On the 10th January 2016, the world lost a true legend. A man who changed the face of music by constantly re-inventing himself managing to always stay relevant in the here and now yet thrive from his past and live in the future. His output of 25 studio albums have a vast range of style from folk and glam rock to industrial and drum and bass. Huge conceptual pieces, soundtrack work and even a covers album make up a catalogue which include at least half a dozen stone cold classics the world has had the privilege to hear. An exceptional musician and producer whose lyrics were part poetry, part fantasy and part grit, David Bowie was a true one off who not only carved out his own unique path but who rubbed shoulders with some of the greats (Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop) and even succeeded in the world of film (The Man Who fell To Earth, Labyrinth, The Prestige). And so we come to Blackstar. Released just days after his death, Bowie’s 25th album is a sombre, almost painful album to listen to…but, it is also one of his best.
Starting off with the title track, we drift in and Bowie’s strange wavering vocal floats over a rushing drumbeat and eerie strings. Electronics flash in here and there and a strained saxophone adds huge depth and power. Then half way through its near 10 minute run time, the song shifts into almost nothingness before gorgeous strings herald clean guitar, a jazz feel and Bowie soaring before leaving us with a playful flute tune…the song is futuristic yet classic and also one of the best songs he has ever recorded; a hell of a statement and opening track. She Was A Whore reminds me instantly of Black Tie White Noise era Bowie; full of swing and toe tapping jazz. Lyrics such as “tis a pity she was a whore, tis a curse I suppose” gives us a glimpse into Bowie’s dark humour with a backbone of immense saxophone playing throughout. Lazarus brings it down in both mood and feel. Slow and plodding, this is Bowie playing the blues but injecting it with some heavy metal guitar flourishes and brutally hurting lyrics “Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen” for example. A truly hard song to listen to.
Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) is a stop start mad rush of a song. Hard guitar, drum and bass style beats and distant saxophone compliment Bowie’s vocals which rumble with deepness and pulsate with echo. Nine Inch Nails style industrial sounds inherit the second half of the song bringing it to an abrupt stop. Girl Loves Me has Bowie asking “where the fuck did Monday go?” in a spiteful bitter manner and is a mix between Aphex Twin, powerful film score strings and really strange goings on. Bowie is the master of randomness thrown together but coming out the other side as pure genius…this song is testament to this! Dollar Days is part piano, saxophone and acoustic guitar lullaby and part strings, pleading vocal and almost Ziggy era guitar tune, Bowie begging against a backdrop of loss and pain before the song itself bleeds into final track Everything Away with its Thursday Child strings and sorrowful vocals. Bowie singing “I can’t give everything away” to a soundtrack of jazz saxophone, sweeping strings and sparse drums and finishing with a slightly grungy sounding guitar and searing keyboards…and then its over.
A total of seven tracks spanning just over 41 minutes means there is absolutely no filler on Blackstar. Every last ounce of music is here for a reason and in its perfect place. There is no doubt that this could have been a better album just as there is no doubt that it could be anything more than it is both musically and lyrically. Its plainly obvious that Bowie knew he was nearing the end and Blackstar is his final gift to us mere humans. Grown up proper music but still managing to have that wild energetic vibe to it, a fitting end indeed.