His first album since 2003's Reality, the album was sporadically put together in secret over the course of two years, with Bowie requiring everyone involved to sign non-disclosure agreements and even going so far as to change studios when his presence at the first one was disclosed without permission. Even then, an unannounced visit to the second studio by Canadian band Metric nearly blew the lid off the whole thing when Bowie's saxophonist found himself tempted to give away everything that was going on. Despite these hurdles, the album was kept under tight lock and key for the entirety of its production.
Sound-wise, the album continues the Alternative Rock sound of Reality, but mixes it in with Bowie's signature brand of theatrical art rock, thereby offering a more complex take on its 2003 predecessor. Both musically and lyrically, The Next Day also shifts to a much darker direction, influenced by books Bowie read about English and Russian history during his extended break from recording. The lyrics additionally reflect Bowie's awareness of his advanced age (he was already 66 when the album released) and his desire to look back and examine where he'd been and where he was now going. Despite this, the album isn't a voyeuristic look into Bowie's head, instead conveying his thoughts through a series of allegorical vignettes focused on a variety of characters and themes, ranging from a former East German resident's reminiscing on the fall of the Berlin Wall to a school shooter's friend to a defiant Jesus. Tying in with the album's reflective tone, the album cover consists solely of a modified version of that for his landmark 1977 album "Heroes", the title scratched out and a white square with the 2013 album's title plastered over Bowie's face.
The Next Day was a commercial success for Bowie, debuting at the top of the UK Albums chart (his first No. 1 in the country since Black Tie White Noise 20 years prior) and at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, further topping the charts in Argentina, Belgium (on both the Ultratop Flanders and Ultratop Wallonia charts), Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland. The album would also top Billboard's Top Alternative Albums chart and peak at No. 2 on their Top Rock Albums chart. The Next Day would go on to become the 26th best-selling album of 2013 in the UK and the third-best-selling album of the year in Finland, later being certified platinum in the UK, France, and the Netherlands, and gold in Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Five singles were spawned from the album: "Where Are We Now?", "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", "The Next Day", "Valentine's Day" and "Love Is Lost".
- "The Next Day" (3:27)
- "Dirty Boys" (2:58)
- "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" (3:56)
- "Love Is Lost" (3:57)
- "Where Are We Now?" (4:08)
- "Valentine's Day" (3:01)
- "If You Can See Me" (3:15)
- "I'd Rather Be High" (3:53)
- "Boss of Me" (4:09)
- "Dancing Out in Space" (3:24)
- "How Does the Grass Grow?" (4:33)
- "(You Will) Set the World On Fire" (3:30)
- "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" (4:37)
- "Heat" (4:25)
Deluxe Edition bonus tracks
- "So She" (2:31)
- "Plan" (2:02)
- "I'll Take You There" (2:41)
"Here they trope upon the stairs: sexless and unaroused"
- Celebrity Is Overrated: The point of "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", which describes the celebrity lifestyle as mutually exploitative and ultimately dissatisfying. The music video accentuates this, depicting a celebrity couple as a succubus and incubus who torment an ordinary husband and wife to stave off their boredom.
- Darker and Edgier: The album's lyrics were influenced by books Bowie had read about English and Russian history, and the ugliness of those subjects is reflected on the album. "Dirty Boys" is about gang violence, "How Does the Grass Grow" is about PTSD, "Valentine's Day" is about school shootings, and many of the other songs deal with violence, death, and destruction in some form, far drearier than the sarcastic lyrics of Reality.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Throughout the music video for "Valentine's Day", Bowie wields his guitar like a firearm and gives a menacing Kubrick Stare into the camera, alluding to the lyrics about a mass murderer.
- Fading into the Next Song: "I'd Rather Be High" segues into "Boss of Me".
- He's Back!: The announcement of the album when virtually everyone in his fanbase and in the music press was sure he'd retired over (among other things) his health issues.
- In Medias Res: "Heat" begins with the line "Then we saw Mishima's dog," suggesting that this is not actually the start of the story.
- In the Style of:
- Kubrick Stare: Bowie constantly glares at the camera with his head tilted down throughout the music video for "Valentine's Day". Together with his constant Slasher Smile, the stare ties in with the lyrics about a school shooter by invoking the unhinged malevolence that is associated with mass murderers.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Valentine's Day" — a song about a school shooting set to 60s-style pop music.
- Non-Indicative Name: "Valentine's Day" has nothing to do with the day in question. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest the song even takes place on the 14th February.
- Other Common Music Video Concepts — Band from Mundania: In "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", Bowie and Tilda Swinton play an ordinary, happy suburban couple who get their world turned upside down by some unsettling, younger newcomers (a celebrity couple known for their tabloid troubles, to be precise).
- Performance Video: Compared to the elaborate nature of the album's other videos (even the deliberately low-budget "Love Is Lost"), "Valentine's Day" is a straightforward clip of Bowie miming to the song in Brooklyn's abandoned Red Hook Grain Terminal.
- Precision F-Strike: "I'd Rather Be High":I flew to Cairo, find my regimentCity's full of generalsAnd generals full of shit
- Production Throwback:
- "Love is Lost" re-used puppets that had planned to be used for the filmed-but-unreleased Concept Video for "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell". The remix of the same song also samples the piano lick from "Ashes to Ashes".
- The percussion on "Love is Lost" recreates the hollow drum sound that served as a crucial part of Low's sonic aesthetic.
- The first released track, "Where Are We Now?", references several Berlin landmarks (Potsdamer Platz, Nürnberger Straße, KaDeWe, etc.), nodding back to the trilogy of albums that Bowie recorded while residing in Berlin during the late '70s.
- In the video for "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", one of the new neighbors looks and sometimes dresses like Thomas Jerome Newton/the Thin White Duke and the cover of one of the tabloid magazines uses his alien form as an image with the caption "Woman Goes To Oscars Without Makeup On".
- The penultimate track, "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die", ends with the opening drums from "Five Years".
- The director of the videos for "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" and "The Next Day" is Floria Sigismondi, who also did two of his Earthling-era videos: "Little Wonder" and "Dead Man Walking".
- The cover is a modified version of the cover of "Heroes", which has that album's title removed and a large portion of the picture of Bowie covered by a blank white square with this album's title on it.
- Refuge in Audacity: The video for "The Next Day", which has Bowie as a prophet performing in a bar with priests and prostitutes, one of whom, played by Marion Cotillard, has gruesome stigmata. The end of the video has Bowie Breaking the Fourth Wall by thanking everyone involved in the video, before vanishing. The video was accidentally removed by YouTube, before being re-added and given an age restriction— one of the only two Bowie videos to be subjected to one (alongside "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)").
- Scatting: The "Ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya" of "How Does the Grass Grow?" is downright in the lyric sheet.
- The opening lines of "I'd Rather Be High" namedrop Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov and describe a scene from his book The Gift, in which Fyodor goes skinny-dipping in the woods of Grunewald.Fyodor: The sun bore down. The sun licked me all over with its big smooth tongue.
"I'd Rather Be High": Nabokov is sun-licked now, upon the beach at Grunewald, brilliant and naked just the way that authors look.
- The opening line of "Heat" namedrops Yukio Mishima, a controversial Japanese writer known for both his innovative literature and the failed far-right coup attempt he led in 1970; Bowie had a portrait he painted of the author hung up in his Berlin residency and cited his writings as a lyrical influence. The same verse describes a scene from Mishima's Spring Snow, in which two characters find the corpse of a drowned dog caught on the edge of a waterfall.
- The opening lines of "I'd Rather Be High" namedrop Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov and describe a scene from his book The Gift, in which Fyodor goes skinny-dipping in the woods of Grunewald.
- Slasher Smile: Throughout the music video for "Valentine's Day", Bowie gives an unhinged grin that, together with the continuous Kubrick Stare, invokes the song's themes of mass murder.
- Special Guest: King Crimson bassist and prior Bowie collaborator Tony Levin provides bass parts on "Dirty Boys", "Where Are We Now?", "If You Can See Me", "I'd Rather Be High", "Boss of Me", and "Dancing Out in Space".
- Three Chords and the Truth: "Valentine's Day".
- Time Title: The album and its Title Track take their name from Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, invoking it as a metaphor for Bowie's prolonged hiatus after an on-stage heart attack in 2004 and his feelings looking back on it.
- Viewer Gender Confusion: Invoked in "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", as a nod back to Bowie's famous subversion and criticism of gender norms in his youth: the celebrity couple are both played by women (the "male" by Saskia de Brauw and the "female" by famous transgender model Andreja Pejić.) There is also a young Bowie Expy played by Iselin Steiro — also a woman.
- War Is Hell: "I'd Rather Be High", "How Does the Grass Grow".