If there was one surprise that no one remotely expected in 2013, it was the return of Bowie. Released on his 66th birthday without any warning, hint, or hype, “Where Are We Now?,” the first single lifted from his upcoming The Next Day album, literally left fans, and the music world as a whole, with their jaws on the floor at the mere sight of its existence; never mind what the song actually sounds like. As if anyone would ever doubt the quality of a David Bowie track, though. In many ways, it’s difficult to cut through the smokey residue left after the explosive surprise, but after a bit of time to take some deep breaths and cease jumping for joy, we can all properly listen to the track and get a feel for what it actually is.
“Where Are We Now?” is a reflective ballad walking the tightrope between melancholy and uplifting. Clearly David Bowie has accepted where he is in his life, a quality that most aging rockstars unfortunately lack, but he’s not surrendering to his age. Whereas many of his peers (age-wise, not musically) are stuck in a perpetual cycle of releasing albums full of covers and Christmas songs, Bowie has still got the chops to release original music. More importantly, he still has the chops to release original music that matters. This particular song is a masterpiece worthy of sitting alongside his thought-provoking ballads of yesteryear. Sure, it has an intentional lack of grandeur that a song like “Life On Mars?” so brilliantly executed, yet it isn’t subtle like “Rock & Roll Suicide,” or a grand sing-along like “‘Heroes,'” either. “Where Are We Now?” masterfully sits somewhere in the middle of it all.
The track is simply built around haunting guitar that intertwines perfect with understated piano chords and beat-keeping drums that all fully come together in a tear-jerking climax that hits just the right emotional state and just sort of hovers there. The brilliance of the song is all about where it doesn’t go; everything just trucks along together and builds into something beautiful, but not “big.” At the center of it all is Bowie’s voice (as it should be.) He sounds noticeably frail, yet not sickly or lacking in any way. He makes no grand gestures and plays no vocal aerobics, but the comforting quality of hearing David’s voice is absolutely breathtaking. “Where Are We Now?” is quite simply the right song at the right time, but if it were made in 1975, it would still be a brilliant piece of music. That’s just the genius that is David Bowie. There are no audible remnants of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, or Thin White Duke, but the track comes from a man who has lived it all, and thatmagically oozes through the track. Quite possibly the only thing more exciting than David Bowie’s return to music, is the fact that this music is so wonderful.