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An old star has risen once again. David Robert Jones, known as David Bowie but famous for his inability to settle on one particular identity, has announced his first record in ten years in a typically attention-grabbing fashion. Not only does the album — titled “The Next Day,” set for release in March –bear a re-hashed version of the “Heroes” artwork, it arrived with a mind-boggling music video for the single “Where Are We Now,” a track so atypical of Bowie’s style and approach that fans can’t help but be divided.
Whatever your feelings towards the new Bowie, it’s a thoroughly established fact that the man is one of the single most influential and iconic rock stars in musical history, so adept in his ability to simultaneously adapt and subvert cultural trends throughout the past century that a chameleon comparison seems to undercut the audacious individual beneath it all.
Ever the societal mirror, Bowie’s started as a psychedelic folk rock singer, with his album “Space Oddity” reflecting the cosmos-obsessed 60’s. Despite finding success with other albums like “Hunky Dory” which developed Bowie’s knack for songwriting, it was on “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” that Bowie played his best hand. Weaving a loose tale about an androgynous alien rock star living in a dystopian future, “Ziggy Stardust” was an instant classic that would come to represent his image as a rock star; a cross dressing welder of styles who epitomized glam without ever sacrificing his own creativity.
From “Ziggy,” Bowie continued to plunge into new genres for inspiration, finding a fascination with soul and blues for his successful double-punch of “Young Americans” and “Station to Station,” all the while developing a fondness for cocaine. In an attempt to regain control of his habits while still foraging new pop territory, Bowie relocated to Berlin with famed producer Brian Eno and ultimately crafted one of the most respected trilogies in rock history. “Low,” “Heroes,” and “Lodger” all pushed the concepts of rock music in unsettling and bizarre new directions while never losing the tense, manic energy of Bowie’s pop work. These albums would influence artists from every corner of the music spectrum from punk to ambient to electronic, and redefined Bowie for a new generation of avant-garde heads.
1980’s “Scary Monsters” was the final hurrah of Bowie’s terrific career, spawning many of his most popular singles as well as signifying the end of his reign over pop music. In the years following he would continue to experiment with the likes of industrial and electronic music, but 2003’s “Reality” brought his musical output to a halt. After over three decades of producing some of the most singular music in the rock canon, “The Next Day” could very well lead Bowie’s muse in literally any direction.
Whether masquerading as Ziggy, the Thin White Duke, or just good ol’ Bowie, David Robert Jones’ impact on culture can be seen everywhere. Whether it’s in the form of bands paying heavy homage such as LCD Soundsystem or of Montreal or continuing to show up in films like The Prestige –continuing his already stacked acting resume from films such as Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell to Earth–Bowie’s identity is unmistakable. His willingness to challenge concepts of masculinity (particularly in an era as machismo as the 70’s) helped to forge the way for more experimentalism in rock, and his innate mastery of the pop format allowed for some of the most peculiar hooks to pervade the radio. His career is the prime template for those who want to make a career out of their eccentricities, and for that we salute him.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.firstname.lastname@example.org.