In the ’80s, he played a vampire cellist, Pontius Pilate and sometimes himself, all while intermittently releasing albums that were occasionally catchy, sometimes impressive, but ultimately rather hollow — not unlike the album that Timberlake just dropped.
But now Bowie has been away from music for nearly decade, spending much of it out of the public eye, too. He reportedly spent two years secretly toiling over “The Next Day” with Tony Visconti, a producer he’s worked with frequently since they collaborated on Bowie's 1969 breakout hit “Space Oddity.”
These songs feel more ’89 than ’69, though, populated with drums and guitars that sound clean, brittle and drab.
But before you get there, the album’s first red flag is waving on its cover, which features a large, white block superimposed over the cover art from Bowie’s 1977 album, “Heroes.” Herein lies a Warholian comment on celebrity, legacy and self. (Fun fact/lest we forget: In 1996, Bowie played Warhol in the biopic of Jean-Michel Basquiat.)
And while reflective veteran albums of this ilk are usually interesting, are they ever good? This one almost is. Its grabbiest song, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” is an indictment of fame and, in Bowie’s case, a plea for immortality. “Their jealousy’s spilling down / But stars must stick together,” he croons in a slightly wilted voice. “We will never be rid of these stars / But I hope they live forever.”
He’s praying for death during the mildly trippy “I’d Rather Be High,” but not his own: “I’d rather be high / I’d rather be flying / I’d rather be dead / Or out of my head / Than training these guns of those men in the sand.”
Singing from a soldier’s perspective, the man can still teleport from vantage to vantage with relative ease. But the boilerplate rock-and-roll sleepwalking in the background doesn’t move us any further into the future Bowie began chasing so ravenously more than four decades ago.
As pop continues its march into the 21st century, “innovator” remains the toughest role of all.