John Meagher: A "vintage Bowie" tune from nowhere
IT hardly needs to be said, but David Bowie is one of the most significant figures in popular music history, a visionary who re-wrote the rule-book in spectacular fashion.
He is also a man of surprise.
We discovered that this morning when at 5am, and without any prior announcement, he released a brand new song, Where Are We Now? – an apt title for an artist who had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth.
And if that wasn’t enough to generate excitement among true devotees, he announced that there would be a new album too. The Next Day – his 30th album in a once prolific career and first in 10 years – will be released on March 8.
What makes the news so noteworthy is that nobody seems to have had an inkling that he was working on new music. The conventional wisdom was he had turned his back on recording, having suffered a health scare shortly after the release of his last album, Reality.
It looked as though he was devoting himself to family life, happy to eschew Danny Boyle’s overtures to perform at the spectacular Olympics opening ceremony.
But it’s now emerged that he was working under a thick veil of secrecy with his long-term collaborator and producer, Tony Visconti. It’s remarkable in an age when just about everything gets leaked in advance that he was able to keep this – and his new music – well and truly under wraps.
It makes listening to Where Are We Now? all the sweeter. The song itself is vintage Bowie and finds him ruminating on an earlier part of his life – specifically those fruitful years he spent in Berlin at the end of the 1970s working on a trilogy of albums that would help shape music well into the following decade. A beautiful accompanying video reinforces the sense of a man looking back in time.
There’s a melancholy undertow present in the song as well as a hint of sadness in his vocals. His voice is as distinct as ever, although there’s a world-worn quality now that wasn’t there before. It’s a reminder that the great chameleon is now officially of pensionable age.
David Bowie is 66 today. What better way for us to celebrate his birthday?