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David Bowie: The Next Day (Columbia) 

The peerless David Bowie is back after a decade with The Next Day, one of this year's most intriguing and surprisingly excellent albums.

The Next Day doesn't serve as a departure or a reinvention, but in presenting an album cover that literally slaps the title over the Heroes cover, Bowie is masking his past, asking that this record stand as the now for him. And without having to resort to comparisons, The Next Day is pure Bowie.

A natural chameleon, Bowie changes musical styles effortlessly. And while there are some shifts on this record, it's for the most part a straightforward rock record, plenty danceable, full of booming drums and slashing guitars.

A decade ago, Heathen and Reality halted Bowie's more experimental turn on Earthling and countered the dull Hours... . But trying to build expectations in 2013 out of that short run of albums is impossible. Again teamed with producer Tony Visconti, Bowie goes for a full reset on The Next Day.

First single "Where Are We Now?" is a spacey ballad that serves as a point of contrast for the album's wilder cuts. "The Next Day" is glammy dance-punk, while "Dirty Boys" is a sax-fed bit of off-kilter blues.

Aside from being fantastic-sounding rock songs, "Dancing Out in Space" and "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" shine a light on one area of Bowie's songwriting that he's executed like no other. The cosmos in Bowie's songs—throughout his career—is something that can represent the best aspirations of humanity.

"I tell myself I don't know who I am," Bowie sings on album closer "Heat." But taken as a whole, The Next Day proves Bowie is as Bowie as he's ever been.

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