Few musicians are as aware of their own image and legacy as David Bowie. Of course, he's switched up his brand almost as regularly as others change their underwear, which makes his newest performance particularly interesting: this time he's playing himself, but every version of that self.
Coming as a surprise after we'd all assumed he'd retired, The Next Day seems intended to be his last album and should be seen as a carefully crafted conclusion to a long and varied career. Every musical reference, packaging detail, music video and promo photo frames it as an intensely self-aware retrospective and a conversation with Bowie's own past.
This is a smart approach, and gives music writers a gold mine of material to work with. Reuniting with producer Tony Visconti also allowed Bowie to use sonic elements from all eras of his career, and the focus on death gives the proceedings a sense of gravitas. But pop music is never a purely cerebral exercise, and despite its intriguing concept, The Next Day is woefully short on anything to sing along to.
Top track: Where Are We Now?