The icon"s first song in a decade mirrors on his prolific, multifaceted job — and also confronts his mortality


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"Time may readjust me/ but I can"t map time," sang David Bowie in the closing present of one of his most famed songs, "Changes." But much more than 40 year later, tracing time is specifically what he"s doing. Earlier this main on his 66th birthday, the male born David Robert Jones released his very first new solitary in nearly 10 year – the elegiac ballad "Where space We Now?" – and in so doing, confounded expectations through his many surprising stunt in years: He finally looked back.

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Bowie being Bowie, that isn"t just the (very good) tune itself the has civilization talking. Along with the new track, he likewise unveiled cover art that was immediately received with skepticism, bemusement and confusion by fans. No, the image was nothing prefer the emaciated, sexually faint "Diamond Dogs" gatefold, or a go back to his neo-fascistic mid-"70s period. That wasn"t also akin to the dapper, tweed-zombie native 2002"s underrated, "Heathen." Instead, the cover in concern shows a repurposed picture from "Heroes" with the iconic photograph obscured through a empty square v the album title printed in distinguishable sans-serif font:

"The following Day"

To complete the effect, the original title is crossed the end (but still quickly readable). It"s an image that recalls both modern-day Internet society (e.g., the message plastered end cat pictures on the article board Reddit), and also a modernist absurdism the Andy Warhol would have appreciated. If this combination of flippancy and nostalgia is definitely worth discussing, there"s other deeper, darker and, perhaps, sadder behind the pieces.

And then there"s the bizarre video clip that accompanies the track. With images of Berlin the play choose a bad edited Hi8 house movie, and also a balloon-faced Bowie sitting beside a spooky woman (video manager Tony Oursler"s wife, artist Jacqueline Humphries), the effect is somewhere in between a terry Gilliam film and public access television. To be it any other artist, we might think the had created these as an afterthought or gag ("That will revolve up in the optimal 10 worst album consist of of every time lists," stated a commenter top top the Guardian), yet with Bowie, aesthetic is never tossed off. If he to be to it is in chasing hip fairly than specifying it, that would surely be heartbreaking, yet to analyze "The following Day" in such a method would be a mistake.


From the beginning of his career, Bowie has always been equal parts provocateur and musician. His most famous phases – glam rock ("Space Oddity," "Hunky Dory"), Ziggy Stardust ("The Rise and Fall the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars"), the slim White fight it out ("Station to Station," "The man Who fell to Earth"), and also the Berlin era ("Low," "Heroes," "Lodger") — have all been about embodiments the characters. On a televised interview indigenous 1974 as soon as he to be headlong right into his slim White Duke duration (and the mountains of cocaine the went through it), dick Cavett struggle the nail on the nose, "To me you seem prefer a working actor," that said. The snuffly however charmingly awkward guest agreed: "I"m no really an academic but ns from one point to another a lot."


"Where are We Now?" feels specifically weighty, though, precisely due to the fact that Bowie isn"t playing a character this time around. "Sitting in the dschungel/ on Nuernberger Strasse/ A man lost in time/ close to KaDeWe," the sings, returning to the highways of east Berlin that defined the best albums that his career. (The monitor is created by frequent collaborator Tony Visconti, who also worked top top "Heroes.") Is Bowie heartbroken to go back to the city he once got inspiration from, just to see it changed? probably he"s preparing for a final goodbye.

Seeing Bowie together an introspective old male is even an ext shocking when we look in ~ his contemporaries, specifically the rolling Stones. As Bowie reveals himself nakedly to the general public for the first time, Jagger, Richards & Co. Proceed playing stadium after stadium v the same brochure they"ve recycle for an ext than three decades. This isn"t come say that the Stones still can"t carry it live, yet they also serve as poster youngsters for a boomer generation the refuses to grapple with the age of your idols, when mythologizing themselves right into oblivion. A far better analog because that "The following Day" may it is in Paul Simon, who 2011 album "So Beautiful or therefore What" (released four months before Simon"s 70th birthday) spent time grappling through mortality and the trappings the age. Even so, Bowie"s outward expedition and particular reference come his past work-related is reasonably unprecedented.

It"s probably best to watch at "Where are We Now?" allegorically. The tone is unmistakably funereal, and Bowie sings through a unstable voice much removed indigenous the ropey tenor he provided in his prime. Instead, the croaking, quavering baritone says someone who has actually seen all he requirements to. "Just go the dead," he repeats transparent the song, together if that"s all there is to do.

Last year, psyche-pop band the Flaming Lips – themselves well known provocateurs – made headlines v a brand-new track titled "Is David Bowie Dying?" when I"m not arguing that that is, rumors about his health have actually been dogging that on both sides of the Atlantic because that the previous decade. In 2004, Bowie had a heart assault while performing in Germany, and also had one angioplasty, and what couple of public appearances he had actually scheduled in past years have actually been canceled. Throughout that exact same tour, Bowie suffered a bizarre injury when he to be struck in the eye by a far-flung lollipop – an event that feels for this reason undignified, nobody would have actually blamed him because that hanging the up right then.

Then there"s the question of whether us even want to hear artist revisit your former, much better selves. Through the Stones, Bob Dylan and the that (or what continues to be of them), our society seems to have an insatiable desire because that reliving the past. We"ve heard it every before, however still desire to hear that again. How many times deserve to a former Beatle cover Rolling rock magazine while plugging part lackluster solo task that will certainly be forget in a few months (or worse, remembered as a finish disaster, like the current McCartney/Nirvana chimera). Bowie, on the other hand, has actually shown tiny of himself, and refused to capitalize on the nostalgia-for-cash machine. He"s the rare pop star who offers off the impression that he never sold out (even once he did, if briefly, in the "80s, when he decidedly became more commercial with large hit albums like "Let"s Dance" and "Tonight").

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For a guy who has been characterized by his mercurial persona, it"s fascinating to check out that this recent (and perhaps last) left rotate is no some radical new evolution. Till now, in ~ least, his plenty of masks were still securely attached, if a half-century the hipsters desperately wanted to emergence behind them. Everyone has a favourite Bowie persona or era, and also they all desire to know an ext about his creator. "Where space We Now?," also with the quirky presentation, provides us a slightly more intimate behind the scenes. There"s one more line the hangs in the air, surrounded by spindly guitar, that might be the most heartbreaking the all. "The moment you know, you know, girlfriend know," that says. What has actually Bowie learned about himself? What is he telling us? There room still riddles, yet they space intimate little ones, there is no pomp or circumstance. Once "Heroes" was exit in 1977, that was already Bowie"s 12th record, a number that sounded prolific even then. This March, once "The following Day" goes ~ above sale, it will be his 24th. Because that the lifelong futurist, mental the past is its very own quiet revolution.

Nathan Reese

Nathan Reese is a contributing music editor at Refinery29, and also writes regularly for Interview Magazine, AdHoc.fm, amongst other publications. Monitor him on Twitter