Barry Egan's top 3 albums of 2013
1. David Bowie: The Next Day
"Time takes a cigarette," sang David Bowie famously on Rock 'n' Roll Suicide at the end of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars album in the summer of 1972 -- reverberating with Baudelaire and Manuel Machado's poem Chants Andalous ( "Life is a cigarette /Cinder, ash and fire). Earlier this year Bowie, no longer a bonkers-haired bisexual uber-alien, returned to light up another of time's ciggies with The Next Day.
The fact that the album was his first in ten years made The Next Day into something of an event for the reclusive, almost JD Salinger-like, Mr Bowie. The fact that Bowie nearly died in June 2004 (he had emergency heart surgery in Germany that saved his life) inevitably made us look at The Next Day through the prism of mortality.
Not least when he sings, mordantly or otherwise, lines like: "I want to see you clearly before we close the door" (from You Feel So Lonely You Could Die).
In a 2003 interview, Bowie said he felt "bitterly angry that I won't be doing this for the rest of eternity". Some of the songs here -- Love Is Lost, Where Are We Now? , the title track The Next Day, Dancing Out In Space -- might perhaps, or perhaps not, in time echo down the ages for eternity with the best of his work on albums like Low, Diamond Dogs or Ziggy.
Bowie's 24th studio album is filled with big existential questions.
As people moved away from organised religions, we have made secular gods of men like Bowie -- and Bono and Dylan and Cohen -- looking for meaning and truths about existence in their lyrics. Of course, you'll find no answers, other than the clear impression that we are all in freefall.
But that doesn't make The Next Day any less emotionally phenomenal as a piece of art about mortality, youth ("your country is new, your house and even your eyes are new ... "), love, apocalypse, sex, decay, death ("wave goodbye to the life without pain"), the future.
Naturally the future isn't much to write home about. On I'd Rather Get High, he sums it all up like some fallen Old Testament prophet on acid: "I stumble to the graveyard and I lay down by my parents/Whisper: 'Just remember, duckies -- everybody gets got." In the words of Joe Strummer: "Straight to hell, boys."
Elsewhere, Bowie is musing on the nature of identity (when isn't Bowie not musing on the nature of identity?) when he sings as a refrain during Heat: "And I tell myself, I don't know who I am." And then in the next line, Dame Bowie mixes artifice with Freud, The Velvet Underground with Motown when he sings: "My father ran the prison. I can only love you by hating him more."
2. Arcade Fire: Reflektor
Like The Next Day, Reflektor is filled with big existential questions. Noel Gallagher called it "shit disco". It isn't. It's Talking Heads in Haiti.
It's also a beautiful 75-minute double album of songs about big themes that you can choose to dance to. A bit like U2's seminal Achtung Baby album from late 1991.
The New York Times review noted that Reflektor's lyrics allude to "Kierkegaard's ideas about a 'reflective age,' when passion and storyline have been replaced by ambiguity and passive contemplation. And they trace a loose plotline similar to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice [referring to the fact perhaps that Rodin's statue of Orpheus and Eurydice is on the cover of Reflektor]." That's all well and good, but this, the fourth album from the seven-piece Canadian/ Haitian/Texan band is just an off-kilter disco record. A bit like Joy Division covering The Bee Gees. In Haiti.
3. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
"You didn't see me/I was falling apart/...I was a television version of a person with a broken heart," Matt Berninger notes in Pink Rabbits.
Aren't we all sometimes, duckies?
Happy New Year.