David Bowie: Where Are We Now?

His perfect return and what it means...
David Bowie

‘The Next Day’ is an LP that never planned on a ceremonious arrival. On David Bowie’s sixty-sixth birthday, ‘Where Are We Now?’ seeped on to the internet and for many, silenced fears that Bowie had drawn the curtains for good. It’s in an era where fans are able to follow every notion of their heroes and reach out to them tirelessly across the internet, often with next to no response. Any mystique and charismatic allure can often be shattered by a make-up free Tumblr post or a misjudged Twitter rant. This was literally a single and an album announcement that came from nowhere. It is testament to Bowie’s status that it caused such a fuss but that isn’t really surprising. The feat here is an artist of this calibre managing to spend 2 years recording and making an album then bringing it to the world with absolutely no precursors. It’s a game changing achievement for an age where the internet leaves more room for error than ever. After a heavy rumor mill throughout the Olympic opening ceremony and a personal request from Danny Boyle, Bowie was remaining behind closed doors. There were more rumours of death and retirement than there were of a comeback.

When ‘The Next Day’ did eventually appear in to the world’s consciousness it was quite a mournful affair from the off. The melody and lyricism of the lead single was draped in melancholy, then came the artwork. Perhaps one of Bowie’s most celebrated efforts (the artwork for ‘Heroes’) had it’s titled struck through and a cold white box covered the iconic image reading ‘The Next Day’. This is where one of the most fascinating promotional campaigns of recent years came in to play. Within weeks, London posters of other artists were covered in these white squares. In Hammersmith, a full billboard for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds was masked with a colossal white square with the albums name and the release date. Was this the start of the industry’s first 50+ beef? It’s an artful but cunning form of promotion that maintained Bowie’s age old avoidance of the conventional use of the British media. In New York posters appeared that showed the entirety of the albums lyrics. A whole page of The Times was hijacked for Bowie to publish these lyrics in four columns with his name printed at the end. The beauty of Bowie still playing this game at sixty-six is that it proves his undying attention to detail. His teasing of the industry and reverse tactics might be strategies better associated with newer artists keen to enter stardom through the back door but Bowie insists on this scheme even when a conventional announcement might have sufficed for many.

In 1972, Bowie courted more attention than ever on Top Of The Pops where his tactile relationship with Mick Ronson and the down-the-lens delivery of the line “I had to call someone so I picked on you” became the ultimate fuel to the sexuality rumour fire. Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen recalled this moment from the playground in saying "All my other mates at school would say, 'Did you see that bloke on Top Of The Pops?' He's a right faggot, him!' And I remember thinking, 'You pillocks'...It made me feel cooler." There is usually a cause behind Bowie’s age-old avoidance of convention. ‘The Next Day’ comes at a time where social networks play host to 20-day countdowns until release dates and often collaborators can let crucial information slip online which is detrimental to any kind of planned intrigue. The collaborator in question this time was Tony Visconti, who has worked with Bowie a lot across four decades. He kept as silent as the protagonist until ‘Where Are We Now?’ appeared and he told BBC News, “I’ve been listening to this on headphones walking through the streets of New York, for the past 2 years.” 2 years. There was no tweet from the cleaner of the studio, no Instagram of Visconti and Bowie getting a bagel in between takes. This was 2 years of utter stillness from camp Bowie whilst he created and perfected his comeback record. Unheard of in an age where lack of press seems to be avoided at all costs.

Whilst the guerrilla advertising and surprise arrival of ‘The Next Day‘ is fascinating. The most refreshing thing to come out of the record is the fact that at sixty-six, David Bowie has done nothing less than write and record another album. It wasn’t a staged redirection that was born out of a lack of ideas it was one of the worlds most celebrated artists appearing with a new album and proving that ultimately, that is all it takes.

Words by Duncan Harrison

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