During this last period of his career — which lasted almost exactly three years — Bowie maintained strict control over his image. Aside from very occasional photographs taken by his hand-picked lensman Jimmy King, he appeared to the public only through his music videos.
Some of these were quite elaborate productions. For the title track of The Next Day, David got Gary Oldman to play a depraved priest and cast himself as the leader of the house band in a freaky religious nightclub — and also possibly a prophet. At the end he breaks character and thanks the cast. The net effect is like a campy Seventies erotic horror flick compressed into three minutes. I love it.
As for the song itself, I like Chris O’Leary’s take:
It’s Bowie alive, unwell, full of piss and vinegar, as if the whole thing’s his fuck-you response to the Flaming Lips’ “Is David Bowie Dying?” … As on “Breaking Glass,” he severs a verse with listen! In refrains, when he’s harping on the highest note in the underlying chord, he hollers down anyone who wrote a premature obituary for him. Who knows if a late Mick Ronson interview was on his mind, but his perspective has the same obstinate resistance. HERE I AM: NOT QUITE DYING. Persevering, despite the world’s best intentions, with the bookkeeping of life, the small routines, the breaths, blinks, and stomach rumbles, the farts and bloody noses. On through tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, as a doomed Scottish king once said, though at least they didn’t stick him in a tree. And the NEXT DAY and the NEXT and ANOTHER DAY. Bowie roars the words as if he’s peeling them open. One foot in front of the other. Live, live, goddamn you: live.