The Stars (Are Out Tonight)

This Bowie era has been simply perfect so far, hasn’t it? It now seems certain that Bowie was mischievously toying with our preconceptions with Where Are We Now?, his frail vocals and fleeting, spectral appearance in the video further fueling the ‘is he ill?’ whispers. Whispers so strong that for the first 80 seconds of this new video I was convinced that we were getting something akin to that wondrous Soulwax tribute to Bowie, where actors and models stand in for the man himself in a kaleidoscopic homage to his history:

But then – Bowie speaks! And it’s him and he’s smiling. The way the camera playfully lingers before the big ‘reveal’ makes it obvious that everyone involved is well aware that this is unexpected. It’s a great moment in a brilliant video, easily his best since Thursday’s Child which is similarly meta (if not as ambitious) in its use of Bowie’s imagery and history.

The song itself brings to mind three previous Bowie tracks. As I noted last night in a re-blog of a post since deleted by the original ‘author’, it has a strong whiff of Tin Machine about it:

It’s of course de rigueur to slate Tin Machine now but they both had their moments and were very necessary. Their influence periodically popped up in Bowie’s post-90s work, particularly on 2003’s (then-final) Reality:

Again as I wrote last night, Reality was a good, occasionally great latter-day era Bowie album and both the songs we’ve heard and the reviews suggest that The Next Day will be a continuation of it. The Telegraph’s line that TND “is his rockiest album since the days of Aladdin Sane” sounds like a neat journalistic angle rather than an honest appraisal – “his rockiest album since his last one” doesn’t sound half as good. Of course the standard line for any Bowie album after he stopped ‘messing about’ (as many undoubtedly saw it) with contemporary sounds (‘trends’ sounds so dismissive, doesn’t it?) and settled into a relaxed, self-referential take on himself is that it’s his best album in an age if not quite up there with his greats. The fact that the early reviews for The Next Day have all said pretty much this exact thing (especially given the hyperbole which greeted his return) indicates that it’s going to be another solid effort, as good as we can expect from a Bowie at this stage of his career.

The third song which The Stars (Are Out Tonight) reminds me of, incidentally, comes from possibly the most maligned album and era of Bowie’s career:

Obviously not all of the hilariously deadpan guff about a ‘glass-like spider’ but the ‘if your mama don’t love you then the riverbed might’ climax, which is really rather good. The goodwill around Bowie’s return is so overwhelming that perhaps he could even sell some people on Never Let Me Down. Then again, perhaps not.

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