David Bowie has confounded expectations countless times since he shot into public consciousness with Space Oddity. Now, after a retirement that seemed worryingly permanent, he surprises once more with a new sentiment: Nostalgia.
Released on his 66th birthday, his first new song in almost exactly 10 years is filled with imagery of Berlin, the city to which he disappeared in 1976 to record his most enduringly influential albums, including the electronic masterpiece, Low.
Where Are We Now reunites Bowie with producer Tony Visconti, a key figure on Low, but where their 70s collaborations were angular, harsh, forward-looking, this new single is reflective, sweeter in tone – yet also haunting and full of doubt.
The lyrics directly reference Bowie’s Berlin haunts: The KaDeWe department store where he shopped, the Dschungel club where he hung out with wildchild artist Martin Kippenberger, and the apartment on Haupstrasse which he shared with fellow rock’n’roll refugee Iggy Pop. The tone is downbeat, the melody dark, until finally he evokes the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. This was a barrier few thought could be crossed – now Bowie addresses his own unthinkable barrier, the gulf between the ambitious 30 year old, and the reflective senior citizen.
Age, mortality, has certainly mellowed him; the recording is lush, perhaps conventional, reminiscent of Heathen and Reality, albums Bowie recorded with Visconti just before the heart attack which forced him to abandon a world tour in June 2004.
The recent flurry of excitement around the re-release of Ziggy Stardust reminded us of Bowie the ambitious young buck, intent on making his mark. Where Are We Now? is a haunting depiction of the doubt that always lay behind that youthful arrogance; today he might be older, damaged, but he has the confidence of a man with nothing to prove.
Best Bowie book ever written by Paul Trynka