David Bowie – Blackstar
If someone would have told you just thirty short days ago that David Bowie’s next release would be the most extraordinary of his entire career, you would most likely of been pretty skeptical or at least fairly surprised. If that same person would have also told you that it would be a ‘parting project’ and just as it is to be released David Bowie would be with us no more, you most likely would’ve shrugged all of it off completely unconvinced. As life .. (or death, whichever you prefer to categorize the situation).. would have it, that is unerringly the circumstance.
Blackstar is David Bowie’s remarkable final album. At just seven songs over 41 minutes, it stands as a dark and meaningful good-bye piece that takes us not on our personal journey to the concept of our own mortality, but into Bowie’s inner psych and spiritual being right to summation.
Recorded over the winter and early spring of 2015 in New York City with his long-time Producer Tony Visconti, the album’s recording sessions was comprised of three segments each week. The majority of the material was mostly labored over at Magic Hat Studios which was conveniently close to Bowie’s NYC residence. Enduring though several of the singer’s heart attacks while in production the album is deep, aurally calculated, and thought-provokingly ‘struggled’.
Inward: The hemming in the offering title track, Blackstar, is a cross between a type of Buddhist Mantra and the Memorial Acclamation during the Liturgy of The Eucharist at Catholic Mass. Coupled with a drum machine and very mild synth flavor the tempo here in the starting song, like the rest of this album, is fixed, never rapid. The song demonstrates a few David Bowie space-like flavors. Those flavors happen to remain tasteful in their sparsity both here and on some others. As well (and right off the bat) what would a David Bowie album be without a little trademark brass and mild symphony as a song spreads out? .. “I’m a blackstar.. I’m a star-star” .. repeats during the opener (and right now, figuratively, he truly is). The album gets to the familiarity in a sample of classicist Bowie right in starting things out, however, it’s quickly out of the way and left, so to speak.
“Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” is basically as lighthearted as the album ever shows. This one is a stroll-along number about a girl who is rather difficult to carry on with. The song finishes semi-climactic using a frantic harp in Bowie’s almost ‘trademarked’ styled creativity. Much of this album has an experimentally abstract but steadied urgency, while kept grounded by a securing percussion.
Are Bowie’s vocals as strong and striking in Blackstar as they had been before he had fallen this ill? Not quite, naturally… however, they are more telling, which adds to this albums authenticity. The production throughout this final chapter in Bowie’s long, weather-clocked career is recognizably conceived in the digital domain with no emphasis in trying to sound like this was pieced together from two-inch analog tape and retro gear. This should come as no surprise as the songwriter was a constant in staying on the edge of the latest technologies both inside the studio and out.
Third is Lazarus, certainly the albums strongest track and most situation revealing. It is a haunting epitaph that starts off a bit like a thought-provoking version of China Girl. Lazarus soon becomes dreary, dismal, with orotund bass and wonderfully mixed underlying keyboards which gives it all strong, emotive presence. The song is a classic.
There is a real heartfelt effort in the emotionally reaching ‘Dollar Days’. Some lyrics, such as ..”I’m dying to.. I’m trying to”.. like a handful of others during this release is expletive about what is, and what was to be.
There is nothing remotely close to this having high peaks and low valleys through Blackstar. The set is a measured, fixed, ending scrapbook of feelings and thoughts set in avant-jazz and unhurried art rock. One could find things too controlled, or perhaps boring in that regard. However, it is in this steady, fixed piece of artisan-ship in which Bowie strives to not conform in anything at all close to modern day pop or basic rock standards in this release. The goal here is not to sound like anything remotely close to top-forty and a step aside from anything considered merely “alternative”, while still accomplishing to keep us hooked with intrigue.
It’s final slice, ‘I can’t give everything away’ is a fairly good closing, minus the intentional clipping in the recording during the verses. While this clipping seems to be a purposeful ‘artistic’ production effort (let’s hope?) many could assume it sub-par recording. It could have been done differently. Still, the song delivers its intended message and ends things almost atmospherically pleasant believe it or not, even despite lyrics explaining his frustration. Bowie sings “I know something is very wrong. The post returns for prodigal songs. With blackout harks with flowered muse …. I can’t give everything away” in expressing what he has left as an asset, as well as what he is stuck with.
Blackstar in title and tone is a jazzy, experimental voyage to the end of the artist’s existence and perhaps beyond. The album is utterly fascinating because of all this account. David Allan Bowie was a cultural pop protagonist who was also noteworthy as a true professional, crossing the boundaries throughout his career as a sort of established rule bender. It’s apparent in listening to this work that the man was an artist, even into death.
Blackstar is actually one last marvel and unique achievement in being that Mr. Bowie somehow manages to accomplish something that not only characteristically defies normalcy but once again overcomes a conventional template … this time … even from beyond the grave. I’ll explain: As it turns out, at least this time it is not always the brightest of stars that seem to out-shine all others. In this case, in this grave circumstance, and in this albums unexpected concept .. it happens to be the darkest; Blackstar.
Ian Billen –