Now here is an album that a critic has to love. Not because it's necessarily good or bad (spoiler alert: it's the former), but because it lets us flex our useless, encyclopedic, musical muscles and name drop like we're trying hopelessly to impress someone at a party. For example, I could say that the title track reminds me of The Moon and Antarctica-era Modest Mouse. Or I could say that the opening riff of "(You Will) Set the World on Fire" would make Elephant-era Jack White salivate. Or that "I'd Rather Be High" seems like it could've been a Pavement song in some alternate reality where they traded in their baggy t-shirts for some shiny spandex. Or that "How Does the Grass Grow?" seems like it belongs on some non-existent Blur EP between The Great Escape and 13. Or that if I didn't know better and had my iPod on shuffle, I would think that "If You Can See Me" was by U2. Or that comparisons could be made between "Love is Lost" and My Bloody Valentine's recent "is this and yes." But none of that matters.
As many dots can be connected to The Next Day, the one artist that Bowie sounds most like during his new release is, well, Bowie. But the icon has had so many faces over the years, that The Next Day has plenty of stylistic room to breathe while still sounding like it has Bowie's glittery blood rushing through its veins. As the album art would suggest, The Next Day probably has its most direct links to Heroes, but from a non-musical standpoint, I can't help but think that this is the work of The Man Who Fell to Earth. Because if there is one thing that The Next Day has convinced me of it's this: David Bowie is an alien.
Now, I don't mean that anecdotally or in the meta-humor sense that that sentiment has come to exude. For all the albums and jokes, if there is evidence of extra-terrestrial life on this planet, it is in The Next Day. Because there is simply no way an artist can be Bowie's age and release a work that sounds so young. It is immediately apparent that Bowie's voice hasn't aged a day since the late seventies. But more importantly, if I were put into a cryogenic freezer before I ever listened to any David Bowie albums and then someone made me listen to Heroes and The Next Day in one sitting, I would think they were recorded in the same year. But that's not because The Next Day doesn't sound like 2013. It's because Heroes doesn't sound like 1978. And Hunky Dory doesn't sound like 1971. And Aladdin Sane doesn't sound like "197?." And Low sure as hell doesn't sound like 1977. (Ziggy Stardust is an intentional omission from this list, but its sense of time has become directly proportional to its charm.)
That's the greatest strength of The Next Day: Not only does it feel timeless, but it reminds you that Bowie is timeless. All of his different personae and albums all make up the artist as a whole, and regardless of their chronological order, they all exist simultaneously. Bowie is one of the few artists whose discography shouldn't necessarily be listened to in chronological order. Sure, he evolved, but not in the sense that most people do. He never went from point A to point B. He went from point Z to point Omega, stayed there for a bit, then hopped on a train to a land that had no alphabet.
So, I guess my one complaint about The Next Day is its title. Unless its intentionally ironic, it really is misleading. With Bowie, even a new release after years of inactivity isn't the next step. It's simply a move in an elaborate shuffle without a beginning or end. A far better choice would have been a later track on the album, "Where are We Now?" Well, honestly, I don't know. I can't tell up from down, and I don't know if the light I see is the beginning or end of the tunnel. But wherever we are, I like it, Bowie. Keep it up.