Design Music

So This Happened Last Week — Bowie’s New Single and Album Cover


Cover of forthcoming David Bowie album The Next Day

Design by Jonathan Barnbrook

Some people just couldn’t wait to share how they felt!


Here’s the single itself, “Where Are We Now?”

The response to the new material was immediate but almost universally skewed toward the negative, which made me feel guilty, even momentarily unsure of my initial response, because I like bandwagons very little and hit squads even less. There was such a tumult that Chris Roberts wrote (almost the very next day) in The Quietus:

This is still the exotic other. This is still different. Still art. Still dignified, in a business where dignity is not the done thing. This is class, in an age when class has acquired a bad name.

What is it the back-lashing naysayers actually wanted? His retirement confirmed? The new song is already too good and counter-intuitive for that to have been a better idea, however resonant his silence was. For us blinkered Bowie fans to not be excited? But then we would be boring and jaded, and apparently that is also wrong. For vintage stars (and Bowie was always, and remains, an idea more than just a “rock” star) to be euthanised? To leave the playpen clear for what, exactly? Radical new visionary voices like the Palma Violets? Haim?

[I should note that I while I enjoyed Mr. Roberts’ piece very much, I clearly identify myself as both a Bowie fan and a slightly-less virulent but still-resolute naysayer in the matter of this new material, and that I take issue with several points/claims Mr. Roberts makes in his most excellent piece, but the editors have decreed that this is not the time and there is no space for such specificity.*]

By week’s end the Wise Magus of Design, Pop, Music, and Bowie spécialiste John Coulthart offered sensible words, as if straining to be heard above an angry crowd on his Weekend Links:

—for the time being let’s note that this is still only a cover design, we don’t know what else is on its way.

I think perhaps Mr. Coulthart said that with his fingers crossed. He also offers excellent links of interest: Hard Format responds to the cover, Chris Roberts on “Picasso resurrected in a Rolf Harris era“, and Alex Petridis on The inside story of how David Bowie made The Next Day.

[The editors of this post have requested a rare three-way communiqué with the spirits of Drax, The Creep, and Webmaster Bri to speak as a unified Unholy Trinity to full address this matter of the new Bowie material.]

Why don’t you like the cover, the song, the video, the—

Drax: First, before we get into that, I just want to note really quickly: It’s really remarkable that people care, the level of passion both positive and negative that erupted immediately when the material was released last week. I can’t think of a comparable pop figure who would cause such a stir by releasing new material after a silence of ten years—not The Stones, not the detritus that calls itself The Who, certainly not Elton John or Paul McCartney—nobody. So you have to give Bowie that right off the bat. People are talking about it, passionately.

Webmaster Bri: You forgot Springsteen.

The Creep: Springsteen is so going to copy this…

Drax: Ohyeah. “I was young and JUST LIKE THAT now I am old.” Fuck yeah. BW cover, maybe a fragment of Born in the USA floating somewhere but really there will be an old/young contrast of Springsteen’s face on the cover, and the album will evoke Nebraska and the songs will be about the people who died and the dreams that have all died and “Boy, my bones are creaky and arthritis hurts like hell,” like that, so yeah, Springsteen will totally rip this off.

Why don’t you like THIS album cover?!

The Creep: You mind?

Drax: Go for it.

Webmaster Bri: I never get to talk.

The Creep: Why don’t we like it? Because it’s ham fisted. There’s no mistaking the message. Somewhere in his piece, Chris Roberts calls the material “counter-intuitive,” I mean, WHAT. It’s anything BUT. It’s like a fucking freight-train delivering the buzz at fifty billion decibals that Bowie has become our “whispering sage,” and other such nonsense—

Drax: It’s not the message itself. It’s the lack of counter-balance. From one of our most creative pop-artists, it’s shockingly “artless.”

The Creep: But we’ll see what the rest of the album holds.

Webmaster Bri: We have to cut this short.

Drax: The pile of unfinished and overdue shit, it teeters.

And we are out.


* He rags on Tin Machine

3 replies on “So This Happened Last Week — Bowie’s New Single and Album Cover”

I * love * the Tin Machine stuff/period. This post was supposed to contain a little sub-discussion about that: what one chases in one’s 40s vs one’s sixties… but it was not to be…

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