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Grade • A-
CD • "I am a seer, I am a liar," David Bowie intones on one of several doleful songs on "The Next Day." No, he isn't smiling. Instead, the chameleon androgyne, who has from the beginning worshipped the goddess of reinvention, takes his new set of riffs into somber territory. Which doesn't mean there aren't plenty of loud and rousing moments.
The title track rocks forth courtesy of a fine guitar hook. "I'd Rather Be High" moves jauntily toward a memorable, Beatlesque chorus. "(You Will) Set the World on Fire" is as propulsive as it is catchy. But somewhere between mentions of a sun-licked Nabokov, a gormless crowd and Mishima's dog, a larger picture takes shape. Of the album's mood, which is pensive.
Of its narrative, which is fragmented and gloomy. All of which makes "Next Day" at once familiar and inventive. Even while symbolically leaving the past behind (by superimposing the artwork of his new album over that of 1977's "Heroes"), Bowie ventures back to Berlin, where "Heroes" was made. The nostalgia is partly existential: "Where Are We Now," he asks on his affecting first single; "I don't know who I am," he sings on "Heat." The lyrics traverse the falsities of love, celebrity worship, the effect of sharing the world with the masters of war.
Bowie's voice is strong and nuanced throughout, whether conveying irony or disaffection or melancholy. The paradox is that even when his words are pessimistic, his music enlivens.
And so, one's head nods as a baritone sax honks jazzily on "Dirty Boys," which evokes those to-hell-with-it pleasures of youth.
And so, one's feet stir from the first notes of "Dancing Out in Space." Then, suddenly, it's as if all of Bowie's alien incarnations came back to life.
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