Category: Music & Radio

Jokerside sure likes a bop…

Rock ‘n’ Roll: 60 years of Rocking Around the Clock

ImpossibleRockNRoll

 

It’s 60 years today that Bill Haley and the Comet’s Rock Around the Clock was released, just the mainstream push that rock’n’roll needed…

ROCK‘N’ROLL.  IT HAD BEEN BUZZING AROUND FOR A WHILE OF COURSE… The word ‘rock’ bubbled around in song titles, instruments came and went…  In a few short years it consolidated from blues, jazz, gospel music, swing, folk and country and more, just as it would continue to evolve, consume and spawn genres for decades to come.  It was the mid 1950s that saw  guitar move to the lead, knocking saxophones and piano down the band order to the point where the Comets and their contemporaries came in.

One, two, three…

The legendary recording of Rock Around the Clock, saw Bill Haley and his Comets with customary tenor sax and piano sat alongside steel guitar, piano drums, string bass and electric guitar… With Bill Haley taking both lead vocals and rhythm guitar of course.  Sax and piano would take centre stage in some of the genre’s greatest moments in years to come, but this was the groundbreaking sign of things to come: African-American styles had fully fused with European instruments to make enough noise in just the right way to grab the world’s attention.

Rock Around the Clock was recorded over a year after it was written and would take another year to become a success.  But when it was, those decades of influences and near attempts combined in that adapted 12-bars blues structure to announce Rock‘n’Roll to the world.  With a few inevitable riots in America of course, linking the young movement to juvenile delinquency in a way it would never shake off.  And like a true classic, when it was issued in spring 1954, it was a B-side.

Its legacy can’t be doubted, selling over 1.4 million copies and becoming the first million selling single in the UK; creating myths, rumours and hanging itself out for analysis ever since.  Almost every major rock guitarist of the next three decades were influenced or forced to pick up a guitar thanks to this infectious landmark.

Join me, Hon…

I was lucky – growing up in a household that seemingly only contained two albums: ABBA’s Arrival and Boney M’s Nightflight to Venus.  As such I was free to take a leisurely stroll through rock, and inadvertently it was from near the beginning.  The Reader’s Digest and Buddy the Musical conspired in my favour, leading me from Buddy Holly to Bill Haley via Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.  Then, as the 60s loomed on the playlist, a kindly (legendary) teacher handed me a 45 cassette tape containing all of Sgt Pepper’s and most of The White Album.  I still have that today, recorded from vinyl; that’s how I still hear those albums.

Before that, it was in the late ‘80s that I came across the Comets’ version of Rock Around the Clock.  But little did I appreciate then just how brilliant it is.  Not just how simple, nor how hypnotic and infectious nor how perfectly it all mashes together; just how it makes a great manifesto for what Rock’n’Roll (and later/simultaneously) rock music would be and is.

A statement.

“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock

Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock

Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Love and intent.

“Put your glad rags on, join me, Hon

We’ll have some fun when the clock strikes one

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Revolution.

“When the clock strikes two, three and four

If the band slows down we’ll yell for more

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Cue brilliant guitar led interlude. 

(every sentiment from rock classics already there: From The Who to Kiss)

And then repeat

“When the clock strikes twelve, we’ll cool off then

Start a’rockin’ round the clock again

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Round the Clock Again…

If Rock is all of those things, it’s a cycle in particular.

Of course, as many of those eager to sound its death knell point out, rock should have burnt bright and disappeared in a flash.  But it will never go away.  True, they ran out of guitar riffs and ways to fill a bar years ago, but somehow they keep digging them out.

I think it was in Ian MacDonald’s indispensible Revolution in the Head that first introduced me to the concept of popular music’s 11 year reinvention cycle, all hanging from the undead carcass of rock.  The Comet’s outstanding breakout Rock‘n’Roll in 1955; the mind expansive creativity of psychedelic rock spearheaded by The Beatles and spawning progressive and metal in 1966; the veritable embarrassment of riches posed by punk tussling with disco in ’77 and; the breakout of House from its Chicago roots in 1988 while in Seattle the Sub Pop label coined the term “Grunge”.  Sadly 1999 and 2010 didn’t prove so fruitful after those blistering 40 years, but popular music just has to be awkward.

’til broad daylight…

Still, as all that splintering and evolution threatened to weigh down or overtake a movement defined by being a flash in the pan, it persists.  Every once in a while a rock band will undertake soul crushingly expansive tours, meet The Beatles’  prodigious work rate for just a few albums or issue ‘immediate’ singles – like the Manic’s Masses Against the Classes in 2000, deleted on day of release, para-quoting Gladstone complete with a Chuck Berry cover – not the latest X-Factor winner.

But overall, rock knows what it has to do, there’s a primal flame of life that refuses to be snuffed out.  That was always going to be more than a flash in the pan.

As Alex Arctic Monkey succinctly mumbled, rather amusingly I thought, at this year Brits, after Bowie had became the oldest ever recipient of the Best Male Award…

“That Rock’n’Roll, eh? That Rock’n’Roll, it just won’t go away. It might hibernate from time to time and sink back into the swamp. I think the cyclical nature of the universe in which it exists demands it adheres to some of its rules.

“But it’s always waiting there, just around the corner, ready to make its way back through the sludge, and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever.

“Yeah, that Rock’n’Roll. It seems like it’s faded away sometimes but, uh, it will never die. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Britpop: 20 Years since Parklife Escaped the Traps (With Lyrics!)

Britpup close up

Parklife and lone greyhound of Britpop

It was 20 years ago today… That Blur taught Food they could pick their own songs.  Not that the label thought so at the time.

PARKLIFE.  WHILE IT MAY NOT BE DEFINITIVE, OR BY ANY MEANS THE BEST OF BLUR, IT WAS THE ALBUM THAT KICKED EVERYTHING OFF 20 YEARS AGO TODAY.  Sure, the four month head-start on Oasis maybe definitely helped, but even then, the modern classic wouldn’t have been easily hidden.

Not as melancholy as Modern Life is Rubbish or gratuitous and premonitory as The Great Escape it was the album that made Blur the band to beat, linking their brand of what would soon be Britpop inextricably to the capital city while other big hitters kept it vague. Pulp was a different class, Oasis an unstoppable cannonball heading down the M6. While every other facet of the movement from Menswear to Mansun, Suede to Supergrass, Elastica to Embrace managed to start as many incestuous fights as class, societal and musical crusades as they could, none went the dangerously specific route of Blur.

It would be the end of the art-school charge for some time, with little tangible substance. Typically it caught up some others, from Bowie to Bassey and politics knocked out some contenders (Kula Shaker).  The collateral damage of sign-ups, try-hards and casualties from the era is remarkable.  Now 20 years on, as band members sit in their middle-ages, often far removed from the industry, it’s an anniversary that will be more reflective and melancholy than celebratory.  Just as music journalists like it.  It seems strange given the perceived nature of Britpop, through the throwback tinted glasses – but there was always an inherent amount of dark in the era.  That wasn’t all about the faddishness either, or the odd catch-all nature of something that unified every region of Britain (however Anglo-centric the majority of it was).  There was real talent and real substance int here, although not every album of the era stands up like Parklife. Fresh, sharp and ambitious it’s saved by its links to the past if not relevance to today.

At the time, the airwaves were awash with ‘British pop’.  But before R n’B, hip hop and post-post-post-MOR ruled the airwaves, it was the phenomenon (copyright, NME) that could only burn bright and brief before it collapsed into a rather disliked red dwarf.  Few bands managed more than two albums in the era and it was rare that the follow-up built consistently on the first – no matter if you’re Dodgy, Oasis or Pulp. Ambition was built into Britpop, aspiration definitely, but even if it rose above the zeitgeist, there weren’t many bands that could escape the cynicism that came hand in hand with label exploitation.

By 1998 Britain was almost unrecognisable.  And for all the cyclical Sixties pomp that fuelled Britpop (as much as the entropy that came with the Conservative party‘s final throes or Euro ‘96), no band could ape the career longevity of many of their inspirations.

Even Walthamstow Stadium could only struggled on another 13 years after making an appearance on Parklife’s album cover.

As I hope whoever nicked my Parklife T-Shirt in ‘97 knows only too well…

And Blur.  Well, from a career that always kept Trellis Towers and the Westway in sight, that album cover said it all.  It was wise to not call the album London, as much as Martin Amis’ London Fields fuelled it and Noel Gallagher saw it as “Southern England personified”.  With traces of prog, electronic, synth, waltz, vaudeville, punk, New Wave it was an album that looked to the past far more than its rather magnificent but underperforming predecessor. With the next two albums, Britpop peak The Great Escape would look to a bleak future and 1997’s post-Britpop Blur would look across the Atlantic.  But for that short time, Britpop, ushered in by Parklife as Heimdall will one day signal Ragnarok, was something special.

All together now: Cool Britannia…

Doggy

BRITPOP

(to the tune of Parklife)

A short career is a preference for the habitual nostalgia of what was known as (BRITPOP)

As boy and girl groups could be avoided if you took a route straight through what was known as (BRITPOP)

Indie got brewers droop, they got intimidated by the dirty labels

They loved a bit of it (BRITPOP)

Who’s that Mad lord marching… you should cut down on your maracas mate… get down to

Camden

[Chorus]

ALL THE LYRICS

JUST NONSENSE LYRICS

THEY ALL WENT HAND IN HAND,

HAND IN HAND WITH EYE-LINER

Know what I mean?

I listened to what I wanted even on school days when I got rudely awakened by Chris Evans (STEVE WRIGHT)

I put the radio on, heard Boys & Girls and I didn’t need to think about leaving out House (BRITPOP)

I heard the southerners I sometimes heard the northerners too it gave me a sense of enormous well being (BRITPOP)

And then I was happy for the rest of the scene safe in the knowledge there would always be a bit

Of my heart devoted to it (BRITPOP)

[Chorus]

ALL THE TRY-HARDS

BEFORE THEY WERE WANNABES

THEY ALL WENT HAND IN HAND,

BAND BY BAND THROUGH THEIR RECORD DEALS

It’s had nothing to do with their “progress through technology” you know?

It was all about cycles that went round and round and round

Britpop

[Chorus]

ALL THE CLASSES

IN THATCHER’S POST-SOCIETY

ALL CHANNELLING THE SIXTIES UNTIL

‘97 CHANGED EVERYTHING.

[REPEAT

… Please]

 

This September: That bizarre notion that The Great Escape was premonitory gets sent to the Dogs…   

 

Doctor Who: When the Radiophonic Workshop went to Shoreditch (#Whovember)

Radiophonic Workshop Whovember

radiophonic

It’s Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary month.  First off, a rare glimpse at an incredible part of British culture.

YESTERDAY I HAD THE BLOODY GREAT LUCK TO CATCH THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP IN ACTION.  Not just a concert rendition of their songs, but the real deal, or as close as you can get.  Messrs Mills, Ayre, Howell et al on a stage, surrounded by theremins, vocoders and ever-spinning tape loops.  Dick Mills took centre stage, wonderfully and eccentrically decked out in what may as well be milkman garb.

The Radiophonic Workshop was, of course, the BBC department established in 1958 to produce music and effects for radio and later television.  Mills gave an interesting run-through of the departments origin, one that led to the creation of an important and influential unit… Until the BBC shut it down in 1998.  Yesterday, it was an hour of classics, crossing from Gallifrey to the War of the Worlds, with a glimpse at the pages of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for good measure.

Best of all, the concert was held in Shoreditch, that part of East London, England, Earth where, in a totters yard, on Totters Lane a policeman first led us to the TARDIS fifty years ago.  It wasn’t the home of the Workshop, but the home of their most famous creation.  As Mills said when introducing the closing section, they couldn’t just let the 50th birthday of a certain “medical man” go without recognition.  “1958 to 1993” read the badge on the front of Dick Mills’ Jacket.  “The original sonic solution” read the back.

The Doctor Who theme really must be the Radiophonic Workshop’s most famous creation, but that’s hardly its only gift.  That theme was tweaked from Delia Derbyshire’s first arrangement of Ron Grainer’s composition – with assistance from Mills – was tweaked all the way up to Peter Howell’s compositions that closed Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor era.  As Workshopper Mark Ayre once said, while the Workshop started off with little beyond hand-me-downs from other departments, by the time it was disbanded in 1998, it had become one of the most sophisticated studios in the world.  Always based at Maida Vale, the original workshop spread from its famous Room 13 – as Mills joked, that’s when the License Fee started going up.  There were star admirers in the crowd, and rightly so.

Praised as unsung heroes of electronica, there reach extend beyond the airwaves and screen into popular music.  During particularly pounding rock efforts I was reminded of the indiscernible and strange connection between English eccentricity and rock and rolls.  From the Beatles to Bowie and rolling on to better examples of Britpop, it’s long been an asset, or cause, of Britain punching above its weight in popular music.  While an aspect like Metal could only have developed from the industrial Black Country, eccentricity is a general staple of all forms of British music.  And while the devilishly talented core members of the Workshop were crafting incredible music from nothing on behalf of the state broadcaster in the 1960s and 1970s, the likes of Pink Floyd were doing the same for progressive rock just miles away.  One listen to that band’s 1971 song One of These Days illustrates that link.

Of course, in 2012 the BBC announced that the Radiophonic Workshop would be returning as an online endeavour after 14 years.  It’s a great, eye-catching and correct idea.  But the real deal were those creaking around a stage in Shoreditch for an hour in the November of 2013.  Catch them when you can.

The Radiophonic Workshop was something that only the BBC could produce, something that only Britain could produce.

David Bowie: Can’t Get Enough of that Doomsday Song: Bowie & The Next Day

David Bowie The Next Day

bowie2

A review of sorts of the original creation, as the extended edition of Bowie’s most successful album in two decades is released into the streets and alleys.

AN ALBUM COVER WITH A MORE FAMOUS ONE REMOVED.

Or is it covered up?  It’s a blatant statement with a fair splash of Duchamp, but it represents a whole lot more.  This is Bowie playing on and with the past, and that monochromatic statement is an ideal set-up for the album itself.  An album that is, after all, called The Next Day.  Many concepts were dreamed up in pursuit of the ideal cover and now the success the album has inevitably spawned an extended edition with something a little more complicated on the cover; the square has become a cube (though it’s not called The Next, Next Day or any variant on, sadly).

The original album sits rarely in the Bowie portfolio by not, really, featuring his face – not that it isn’t even more noticeable by its absence.  Of course Bowie’s never got criticism for his photoshopped selfies, because he was doing them way before the words Photoshop or selfies landed on the planet. But he’s always been one of the more integral workers in the field, slavishly pioneering and pushing identity and image with every album as he fell through genre after genre.  And through it all, there’s always been the eyes – surely his most definitive trait amongst the chameleon; effortlessly adding the otherworldly- although only sometimes a manipulated version of the truth, and only a minor facet of his act – even now.

The Tracks

Sight and vision, and particularly eyes, come with added impetus in the video for The Next Day, the title track that blistered fingers as it tore from the traps as the album’s third release.  In the promo, Gary Oldman’s priest enters an ‘establishment’ with a woman carrying her eyes on a plate.  The link of course is St. Lucia, the martyr whose name is linked with the Latin word for light and who’s predilection for proffering her own eyes on a dish is directly lifted.  The Patron Saint of the Blind endured a particularly brutal martyrdom. After rejecting a pagan bridegroom she was condemned as a Christian and sentenced to be defiled in a brothel.   When she was saved by dint of being so filled with the Holy Spirit she was otherwise untouchable, she was tortured and either lost her eyes in the process or removed them herself to preserve her virginity…  The details have become lost…  Particularly in the eyes of Catholic critics who missed the reference.  Although, surely no one can miss the rather tongue in cheek send off in the highly figurative film.

Concepts of early Christian martyrdom tie heavily into The Next Day song, a storming opener for an album that was introduced by the wistfully deceptive trawl to the past Where Are We Now?  That is perhaps the most explicit link to Bowie’s 1970’s Berlin era on the album, as the cover would suggest, but certainly not the only one.  The mid to late 70s riddle the first half of the album, like an old friend and deceptively savage reminder at the same time.

As an album opener, The Next Day is a blistering example of old/new Bowie: a far more effective beast than has been evident since his drum ‘n’ bass days.  The title track is a deep dark trawl through the latest tomes that have fascinated Bowie, as was supposed when the album was announced.  It’s the messy travails of a medieval tyrant, with its first person not-quite-a-chorus allowing a punk screech and one of Bowie’s best vocal performances on the album. From its final call to action of ‘Listen’ – identical to the warning on Low’s Breaking Glass, it sets up a disconcerting agenda for an album that surprises and hits you in the face with its relevance. Religious and historical ties abound, and more overtly pagan than Christian, but tied up in an impressive tense-twister.

The Medieval tyrant and finger pointing at Catholicism in the video may seem simple, but the anti-war songs, ongoing examination of aging, high school shooting constructs and celebrity take downs that it sits among are certainly not.  It’s a cohesive package all the same and, of course, the album is underlined by romance that has flowed in and out of Bowie songs all his career – whether they name check Crowley or The Buddha of Suburbia.

The Next Day propels us into second track Dirty Boys, a different kettle of fish – or perhaps riot kettle of fish.  A brass beat propels a song that trades youthful civil disobedience for Caesar’s famous cry at the Rubicon.  But what challenge is the singer undertaking in crossing that river?  Running with the Dirty Boys may well be a call to get back into the mix or a statement that he still is.  Either way, the tremendous almost award stopping success of The Next Day has brought him back in.  He’s more relevant than simply repeating Caesar’s statement before crossing a forbidden river, but it’s clear that should he get back to the warm safety of Rome, he’s going to stay icy.

The Stars Come Out Tonight is a gleaming Bowie classic, that’s almost too classic, too Bowie.  It had the honour of the long-form video (combined with bonus track Plan) probably for that very reason.  The chord structure recalls some of the lighter touches found in his previous three albums.  A decade later, he’s found a way out of much of the light if haunting synth that was often found there, but he’s still retained the Bowie formula.  To describe it as Bowie tackles celebrity piece is a disservice.  For every Brad and Kate he name checks, the video shows that it’s all about Bowie.

Next, Love is Lost – released at The Mercury Prize hosts a disarming and unsettling video that cost a rather brilliant $12.99.  Here the synth beats of lost trilogy between Hours and Reality is back, but it’s more distorted. More vital.  Bowie’s back to the awkward, tragic youth name-checked on Reality’s title track, and is a far cry from the calls to action of his the songs that once opened Hunky Dory.  There is darkness behind the song – but while it’s awkward and rightfully discordant, it’s also a great lament for love.   It may seem one of the least referential tracks on the album, particularly the 70s focussed first half, but the remix video sets that straight.  Starting off with Bowie near a sink as in the Thursday’s Child video from the late 90s, it moves on to a puppet that unmistakably has a Thin Whiteness about it. Similar to the Where are We Now? video, Bowie’s singing face is projected onto an avatar, but this time a puppet version of the Pierrot clown from his Scary Monsters phase.  Along with the Ashes to Ashes refrain in the remix, included on the Extended edition, brings the 1980s rather joltingly into The Next Day, but it works.  The fixed, jarring beat of Love is Lost and its tortured attempt to rationalise aging by contrast sits well on the album, sliding seamlessly into its most retrospective song, that first single Where are We Now?

In the album, it reminds why it was an extraordinary come-back song.  It’s now a gentle reminder of the shock announcement in early January that the chameleon was emerging from isolation.  That emergence wasn’t as much of a surprise as its sure-footedness…  Like the song itself, it was brilliantly extraordinary.

When Valentine’s Day was released there was little controversy.  Perhaps the papers were asleep or reeling from The Next Day’s religion–baiting.  Or perhaps the song’s spiky riff and “sha la las” – the Elvis-era kick-on he’ll never give up – just slipped it beneath the sensationalist press.  A simple video for a challenging subject, most noticeable is Earl Slick’s guitar, finely piqued and so nearly recalling his legendary work on 1976’s Stay.  It’s a closer production, but again shows that The Next Day buzzes urgently between Station to Station and the Berlin era albums in the latter half of the 1970s.  There may be puns, but they’re pointed and the light lyrics carry biting sentiment, especially in light of his adopted country.

If You Can See Me signals a half-way change.   Musically, it’s either something that Bowie’s pushing or working out of his system.  Recalling his various dance experiments, but perhaps more the jagged discordance of Lodger, it’s overwrought and brilliantly uncomfortable. Crescendo’s crash out of little, but  its searing lyrical sneers pave the way for the album’s real relevance.

When the 21st century kicks in, the 70s retreat a decade.   “I’d rather be dead or out of my head than training these guns on those men in the sands” Bowie sings on I’d Rather Be High.  Its repetitive rhythm is slightly militaristic, clashing hypnotically with a psychedelia – one that can’t help recall the Vietnam songs that surfaced as American rivals in his formative career.  Peaking in the bridge, his pleaded first person crawl back to 17 years old sits uncomfortably with the song’s modern upheaval.  In fact it’s a little odd, effectively odd.  this album isn’t about comfort.

Things get darker and simpler with Boss of Me, another song that wears its slight modern Americana on its sleeve.  Here Bowie again reaches for imagery of the sky again – a common theme in the album – but beneath the bitter sweet romance and sense of companionable hope, cities burn.  It’s one of the dark and rhythmic hearts to the album.  As usual, there is the hint of biography built on giant battlements of imagery.  The mellotron piping and melodramatic lyrics hand it middle eight of the album for me, again recalling the sixties.  Notably, the co-writing credit for such a brass heavy song goes to Gerry Leonard, the latest great guitarist of Bowie’s acquaintance.

Dancing Out In Space recalls famous pop pilgrimages with its nautical,  allegorical beginning.  The kind of stuff that enriches The Beach Boys’ Smile or laid down a mythic base for The Klaxons’ early promise.  The quest returns as Bowie finally makes it back to space.  But while he’s broken through the sky, this is no Fantastic Voyage.   The rush to the first chorus seems a little quick, but in a stripped down album, Dancing plays a big part in its central hope. it’s also somehow a bit dad at a wedding via the Big Bopper.

The discordant peak is claimed by How Does the Grass Grow?  It’s Boys Keep Swinging revisited once again, that song once so blatantly aped by Blur and remodelled twice by Eno and Bowie.  Here however, it’s merged with the Shadows’ classic Apache.  But the occasional Pin Ups covers project that Bowie’s kept rolling through his last couple of albums is gone.  Instead, he brings a new streamlined raucous version of Apache to the heart of the song.  A rather horrid almost-a capella, it’s could be the sneer of a man happy to be alive. But things aren’t right.   Apache is more western than ever, but this time the boys are lying lost…  The graves are back amid the repeat “Blood, blood, blood”.

If The Next Day represents anything, it’s the return of Bowie the lyricist.   I’ve a soft spot for what I’ve termed his forgotten trilogy, but the decade away has clearly been kinder to his lyrical sentiment.

In the past week, Lou Reed’s passing inevitably turned me back to Transformer and then almost naturally on to Iggy Pop’s work with Bowie in the 70s.  I couldn’t helpt he transition.  Bowie was supposedly rather in awe of Iggy’s ability to improvise at the microphone, but there is a huge strength in Bowie’s clinical precision, with its insights and implications and intellectualism.  That’s where the relevance lies in this album.  Between those two masters, Lou Reed’s lyrics and delivery are the perfect mid-point.  In How Does the Grass Grow?, four and a half minutes reveal a number of startling lyrics, from gazing in defeat at the stars and the feeling that “returns with the day”.

(You Will) Set the World on Fire advances the political agenda, but again linking back 50 years to the early 1960s with a huge number of direct references.  Spiky and searing, it’s once again Slick powered.  Next, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die returns to the beginning, nearly nicking a line from a song the hero he shares his birthday with: Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel.  A march powers the ballad before sinking into an exit beat lifted straight from Ziggy Stardust’s Five Years…  It’s an extraordinary composition.  Although ostensibly one of the simplest, it’s production is pure stadium.  It’s not only a companion to Rock And Roll Suicide, but a song where Bowie can once again powerfully visit that ‘room’.  The one that’s blue, blue electric blue…  Or indeed the one where he’s been breaking glass… It’s long been a room of bloody history and needs to be in this album. It’s the room full of questions, and here he’s leaving more than ever.

Heat provides the album’s powerful closer. Harking back to Heathen’s closing Sunday, this is a more obscure prayer structure, filled with imagery, allusion, and confusion… Theatrical, and open-ended, the faux-biography whine of ‘My father ran the prison…” falls away into “I am a seer and I am a liar”.  Said it before, will say it again:  Repeat until the next album.

The Bonus

Bonus tracks on the original release Deluxe Edition show that The Next Day‘s quality wasn’t restricted to the album’s 14 songs.  In fact, the album’s leanness makes the bonuses a delight.  So She is a captivating nursery rhyme, with its heavy nautical themes and killer chorus melody.  Here the skies are sleeping at last while hope arrives courtesy of the other half of Scott Walker that Heat ignored.  Plan, the curtain raiser to the album’s second single is urban, 21st century spin on the Low’s Speed of Life. I’ll Take You There is a compulsive guitar track that provides a far more fitting album close.  From the clearly established opening, “Today, today is the 1st of May” this track – again co-written with Leonard – moves from crashing and catchy lament to a call to action and yet more questions.

The Vital

Solid openings, heavy percussion, the rock in rollicking – that’s the lifeblood of The Next Day. Megalomania sits there more often than not, from tyrants to contemporary mass murderers, brought into focus by biting guitar and changing tenses.  If it’s untroubling for Bowie to portray these characters it can’t simply because he enjoys the controversy baiting; their reflections are all too easy to make out.  The relevance and rage that sits alongside is incredible considering the average age of the album’s contributors and that this is the first album Bowie’s produced in his 60s. It’s loud and tinged with blood.  It says far more important things than many young bands’ debut releases, and maybe that’s the point. What’s happened?

Is it the equal of Berlin?  Is it the greatest rock comeback of all time?  Those are questions that some reviews posited.  The answers need to settle alongside the questions.  It may be one, either or both – but there isn’t a short answer.  It’s an album riddled with death as much as vitality.  It’s prickly and live.  It’s vital.  that’s it’s most important statement.

And of course…  Poets often wait to hear what subconscious findings others dig out of their work.  I’m sure that Bowie’s no different.  The appeal of his previous albums, his forgotten trilogy that concluded 10 years ago, wasn’t simply drawing resignation. There was always a room next door he’d written something awful in.  Our room.  Listen.

Read more about David Bowie’s Forgotten Trilogy here.

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