Album Review: David Bowie – Blackstar
Though it may have been originally perceived as an experimental work with an uncertain cohesiveness, Blackstar takes on a whole new outlook with the news of David Bowie’s passing. It was just two day’s after the album’s release (and his birthday) that David Bowie left us. His last work now seems more like a haunting requiem for a storied career.
Blackstar opens up with the title cut, a ten minute jazz infused electronic journey through haunt and darkness. Bowie evokes the “Villa of the Ormen” in his lyrics. This seems to be strangely tied to visuals from a tumblr page of the same name which popped up in November. The mid section of the song evokes dominant 7th chord horns reminiscent of the song “Changes” from his early days. Bowie sings, “Something happened on the day he died, Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside.”
Things pick up a bit with the second song, “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”. This song evokes classic Bowie yet with a new twist. The horn playing on this track is incredible as it is infused with a bit of 80’s Bowie but still with the heavy jazz influence.
The third track, “Lazarus”, begins with the lyrics, “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” It is a soulful piece, again accompanied by a haunting saxophone part and intimate guitar work. Bowie’s vocals and phrasing are undeniable here as it evokes some of his best work. It is a moving song that now takes on an entirely different meaning.
Next comes “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)” with a bit of dissonance and almost a drum and bass feel with live drumming. It almost has a bit of a broadway feel to it as well. It is followed by “Girl Loves Me”. In the song he muses, “Where the f@ck did Monday go?” Symbolic as it refers to it all seeming just like yesterday. He gets creative lyrically as he invents his own words. The song has a hypnotic vibe yet it is chaotic.
Rounding up the record is Dollar Days, he sings “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, It’s nothing to me, It’s nothing to see”. The song is piano driven with lush strings and more great horn work. The record closes with “I Can’t Give Everything Away”. The song starts with “I know something is very wrong, The pulse returns for prodigal sons. The blackout’s hearts with flowered news, with skull designs upon my shoes.” The song again seems like a combination of Bowie throughout his many changes in his career. He explains, “Seeing more and feeling less, saying no but meaning yes. This is all I ever meant, that’s the message that I sent.”
The record was produced by long time collaborator Tony Visconti. It features Donny McCaslin on flute, saxophone and woodwinds. Ben Monder on guitar, Jason Lindner on keyboards and piano, Tim Lefebvre on bass and Mark Guiliana on drums.
In reflection, Blackstar is indeed a requiem for Bowie’s storied career. It evokes many of the styles he incorporated throughout the years in addition to adding a few new sonic twists. If you are looking for pop hits like “Let’s Dance” and “Fame” this is not the record for you. If you are a true fan of Bowie who wants to be challenged and think about the work, this is a great exclamation point to an amazing career. It will leave you thinking. David Bowie will be missed.