gives the whole a faintly scattershot feel. The Next Day is a long album of short tracks, and while it would be churlish to complain that David Bowie gave us too much music, one can't help wondering whether, having recorded enough material for two albums, he might have done better to withhold a few more songs for the bonus release. Some reviewers noted, and I'm inclined to agree with them, that The Next Day sags a little in the middle; it's not the fault of any one track, so much as the sheer quantity of them. But in the final analysis we wouldn't want to be without any of these wonderful songs, and if the only charge to be levelled against The Next Day is that it offers a surfeit of riches, then there's nothing much amiss.

 

"Once you're an artist, you're an artist until the day you die," Earl Slick said in 2013. "The urge is always going to be there. I was never sold on the idea that he was done. Never." After years in the wilderness, David Bowie returned with an intelligent, muscular, urgent album of powerful, brilliant songs. It was a greater gift than we had any right to expect.