ROCK / Merry Easter, Mr Bowie,you're back on form: David Bowie's new album is his best in donkey's years, they say. But they're not sure they want you to hear it. Ben Thompson got hold of a copy

'AND THIS,' as Mike Yarwood, colossus of TV impersonation, used to say towards the end of his show, 'is me.' But Yarwood's audience didn't want him to be himself, they wanted him to be Denis Healey. And so it's been with David Bowie for the past 10 years or so. Each time he has reappeared, it has been as the 'real' David Bowie; all the hype has been about the absence of the disguises and contrivance that made him famous and interesting in the first place, and the world has not stifled a yawn.

It was hardly surprising that Bowie had so little to offer in the Eighties. He'd already lived through them. Few of the decade's cultural landmarks - from Madonna's re-inventions to A Flock of Seagulls' haircuts - could deny some kind of precedent in David Jones's Seventies style odyssey. But at some point early in the Thatcher years, David Bowie went to sleep. When he woke up, he was trapped inside the imagination of Hazel O'Connor.

Let's Dance (1983) sold in enormous numbers at the time but proved one of his least durable albums. His next two LPs, Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987), saw him lapsing ever further into the creative doldrums, and the Glass Spider tour was probably his nadir. Given the lack of inspiration in his solo works, perhaps submerging his identity within that of the space-age pub-rock band Tin Machine wasn't such a bad idea. But no one much saw it that way. The Sound and Vision greatest-hits tour at the turn of the decade was sabotaged by legions of satirical punters ringing the request phonelines and demanding 'The Laughing Gnome'. By the time of the second Tin Machine album in 1991, Bowie had become little more than a laughing stock.

Two years later, he's a name to conjure with again, thanks to a new generation of Brit-pop fops weaned on 'Starman', like Suede and the Auteurs. And the rumour has been going round that the rehabilitation extends to his creative powers. David Bowie has come through a bad decade before - he wasted the Sixties trying to be a family entertainer too - and a few weeks ago a news item in Rolling Stone magazine suggested that his new album, Black Tie White Noise, might be a genuine return to form. Understandably keen to preserve this impression, Bowie's record label has gone to absurd lengths to stop anyone hearing the album. A TV advert has been prepared which cannily comprises 10 seconds of silence. Two weeks before release, just three 'selected tracks' were authorised for listening to, and those under armed guard at Bowie's PR company. Only by subterfuge was your correspondent able to appraise the full 13 songs.

The obvious explanation for all this - that the album is in fact a complete stinker - is, happily, not the right one. The first single, 'Jump They Say', really has got more momentum and twist than anything Bowie has done for years, and is already his first Top 10 hit since 'Absolute Beginners' in 1986. And it turns out to be representative: this is his best, most interesting album since Scary Monsters in 1980. Unlike fellow glam-rock survivor Bryan Ferry, Bowie has managed to write some releasable new songs in the six-year interval between solo albums. The results - an assortment of instrumentals, big pop numbers and artful Euro-slink, with a couple of cover versions - are patchy, but no less intriguing for that.

The list of players suggests a calculated ransacking of the past: Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, Let's Dance producer Nile Rodgers, Diamond Dogs piano-man Mike Garson. But new sidemen have been called up too, and their contributions stand out. There's American soul singer Al B Sure, with whom Bowie duets on the strange and compelling title track - a more than usually intelligent plea for racial understanding ('You won't kill me, but I wonder why sometimes'), which suggests the Thin White Duke has left the coked-up idiocy of his old Fascist flirtations far behind. The star of the show, though, is Lester Bowie (no relation). The brilliant free-jazz trumpeter not only provides a dazzling foil for Dave's ham-fisted but passionate sax, but also saves at least one song - 'You've Been Around' - from a close resemblance to Visage.

The album gets off to a slow start, with 'The Wedding', a pleasant, Low-ish instrumental theme, later reprised with words; if Brian Eno can get away with delivering a lecture about Bowie's marriage, I suppose the man himself is entitled to sing about it. It picks up pace three songs in with a weird version of Cream's 'I Feel Free' - not a return to the brass-tacks Sixties nostalgia of Pin- Ups but a lush reworking influenced by Bobby McFerrin's Cadbury's adverts. From then on, there's no going back, even if the other cover - a jokily overblown reading of Morrissey's 'I Know it's Going to Happen Someday' ('it's me doing Morrissey doing me,' Bowie proudly told Rolling Stone) - does rather collapse under the weight of its own irony.

'Nite Flights' has that special blend of luxury and claustrophobia that is the nearest Bowie gets to being relaxed, and showcases his queasy operatic holler to winning effect. 'Pallas Athena' is an authentically strange, sub-house sampling doodle. Even apparently straightforward pop numbers, such as the extremely catchy 'Miracle Goodnight' and the courtly 'Don't Let me Down & Down', steer clear of the blandness which was in danger of becoming his trademark.

Black Tie White Noise is a return to the traditions of Bowie's plastic-soul period - Young Americans and Station to Station - and his ground-breaking Eno trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger. In an NME interview this week, the man himself said that his new record would have made a worthier successor to Scary Monsters than Let's Dance did. If only he'd realised that at the time.

'Black Tie White Noise' is out on 5 April (Arista, LP/CD/tape, not all tracks on all formats). Ben Thompson reviews Suede's LP on 'The Critics' pages in the main paper.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003