After nearly a decade of silence, David Bowie has made an appropriate return to public life with the haunting single ‘Where Are We Now?‘, a precursor to an album due for release in March.
In a curiously emotive style, the song reflects upon the artist’s early career in Germany as the lyrics take us on a musical tour of Bowie’s Berlin, when at the peak of his career in the mid-to-late seventies he lived and played in the city whilst working on three albums.
Potzdammer Platz – close to Hansa Studios where Bowie recorded ‘Low‘ and ‘Heroes‘ – and the nightclub Dschungel, are places tagged in lyrical musings of days past. Dschungel was Berlin’s answer to Studio 54, replete with female bouncers (who once turned away Sly Stallone) and a regular clientele that included Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and later Nick Cave.
For Bowie, Germany has been a setting for both good times and bad. In 2004 his last musical wind was halted as he became embroiled in a health scare in the middle of a 62-day tour of North America and Europe. The cancellation affected eleven European dates, including the high-profile Roskilde festival in Denmark, before he faced a life changing angioplasty in a German hospital.
The song’s initial poignant nature grows from these experiences, but a frail yet confident vocal contemplates his life, mindful of the past and deciphering the present. The repeated phrase, “Where are we now?” does not allow misty memories to cloud today. He is grounded in the question and reminded that there is much to live for. The lyrics quickly proceed to root us in elemental certainties, “As longs as there’s sun, rain, fire,” and there is an appreciation for the importance of current, life affirming, relationships: “As long as there’s me, as long as there’s you.”
Musically, the introspective theme is matched with pensive synth piano and a simple form at a sober tempo. Bowie’s aged voice wavers and cracks with a naked honesty, giving an almost tangible sincerity to the lyrics. A vulnerable man proclaims his love for life.
Watching the accompanying music video, created by American media artist Tony Oursler, is an entirely different experience to listening to the song alone. It begins in an artist’s studio with faces projected onto human forms in archaic surroundings. Bowie is presented to us in plain clothes holding a sketchbook, an image juxtaposed with the glam of the Ziggy Stardust days. Together, the music and video become a more obvious representation of the powerful themes of the song.
‘Where Are We Now?’ is a multimedia representation of an artistic man, reflecting and declaring a love of life – past, present and future. An autobiographical work.
This is not the icon Bowie, but a more human Bowie. It seems a new chapter has begun.