So, this is the most recent album of original material from David Bowie. Most everyone thought he’d retired, I guess, but thank God, he had at least this one more trick up his sleeve; if we’re lucky, he has, you know, five to ten more, at least if they’re all going to be this good. This is a really dark, churning album. The songs all have a stripped down, stark sound of growling guitars, pounding drums, sighing synthesizers and vocals. The production is really great, turning these simple songs into a kind of nihilistic garage rock, though there are outliers, like the brilliant first single Where Are We Now?, a melancholy and wistful stroll down memory lane and, unfortunately, the final and weakest track on the album, Heat. But by and large these songs are strong, with great melodies and evocative lyrics. Valentine’s Day is a dark tale of despair in a sort of darker fifties mode; You Feel So Lonely You Could Die and The Next Day are dark; Dancing Out in space is up-tempo and fun in a grey kind of way; The Stars (Are Out Tonight) is a paranoid masterpiece; and, best of all is Love is Lost, a grim tale of the despair of youth. “It’s the darkest hour/you’re twenty-two,” Bowie sings and while most artists would sing this song with an ironic wink, Bowie takes it entirely straight. It’s got a plodding, implacable rhythm and the song simply marches in and walks right over you, mercilessly destroying your life. Lyrics like “Your country’s new, your friends are new/Your house, & even your eyes, are new/Your maid is new & your accent too/But your fear is as old as the world,” are just gripping and absolutely brutal to hear. But, oh my God, let’s talk about that voice! I’m going to just go ahead and say it. He may sound better now than he ever has. No joke. His voice is still strong, slightly raspier than in the past, but he’s just still got it. The charisma still comes across. You still just sit there totally wrapped up, totally focused. Bowie’s still one for the ages. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – a few mediocre songs can’t really take much away from this astounding, grim return of Bowie; and the man still has the charisma, the voice and the songs. 3 ½ stars.