RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And from pope to pop. A legend is back. As of last night, fans could stream David Bowie's new album, "The Next Day," on iTunes. It's his first album in 10 years. He's been laying low since he had a heart attack back in 2004. In a moment we'll hear from NPR's music critic, Ann Powers. First, let's hear from you, responding to our Facebook request for your favorite Bowie persona.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: My favorite Bowie persona...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's hard to choose a favorite.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOONAGE DAYDREAM" )
DAVID BOWIE: (singing) I'm a Mama, Papa, coming for you...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The Ziggy Stardust character really drew me in and captured my imagination. He's the alien, the thing that doesn't fit into a category, a true individual.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Oh, man, let me tell you what. The Goblin King, Jareth.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAGIC DANCE")
BOWIE: (singing) ...dance magic. Put that baby spell on me.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Oh. I was like, wow, I had no idea he was that kooky(ph) talented. It was just excellent.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right now I'm way into those Berlin records. It's less hooky and less poppy, and way more cerebral and experimental.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALWAYS CRASHING THE SAME CAR")
MONTAGNE: That was Joel Muzzy(ph) of San Diego, along with Vicki Neatum (ph) in Shawnee, Kansas. And Jennifer Cassastanto(ph) in Waltham, Massachusetts. Just a sampling of the folks who wrote in. We also got drawings, essays, photos of Halloween costumes, plus cats named for the pop star. We're going to talk about the new record with NPR's music critic, Ann Powers, who's just listened through to it. Ann, hello.
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hi.
MONTAGNE: Hi. Well, which David Bowie do we get with his new album?
POWERS: I would say we get the David Bowie character known as David Bowie.
POWERS: He's telling us a lot of different stories on this record, "The Next Day," and I think there's a real sense of him as a storyteller, as an observer. And that is a rich part of Bowie's legacy. And it's played out beautifully on this record.
MONTAGNE: Why don't we listen to one of the tracks. It's called "Where Are We Now?"
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE ARE WE NOW?)
BOWIE: (singing) Sitting in the Dschungel on Nurnberger Strasse. A man lost in time...
POWERS: "Where Are We Now?" is interesting because it seems to be autobiographical. He's referring to places in Berlin where he made some of his greatest records with the producer Brian Eno. So it's really a game of unraveling the references. And that's fun for all of us who love to figure Bowie out.
MONTAGNE: And this song was released as a video, which is pretty interesting.
POWERS: Well, David Bowie has always been a master of the visual, as well as the sonic. And he was an innovator with video even before the age of MTV. See, video is really important for Bowie now, because it's harder for older artists to get played on commercial radio. But video can spread like wildfire and, you know, virally help this record get out. And that's what happening with this very artful, beautiful video.
MONTAGNE: Now, this song, which is called "The Stars Are Out Tonight" is pretty different. It's more of a rock song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STARS ARE OUT TONIGHT")
BOWIE: (singing) Stars are never sleeping. Dead ones and the living. We live closer to the earth, never to the heavens. The stars are never far away...
MONTAGNE: The stars and David Bowie. That sounds about right.
POWERS: He's meditating on the nature of celebrity in this song. He even drops what we think is Brad Pitt's name. He mentions someone named Brad. But he's, as usual, making modern myth out of our everyday social lives. And the song seems to be referring to stars in the heavens and stars in Hollywood. It's got that great Bowie rock sound, that kind of glammy, rich theatrical sound.
He's working with many of his longtime collaborators. So it's pure Bowie, but it's totally relevant to now.
MONTAGNE: So he's back.
POWERS: I think David Bowie is totally back. I think the lesson of this is that David Bowie really never went away. This is a beautiful, rich, and very complicated album.
MONTAGNE: Ann, nice to talk to you again.
POWERS: It's great to talk to you too. And enjoy the Bowie album.
MONTAGNE: All right. Ann Powers is NPR's music critic. And you can learn more about the new David Bowie album on our website npr.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STARS ARE OUT TONIGHT")
BOWIE: (singing) They drown with their radiant smiles and trap you with their beautiful lies. They're broke and shamed or drunk or scared but I hope they live forever. Their jealousy's spilling down. The stars must stick together. We will never be rid of these stars. But I hope they live forever. And they know just what we do...
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.