Blog: the (unexpected) return of the Thin White Duke
"As long as there's me, As long as there's you..."
International art heists have had more pre-publicity. 'Shrouded in secrecy' doesn't even come close. How, in an era of unfathomable media transparency, they kept a lid on this one, we'll never know. The first proper Tuesday of 2013, as wet and grey as any new year in the UK and, from nowhere, a shaft of lightning to pierce the deepening gloom. Chris Evans, Radio 2: "...and in half an hour we'll be playing the new single by - are you ready for this? - David Bowie!" So. Where were you? Me: pulling in for petrol, reversing from the pump like a fool and parking at the rear of the forecourt just to take it all in. Already late for work but, hey, priorities, right?
It's called 'Where Are We Now?' It smoulders and builds, Bowie adrift on layers of piano and atmosphere. References to the past, to days and nights in Berlin, add to the disquiet. As comebacks go, it's uncompromising and unquestionably brave. As its title suggests, Bowie has returned world-weary, driven forward by reflection: the ultimate dichotomy. The grand master of re-invention, ever aware of his past(s), dictates his future self with one eye in the rearview. The architect of much of The Good Stuff, Tony Visconti, is once again at the controls. We should, caution shmaution, cross everything. Reclusive for a decade amidst rumours of ill health, the grand old dame returns on his 66th birthday and the world sits up.
There is an album in March. Amidst the hubbub (it's unlikely that the return of any other musical act would have resulted in quite so much fervour), caution inevitably takes hold. Bowie's last record, 2003's Reality was inspired in parts but predictable and uninvolving in others. If The Next Day is anything other than awful, then we should probably give thanks. In our dreams, of course, it's artful and magnificent, an arch re-invention of former glories, a kaleidoscope of poetry and nervy, twtiching musicality, difficult and smartly under-produced, bursting with youthful swagger and the conviction of its creator's years. In reality, it could be a bit crap. But, as this morning's preview, and the resultant clamour, suggests, we continue to live in hope.
And, seriously, forget about a tour.