Released: 8 March 2013
The Next Day
Gerry Leonard, David Torn: guitar
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar
Zachary Alford: drums
Antoine Silverman, Maxim Moston, Hiroko Taguchi, Anja Wood: strings
‘Heat’ is the closing track on The Next Day, David Bowie’s penultimate studio album.
Well that’s the closer of the album and it’s very dramatic. And I’m not quite sure what he’s singing about on it, but it’s a classic Bowie ballad. He’s singing in his handsomest voice, a very deep, very sonorous voice. And I can’t give too much away about it because honestly, I don’t know exactly what it’s about, if it’s about being in a real prison or being imprisoned in your mind. Again, it’s certainly not about him; he’s singing as the voice of somebody.
Rolling Stone, 15 January 2013
The angst-ridden lyrics of ‘Heat’ were dark enough to prompt Visconti to ask Bowie for an explanation.
It could be about prison, loneliness and sociopathic detachment. The lyrics are so bleak I asked him what he was talking about. ‘Oh, it’s not about me,’ he said. None of these songs are. He’s an observer.
The Times, 12 January 2013
‘Heat’ is a majestic finale to The Next Day, with Gail Ann Dorsey’s fretless bass combining with layers guitar feedback to create an atmospheric bed for Bowie’s vocals. The clearest antecedent is Scott Walker’s ‘The Electrician’ from the 1978 album Nite Flights, which inhabits a similarly shadowy domain.
Bowie’s lyrics – the word ‘Heat’ appears nowhere – immediately put the listener in unfamiliar terrain. “Then we saw Mishima’s dog/Trapped between the rocks/Blocking the waterfall,” Bowie begins, “The songs of dust, the world would end”. These words referred to a scene in the 1969 novel Spring Snow by Japanese writer and actor Yukio Mishima, with whom Bowie had long been fascinated.
“And I tell myself I don’t know who I am”, meanwhile, recalls Bowie’s past as a faker and an actor, and the roles he often adopted and discarded in song and on stage. It also brings to mind ‘And I Say To Myself’, the b-side of ‘Can’t Help Thinking About Me’, his 1965 single with the Lower Third. Bowie revived the latter song in 1999, and re-recorded it during the Toy sessions, so it is not unfeasible that ‘And I Say To Myself’ was also in his mind at the time.
The refrain “My father ran the prison” suggests a backstory which, although tantalising, remains elusive: we end the song knowing no more than at the beginning. Bowie’s character may have been the seer, but the listener is left to shine their own light on ‘Heat’, one of his most beguiling works.
Bowie gave no interviews for The Next Day, allowing producer Tony Visconti to act as his public mouthpiece. The singer did, however, break his silence on one occasion.
The novelist Rick Moody, whom Bowie was known to admire, contacted Bowie asking for a list of words to help explain or illuminate the themes of the album. Although scarcely expecting a response, Moody was astounded to receive a list of 42 words from Bowie, which he considered relevant to the album, but with no further explanation.
Astonishingly the list appeared, and it appeared without further comment, which is really excellent, and exactly in the spirit of this album, and the list is far better than I could ever have hoped, and it’s exactly like Bowie, at least in my understanding of him, impulsive, intuitive, haunted, astringent, and incredibly ambitious in the matter of the arts; Bowie is a conceptual artist, it seems to me, who just happens to work in the popular song, and he wants to make work that goes somewhere new, and this is amply demonstrated by the list.
What I propose here is that I use the list to make a few observations about the incredible excellence of The Next Day, as a way of explaining what I think he’s after, or as a way of collaborating with the ideas in play, and in this way will a really great album be illuminated, given the opportunity to blossom further, later into the season, etc.
Although he gave no indication that the words related to individual songs, it was soon noted that the list of 42 was divisible by the 14 tracks on the album, and the lyrical themes in the songs do appear to correspond with the sequence of the list. The words that related to ‘Heat’ were ‘Tragic’, ‘Nerve’, and ‘Mystification’.
In the studio
‘Heat’ was recorded at the Magic Shop studio in New York in May 2011.
The month was a productive one, and saw the basic tracks recorded for ‘The Next Day’, ‘Atomica’, ‘How Does The Grass Grow?’, ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’, ‘If You Can See Me’, ‘Dancing Out In Space’, ‘Like A Rocket Man’, ‘Born In A UFO’, ‘Heat’, ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, and ‘So She’. Throughout the sessions Bowie sang scratch vocals with the band, which were later replaced with final versions.
The music for ‘Heat’ was recorded on 6 May, with the final vocals overdubbed on 5 November.