David Bowie's "The Next Day" (ISO/Columbia) is the work of a master.
His first album in a decade -- first since a life-threatening heart attack in 2004 and widespread speculation of his retirement after disappearing from public life -- is a stunning, emotional thrill from start to finish, playing more like a collection of future hits than an album wrapped around a particular theme or sonic approach.
For "The Next Day," Bowie reinvents himself by reinventing, well, himself. The cover of "The Next Day," which is actually the cover of his classic "Heroes" album with a sheet of paper over it, hints at his inspiration -- looking at some of his career's most memorable periods through the lens of the artist and the person he has become. The biggest difference on "The Next Day" is in his lyrics, which have rarely been this introspective or direct.
Considering his health issues, Bowie is understandably interested in discussing death. With the haunting ballad "Where Are We Now?," Bowie musically revisits his Berlin period but lyrically confronts the fear of death and the future with the determination to move forward.
Bowie returns to his interest of celebrity and "Fame" with "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)," which sonically sounds like a sequel to "China Girl," and the strutting rocker "(You Will) Set the World on Fire."
With "The Next Day," Bowie shows that the years out of the spotlight haven't diminished him in any way. In fact, they made him better.
"The Next Day"
THE GRADE A
BOTTOM LINE Looking ahead, once again