David Bowie makes his own rules. After reinventing himself countless times -- glam Monster, blue-eyed soul man, rave channeler, character actor -- he seemed to be on track for retirement. But turning the tables again, he chose to celebrate his birthday this year by offering his own gift: announcing his first new album in 10 years paired with a video of the first single. The new album, The Next Day, is due in March.
"Where Are We Now?" mixes elements of Bowie's pop-soul sound with Berlin-era synthesizer touches, in a lush arrangement . His casual, detached vocals give the track a blurry haze of nostalgic melancholy. The tentative, emotional feel shows another side of Bowie. Vulnerable, he seems to recognize that his relevance is not guaranteed.
Tony Oursler's odd little video positions the track to match that reflective mood. With silent film clips projected on a screen, the focus is an odd conjoined doll with Bowie's face mapped onto one head and his wife Iman on the other. Bowie's lyrics focus on his time in Berlin as well as the city's postwar history, providing a virtual tour of remembered places. The relaxed flow gives the song a movie soundtrack quality; just as Oursler matches it with vintage shots of Berlin, it could accent almost any wistful memory montage.
The uplifting finish is a promise, "as long as there's me, as long as there's you." It's a well-played, low-key card. As long as we're all here, Bowie will still find a voice to fit the times.