David Bowie’s shocking return last week with his first song in a decade, “Where Are We Now?,” came alongside the announcement the rock legend would also be releasing a new album, The Next Day, in March. Left unanswered was whether he might play live again, spurring a fair amount of will-he-or-won’t-he debate. Now, in an interview with Rolling Stone, longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti has clarified previous reports by saying that while Bowie won’t tour for this album, there’s still a chance of a one-off concert here or there.
“He says that he will only play if he feels like it, but no tour,” Visconti is quoted as saying. “Like, if he wanted to do the odd show in New York or, I don’t know, London, he would if he felt like it.” Pressed on how plausible a single show might actually be, Visconti went on: “I spoke to him two days ago and he said, ‘I’m really adamant I’m not gonna do a tour.’ And he said, ‘If I might, I might do one show.’ But who knows when.”
The other biggest revelations: The Next Day’s lyrics will draw both from Bowie’s personal life as well as from “social commentary,” per Visconti. On one song, Ziggy Stardust looks not to the space age, but to the Dark Ages. “He was reading a lot of medieval English history books, and he came up with one medieval English history song,” Visconti told Rolling Stone. “That’s the title track, ‘The Next Day.’ It’s about somebody who was a tyrant, very insignificant; I didn’t even know who he was talking about. But if you read the lyrics, it’s quite a horrific story.” Elsewhere, “How Does the Grass Grow” is reportedly one of a few songs “about world wars, about soldiers.”
Beyond that, Visconti confirmed the album will contain five “rockers” and that the guitarists will include longtime Bowie guitarists Gerry Leonard and Earl Slick as well as ambient-guitar wizard David Torn, whose underrated 2005 album Prezens deserves a resurgence of attention following this news. As for the songs that don’t “rock,” they’ll be “more funky, mid-tempo songs,” Visconti averred. One will have baritone sax recalling ’50s stripper routines. Closer “Heat” is a “classic Bowie ballad” about being imprisoned, whether literally or figuratively.
Just to underscore how astonishing it is a rocker of Bowie’s stature managed to keep a lid on all this until now, Visconti says the guitarist Robert Fripp almost spoiled the surprise. “He was asked to play on it, he didn’t want to do it and then he wrote on his blog that he was asked,” Visconti is quoted as saying. “And nobody kinda believed him. It was a little flurry for a few days, but everyone said, ‘How could that be true? We haven’t heard it from anyone else?'” There was life on Mars, after all.