Blackstar – David Bowie (2016)



David Bowie released his 27th album on January 8th. I purchased the album and it arrived on January 9th. I had planned to write a review on Monday 11th as I wanted to give it a bit of a listen.

I had also purchased the 1983 album “Let’s Dance” from ebay on vinyl as I wanted to do a review of the new album and then follow it up with his biggest selling set.

Waking up on Monday 11th I looked at my phone only to see the breaking news that David Bowie had died. To say I was shocked is an understatement and I do not get shocked by any celebrity death. In fact I cannot recall anyone’s death I found truly shocking – even Michael Jackson had an air of inevitability about it.

The fact that Bowie had released his new album on his 69th birthday only to die two days later after an 18 month battle with cancer just seemed a bit unreal.

It doesn’t need me to say what a genius David Bowie was(I hate that I writing about Bowie in the past tense). You will by now have seen and heard everything that was good about him and what he did for music.

Obviously the review of his latest release “Blackstar” has become askew. There is no way I will be able to look at this project as objectively as I was planning to as many of the songs have taken on a new meaning due to their lyrical content which is clearly Bowie saying goodbye, but we just didn’t realise it.

The careful planning of the release and his death was no coincidence. It is certainly a very Bowie-esq thing to do. He was always a showman and a wonderful talented performer and he has been creative right up till the end.

“Blackstar” will forever be remembered as the final album released by David Bowie. The quality of the songs will now have no real importance but I don’t think he would have wanted that to be the case. Bowie had always been brave with his creations and whilst I am sure that they were for himself there still would have been an eagerness to wow the public.

The album is just 7 tracks long but this just serves to heighten the importance of every individual track.

The title track “Blackstar” opens the album. The track runs for 9.58 but is split into two parts. Having first listened to this song whilst watching the video it is not a stretch to say that it is delightfully bonkers.

When I say this song is weird I do not mean that in a negative way. When people say ‘weird’ they often think that this must be a negative but I put it together with the phrase “weird and wonderful”. This is Blackstar in a nutshell.

An avant Jazz mysterious number which has these slow down almost drum and bass sounding drums which has Bowie singing in this operatic ethereal way. It’s a creepy and dark song. The interpretation of what it is about is up to you the listener to decided.

The video for the track may give you some further sense of what on earth is being talked about but even this may just be a singular interpretation of events.

The song then delves into a more mid tempo bluesy number with Bowie proclaiming at points:

“I’m not a film star, I’m not a pop star, I’m a blackstar,”

Was he singing about religion? The impending doom of human civilization? Or was this all just his take on the world before he died?

“‘Tis a pity she was a whore” is the second track. This song was released as a B-Side to another track on the album “Sue (or in a season of crime”.

The single had been released off the greatest hits package from 2014 “Nothing Has Changed”.

Again, his death could well have changed the meaning of this song – was the cancer in fact the whore?

“Lazarus” is the best song on the album and for me it’s up there with anything Bowie has done – certainly in the last 20 years. This song now takes on such a important meaning to the life and career of David Bowie.

This song is a parting gift to the world before he exits. I am simply going to put the lyrics up of this beautiful Jazzy bluesy piece of magic.

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below

Ain’t that just like me

By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your ass

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me

Oh I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me

I cannot help but be deeply moved by this song. Its also incredibly sad.

“Sue (or in a season of crime)” is the fourth track on “Blackstar”. Despite this obviously been a sensitive time regarding David Bowie I will stay true to my thoughts and say that I don’t like this song.

I didn’t like it when I heard the song on “Nothing Has Changed” but at least that version would have suited this album better with it’s jazzy big band tones. This version has a more prominent guitar sound and no matter how many times I listen to it I find it a tad difficult to get through and digest.

“Girl Loves Me” is utterly nutty. Half the lyrics are in the Nadsat langauge which is what they use in the movie “A Clockwork Orange” and the other half is Polari which is a slang used in gay clubs in the 1970’s.

Of course I have had to read that up as I needed to know what on earth was the song all about as I really don’t have a clue. Looking up the meaning on the internet has not helped.

It still remains an infectious tune and the cheekiness surrounding the song is clear.

“Dollar Days” is a gorgeous track. Again his death has muddy the waters regarding it’s meaning.

There is a line where I believe he is perhaps talking about his impending passing and that he does have a desire to live on and keep doing what he does best:

“I’m dying to
Push their backs against the grain
and fool them all again and again”

“I Can’t Give Everything Away” is the final track on “Blackstar” and the last ever song David Bowie offers us. Because of his depth is is difficult not to feel the heart swelling.

This song proves to me that David Bowie is writing his own eulogy. He has used his illness to create some of the most moving music offered into the world and this track is the epitome of it all.

Seeing more and feeling less
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent

The final word David Bowie utters is “Away”. It is sheer pefection.

You will hear, see and read many things about David Bowie over the coming months. Just about all of them will be praising his career and rightly so.

I won’t give this album a rating because it wasn’t meant to be rated. It was meant to be a message from a man who has done so much for music and our lives. Whether you are 60 or 16 his music at some point will have been of interest.

Goodbye David.


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