It seems wholly reasonable that, when looking at music that's made history in the last 50 years, David Bowie's name is written in the stars alongside greats like John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, and Lou Reed. Bowie has been a pillar in the rock and roll community since his first hit album, Space Oddity in 1969, and his penchant for reinvention and artistic expansion is something that he has held onto to this very day, which is a rare feat in today's music industry.
As an avid David Bowie fan, I quiver a little bit every time he announces a new release, since we need look no further than Madonna to see that it's almost impossible to be an aging pop star who retains relevancy without bowing to the ageist rhetoric that haunts pop culture and imbues us with a new writhing 20-year-old every other week to supplement the wrinkled and burnt-out icons of earlier years. It's easy to be avant-garde and in touch with the listening public as a brash young artist, but when treasured and revered modern musicians die long before their time, they leave us before they had the chance to mature, or eventually wither away.
Yet, if David Bowie's newest single "Love Is Lost" and it's accompanying video are anything to go by, diehard Bowie fans like myself need not worry, as we are in for an aesthetic and aural treat. The spacey minimalism of his new sound on "Love Is Lost" speaks both to his personal need for change over time and the influence of the post-electro "chillstep" movement that has come to the foreground in the wake of groups like Telepopmusik, Flunk, or Massive Attack, aided by Youtube channels like SuicideSheep, Majestic Casual and TheSoundYouNeed.
This is not to say that "Love Is Lost" bears any trace of a washed out or commercialized Bowie. Nay, this single speaks to an artist who is aware of music trends as they are now, yet feels no rush to cater to our demands to such a point that his personal style would be compromised. The rest of The Next Day oscillates delightfully between a more classic Bowie sound (like on the title track) and a more chilled out, tongue in cheek sound, which is in turn melancholy, raucous and reflective."Love Is Lost" takes its time to reach the crescendo, around halfway through the 10 minute song, yet if one is patient with it, both song and video work together to make a statement about the times we live in, and the state of David Bowie's genius, which is intact. Totally intact.
Perhaps this all reads like the sugary ravings of a superfan, but I'll be the first to say I was underwhelmed by Bowie's last album, Reality, and felt it was a half-hearted hearkening towards his Tin Machine days. However, I think "Love Is Lost" and its beautiful video captures something essential about David Bowie's body of work, which is the fickle sophistication of each individual album compared with the almost schizophrenic breadth of his entire career.
The times have changed since Space Oddity made David Bowie a household name, and Hunky Dory catapulted him to superstar status, but luckily for us, Bowie has changed with them. The man behind the funk-influenced backbeat and sparse vocals of "Love Is Lost" is not the same wailing crossdresser who stole our hearts on The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, and that mere fact is fucking amazing.
Because pop stars these days lack the staying power that David Bowie has managed to hold onto. Madonna was once a revolutionary, changing how we viewed sexuality and fashion, but to look at her now you wouldn't know it. For me, her death knell was the music video for "Music," which came out in 2000. The song is catchy, but what it encompasses is a songstress who has to resort to sapphic gimmicks, Ali G, and strippers to get an audience. The same could be said for Lady Gaga, whose self-purported genius has crumbled, bit by sad bit, with every studio album she puts out. Remaining artistic and current and successful over a period of almost 50 years is a feat that pretty much no one beyond Lou Reed and Bob Dylan (on-and-off) has accomplished. That Bowie's sound remains distinctive, different every time yet evergreen is a paean to the skill of the artist behind it.
What makes David Bowie's aesthetic and sound so timeless is that he has built his reputation on a kaleidoscopic collection of ever changing sounds, looks, and concepts, and such a mix of musicality demands dedication and persistence from those who listen religiously to every Bowie album, every B-side release.
This evolution, through concept albums and multiple genres like folk, punk, dance and electro, gives Bowie the opportunity to expand in any direction without feeling inhibited by his fan base, which is something other pop stars we know could strive for, instead of getting stuck in staid tropes of music that we've heard before and will hear again. So give The Next Day a listen, and watch all 10 minutes of the video for "Love Is Lost." Trust me, it's worth it.