The Next Day album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: 4 May 2011; 4 April 2012
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Engineers: Mario McNulty, Tony Visconti

Released: 8 March 2013

Available on:
The Next Day

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, keyboards
Gerry Leonard, David Torn: guitar
Tony Levin: bass guitar
Zachary Alford: drums, percussion
Gail Ann Dorsey: vocals, bass guitar

‘If You Can See Me’ is the seventh song on The Next Day, David Bowie’s penultimate studio album.

This is a serious record. Half of it you will need to listen to a couple of times. There are some very strange songs, a new direction. He’s tapping into his jazz roots. The song called ‘If You Can See Me’ has very wide, beautiful, crunchy jazz chords, with time signatures that Dave Brubeck would be proud of.
Tony Visconti
Ottawa Citizen, 28 January 2013

The backing track was recorded at New York’s Magic Shop on 4 May 2011, with overdubs added at a later date. Bowie’s lead vocals were taped on 4 April the following year.

I played fretless bass for the first time on this record. It was all done in a totally old-fashioned way, with everybody in the room together, laying down at least the basic tracks. I also went back later to do backing vocals and some lines that David and I sang together [‘If You Can See Me’]. The song I’m playing fretless on is pretty spectacular because it’s in this ridiculous time signature. It’s 7/5 or something, a strange looping, limping time signature that’s really very cool. The rest are a real mix, with different moods and textures. They’re different from anything else that’s going on in the music world. The main thing I noticed about David was that he seemed really comfortable in his own skin. There’s nothing to prove anymore. So he had a kind of relaxed, total confidence, just enjoying the process of making the music. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this settled.
Gail Ann Dorsey
Uncut, April 2013

‘If You Can See Me’ is Bowie at his most sonically aggressive, combining complex polyrhythms with lyrics which contain some of his most apocalyptic imagery: “I will take your lands and all that lays beneath, the dust of cold flowers prison of dark ashes,” he sings. “I will slaughter your kind who descend from belief, I am the spirit of greed a lord of theft”.

Bowie granted no interviews for The Next Day, but did answer author Rick Moody’s request for a list of words to explain the album’s themes. Those that corresponded with ‘If You Can See Me’ were: Crusade, Tyrant, Domination.

‘If You Can See Me’ was among Blackstar keyboard player Jason Lindner’s selection of favourite Bowie songs.

This is one of the most interesting and intense experimental Bowie songs of recent years. His longtime bassist Gail Ann Dorsey is also singing on the intro, and she has a beautiful, powerful voice. There’s a lot of space in the song. There’s a line than repeats every so often and a fast drum beat with some sparseness behind it. It has really powerful lyrical imagery, like evil power or something. Also, technically speaking, the drums are in 4 but it’s hard to figure out what everything else is in, which I find interesting. It’s cool that he would venture to do something like that.
Jason Lindner
Jazz Times, 15 May 2016
Previous song: ‘Valentine’s Day’
Next song: ‘I’d Rather Be High’