When he’s not busy judging Derek v. Hansel walk-offs — so hot right now, Hansel — or pumping out decade-defining hits, legendary musician David Bowie does … well, over the past 10-or-so years, not a whole lot.
It was commonly accepted that he had retired, not having released an album since 2003’s “Reality” and not performing live since 2006. But then, on Jan. 6, 2013 — his 60th birthday — it was announced that “The Next Day,” his first record in 10 years, would be coming out in March 2013.
The general consensus was that the album was a brilliant return to form and, to some, just about on par with anything he’s ever put out, high praise for an album that’s part of a discography as acclaimed as Bowie’s, from 1972’s glam-rock odyssey “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” to the experimental 1977 Brian Eno collaboration “Low.”
Just as the album was starting to fade out of the attention-deficit music world’s consciousness, Bowie put himself back in the spotlight by announcing an expanded edition of his comeback album, titled “The Next Day Extra.”
“Extra” implies that the bonus disc is simply a bunch of throwaways compiled to satisfy the perversely detailed needs of rock historians and discography completists. To a degree, there’s truth there: “The Next Day Extra” is a three disc special edition of the album, the first disc being the original release and the third being a DVD collection of promotional videos. Our focus is on the second disc, which contains four new songs, four cuts from various deluxe releases of the original record and two remixes.
On the other hand, there are more than a few tracks that make this re-release worthwhile. Opening number “Atomica” is a good time, a slice of classic Bowie rock, although the percussion is almost dance influenced, with a constant kick drum maintaining rhythm and propelling the track forward to a feel-good, sing-along chorus: “Let’s get this show on the road / Let’s get Atomica / Let’s rock till we explode / Let’s get Atomica.”
Where things get interesting is in one of the last places you would initially expect until further inspection: one of the remix tracks. Bonus disc remixes are usually lifeless, synth-filled rehashings of its source material used to fill a second disc and get a few bucks out of the aforementioned completists.
But look closer at the first half of the title for the “Lost is Lost” remix: “Lost is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix […]” — another bologna title for a club-banging song extension by a talentless hack. Wait a second, though, because it gets better: “[…] by James Murphy for the DFA).” For those who haven’t already exited out of this browser tab or thrown this paper to the ground to go find this track, an explanation: James Murphy is the frontman for the now-defunct LCD Soundsystem, the dance-punk indie gods of the 2000s whose idiosyncratic sound falls somewhere between, well, dance and punk, with disco and electronic thrown in for good measure.
DFA is the record label that Murphy co-founded with fellow musician Tim Goldsworthy and former child actor Jonathan Galkin. Murphy and Goldsworthy produce some of the best remixes being pumped out today: In a review of the compilation album “The DFA Remixes: Chapter One,” Rob Theakston wrote, “With an attention to deconstruction and detail, the duo fine-combs original recordings and turns out remixes that are unique and detached from their origin. This ethic is a rare commodity in the dance world, with only a few [...] ascending to such notoriety on the strength of remixing.”
Essentially, what we have on our hands is a collaboration between Bowie, one of the most creative musical minds of the ’70s, and Murphy, one of the most creative musical minds of the ’00s: it’s very, very good. It begins with scattered applause and cheering that eventually organize themselves into a consistent tempo, bolstered by dry, punchy, DFA-style drums.
Fluttery synths and accenting piano hits underscore Bowie’s longing vocals until the middle of the track, where the floodgates open and floods of progressive, futuristic disco glory come pouring out in so beautiful a way. Saying it can’t be described is a cop-out used by writers not talented or motivated enough to explain what’s happening, so I’m sorry, but you’re really going to have to listen for yourself.
This wasn’t meant to be a giant plug for Murphy and DFA remixes, although it would be in your best interest to check out both of their compilation records. But back to Bowie, the half of this meeting of the minds that sparked this discussion: creative fires tend to go out as the decades fly by, evidenced by the myriad of vintage acts still pumping out mediocre records and performing greatest hits tours. Bowie’s, however, still burns strong. He may have needed a few years off to add fuel to the fire, but it’s still hot.
Bowie — so hot right now, Bowie.