It’s not surprising that David Bowie is in a contemplative mood on ‘Where Are We Now?’ the first single from 'The Next Day,' his first album in nearly a decade.

After all, the man’s second (or third—or even fourth, depending on your perspective) career wind was curtailed drastically after he had to cancel his 2004 tour due to an emergency angioplasty. Save for a few live appearances and some studio collaborations, the rocksteady chameleon disappeared from public view.

Back in 2004, Bowie had that life-altering surgery in Germany -- fittingly, a country central to his artistic, aesthetic and musical mythology in the ’70s. The country also figures prominently in the lyrics of ‘Where Are We Now?’: Berlin landmarks Potsdamer Platz and the nightclub Dschungel are namechecked, while the lines "20,000 people / Cross Bösebrücke / Fingers are crossed, just in case" seemingly references the bridge walk preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But instead of getting lost in these misty memories, ‘Where Are We Now?’ is jarred back to the present first by tangible elements (sun, rain and fire) and then the simple, life-affirming declaration: "As long as there’s me / As long as there’s you." The recurring phrase "where are we now?" is a grounding question, one which reminds Bowie not to lose sight of the current day -- and to remember for what he has to live. In a way, ‘Where Are We Now?’ is a love song -- to the past, to freedom and to the here and now.

Musically, ‘Where Are We Now?’ matches this introspection, with reflective piano played at a somber tempo the main color. What’s heartening is the quiet confidence in Bowie’s voice -- not just in his ashen croon, but in the way he allows cracks of vulnerability and wistfulness to permeate his singing. And the song is subtly catchy, too -- a sneaky earworm where the chorus lingers.

In the end, ‘Where Are We Now?’ isn’t Impervious Bowie, Flashy Bowie, Rock God Bowie or even Debonair Bowie, but Human Bowie. It’s perhaps an odd place for the untouchable icon to be -- but, somehow, the persona suits him well.


Watch David Bowie's 'Where Are We Now?' Video

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