Where Are We Now, Really? David Bowie and the Lost Art of Surprise
As I type this, it’s been about 13 hours since David Bowie knocked fans on their asses with the surprise announcement of his first album in a decade. The reaction from friends and pundits alike can best be described as “Bowie Zowie” – that mix of unbridled fandom and barely tempered anticipation.
While I can’t speak much to the all-knowing power of Bowie – I got into him through Let’s Dance, for fuck’s sake – I can definitely say I’m loving everyone’s reaction to new songs from The Thin White Duke. If nothing else, it reminds a young music fan that the often-overlooked sensation of uncalculated surprise can still exist.
Let’s face it, we’re a long way from the days when Prince could follow up the smash Purple Rain with Around the World in a Day, a minimally-promoted album that didn’t get released so much as it just arrived. In the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine any album, from major-label next big thing to legend on a new record deal, to be released without the hyperbolic press releases, pointless Web-exclusive “news” briefs, a 30-second snippets of the first single in advance of said single (ostensibly debuting through a lyric video on YouTube) or torrent of Facebook likes and/or retweets to unlock a 72-dpi resolution image of the album cover.
This kind of culture isn’t new – as a kid, I was already devouring pre-release publicity for movies, and the first Web site I ever bookmarked provided DVD release dates as soon as they were announced. But let’s face it: whether you care about new music from David Bowie or not, this is probably the first time in a while you looked at your news feeds or favorite music blog and legitimately said, “Hey! Wasn’t expecting that!“
It’s not like the announcement of The Next Day isn’t detonating the long-lead press cycle concept entirely – the thing isn’t out ’til March. And nothing is going to prevent a certain sad sect of folks from thinking that all physical music is surreptitiously willed into existence in the back of a Walmart. But eight days into a new year that looked a lot like the old one in terms of ridiculous arts coverage – how many “x albums we’re looking forward to in 2013″ lists that you read had five or less entries with release dates of “TBA”? – David Bowie, of all people, made an effort to keep things blissfully simple, to when it really was more about the music and less about the hype.