Former Disney star enlists The Flaming Lips and Ariel Pink on a thrillingly weird surprise album
David Bowie - 'Where Are We Now?'
Downbeat lead track from 'The Next Day', his first album in 10 years
The songwriting of 'Where Are We Now?' hits you on the first listen. And then you realise you've pressed repeat 20 times. It's perfectly structured: arpeggiated, vibrato chords; a sultry, sleepy rhythm; a mournful, wistful chorus, all brought down to earth with Bowie's piano keys. The chorus - "Where are we now? Where are we now?" - is an earworm I'm perfectly happy to carry around all day. Romance, power, depth, gravitas and bittersweet nostalgia. It's pure Bowie. You'll see this on greatest hits compilations in a couple of years.
The video was directed by Tony Oursler. It's pretty weird and extremely cool. The heads of David Bowie and a mysterious lady are cut onto two teddy-doll outfits. Perhaps they are siamese wolf cubs. They sit on a pommel horse in a studio filled with curiosities and props: a massive egg, empty glass bottles, mannequins, a Labyrinth-syle crystal, one huge ear, a snowflake. Black and white footage of Berlin plays on a large screen behind them, referencing Bowie's period making 'Low', 'Heroes' and 'Lodger' in the German city. One of the shots shows the auto repair shop beneath the apartment he lived in the 70s. The more you watch, the more you'll see.
"Sitting in the Dschungel/ On Nürnberger Straße," starts the second verse. Dschungel! It's the German word for jungle. You can imagine Bowie singing it with a wink and a wry smile. He's talking, of course, about the zoo in Berlin (and a nightclub, I'm told). He also remembers the KaDeWe, a department store near the zoo in West Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, the main square in the city, and Bösebrücke, a bridge in Prenzlauer Berg.
At 2.38 a stunning (actual) bridge kicks in. The drums gather pace and Bowie sings "As long as there's sun/ As long as there's sun/ As long as there's rain/ As long as there's rain". It's a simple but powerful statement on the human condition. Bowie's version of the proverb "this too will pass", if you will. "As long as there's fire/As long as there's fire/As long as there's me/ As long as there's you," he sings as the music crescendos. It's moving stuff. If it wasn't for the "walking the dead" bits earlier, it'd be a fitting song for a couple's first dance.
Look closely at the artwork for 'Where Are We Now?' and you'll notice it's actually an inverted live photo from the 'Young Americans' period. Meanwhile, the artwork for 'The Next Day' is a doctored version of the 'Heroes' single sleeve. It's wonderful to see Bowie referencing his own earlier career, somehow it makes this whole surprise comeback seem even more special. And while we're on the subject, how incredible is it that he managed to record and plan the release of an entire album without anyone spilling the secret? Too perfect.
Bowie fans have much to be excited about. Apart from the single and album, the first David Bowie retrospective at the V&A, which kicks off in March, looks incredible. Today's news also begs the question… Glastonbury?
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