By Andrew McNally Columnist
From glam rock to dance pop to electronica, it feels like David Bowie has never gone away. But he has. Bowie’s experimentations with noise rock and electronica-influenced music in the 90s led to a dismal decline in album sales, despite his continued critical acclaim. Ten years after his well received but low-grossing album “Reality,” Bowie is entering a new chapter in his eclectic history, maybe the only route he has left to take: well-adjusted, normal, older gentleman. We’ve all seen pictures of Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and as a sexual, androgynous figure, but now we get Bowie as someone settling down and looking back at his own career. “The Next Day,” whose surprising announcement came from Bowie on his own 66th birthday, is his first album since “Reality” and contains entirely original material. The album is a momentous comeback, rarely seen in the music world. The album’s cover art is the cover for his album “Heroes,” with the title crossed out and a white box covering Bowie’s face with “The Next Day” written in black text. Both the cover and the title reference the fact that Bowie is welcoming this adjustment into normality. ‘Normal’ is probably the last place people have ever wanted Bowie to go, and to hear that “The Next Day” is the most traditionally rock-influenced album he’s ever put out is disheartening at first. But as some of his classic rock peers—like Eric Clapton and Bon Jovi, who both released subpar records on the same day—have settled and are fizzing out, Bowie is just now discovering what settling down means. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” the album’s second single, finds Bowie watching celebrities from a distance, recognizing his own fall from popularity. Yet the short film that is the music video pairs him with actress Tilda Swinton in a tantalizingly weird portrayal of finding youth in adulthood, in a way that shows Bowie still hasn’t quite adjusted. Likewise, the album’s best track and first single, “Where Are We Now?” is pretty direct in its maturing lyrics. It has been suggested that Bowie playfully chose to release the ballad as the first single to ease his audience into his return. The extended version of “The Next Day” is 17 songs and roughly an hour in length, yet it is never lackluster. Men of his age tend to release albums of covers, or original material that quickly falls into redundancy. Bowie is at the top of his game, as he has been at each point in his ever-changing career. His voice is just as clear as it was on “Let’s Dance,” with just as much inspiration. There may be fewer instruments, but this time around, Bowie is experimenting with conventionality. The aging Bowie still has some spunk left in him, despite his own maturity. Like a bitter old man, Bowie has adamantly opposed a tour for the album. But like an old man who is jealous of younger generations, he hasn’t yet ruled out some various shows. “The Next Day” is a personal album, as Bowie struggles to both fall into and stay separate from a traditional life. It is a restlessness that is in us all.