Three years after the release of the supposed last album of his career, The Next Day, David Bowie returns with his surprise album Blackstar, a seven track odyssey into the deep, dark recesses of the mind of the much revered 69 year old. However, 27 albums into his lengthy career, can Bowie still deliver?
**EDIT: This review was largely written before the tragic passing of David Bowie this morning, the 11th of January 2016. It was scheduled to be posted this Thursday, but due to the announcement this morning, I’ve decided to move it forward and postpone It Came From Netflix to now be released Wednesday afternoon**
2. ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore
4. Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)
5. Girl Loves Me
6. Dollar Days
7. I Can’t Give Everything Away
Kicking off the album with the subtle, understated title track Blackstar, Bowie makes his intentions plain from the outset, delivering a brooding, totally unique song unlike any other work in his career. The use of discordant, erratic saxophones coupled with dark synth and schizophrenic drum lines create an atmosphere that fits beautifully within the confines of the record. Coming completely from left field (even for Bowie), the track has a distinct sense of danger, utilising fascinating melodies with a sense of funk-inspired darkness around the halfway mark. Scattered, sharp guitar lines amongst the grand orchestral synth lines create an almost disorienting sense of euphoria as the track rings to an epic close.
‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore continues the dark, complicated jazz elements bringing back the discordant sax, accompanying harmonica blasts and punk-rock like drums as Bowie croons atop the frantic melodies. Throughout the track, climbing instrumentals pique in chaotic crescendo at regular intervals, utilising both major and minor twists to keep the listener on their toes.
Moving onto lead single Lazarus, we open with almost indie-esque clean guitar lines before giving way to downbeat saxophones, fuzzed out guitar chords and Bowie putting in a significantly stunning performance. The entire track has this incredibly sombre atmosphere to it, which makes it an interesting choice for a lead single. Nevertheless, the song represents the sound of the album to a t, and features one of the strongest bass lines the album has given to us thus far.
Taking a sharp turn, we come to the slightly faster paced Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime). Lightly distorted, palm muted chords strum sharply as drums take their place in the foreground of the track, taking in an exceedingly quick, techno-like beat. In another year past, this track could have been brushed off as a mere example of fairly weak punk-rock inspired indie, but not with Bowie’s presence, lending an eerie credence to the song, a slight unease. The track closes on a slightly jarring ultra-modern, almost dance-like bass line, threatening to bubble from the piece’s surface before a cacophony of drums increase in intensity, rising to a palpable sense of claustrophobia before bringing the track to an abrupt end.
As we continue, we come to what is most probably my favourite track on the record. The throwback-like Girl Loves Me. Had this piece been recorded back in the 70’s it could have had the potential to become a true pop-classic, but in 2016 the song sounds like a haunting recollection of former glory, presented with class and grace as Bowie takes age in his stride, taking a more calculated rhythmic approach to his usual vocal style. Throw in a fantastic solo toward the end of the song, and for me, becomes the stand out track amongst an album of great songs.
Reaching the record’s penultimate track, we come to Dollar Days, a piano led piece that arguably contains the most upbeat melodies the album has presented thus far. Given the tragic events recently learnt, the track’s almost prophetic, eerie lyrical content lends a sense of farewell to the song, giving it the sense of a wonderful twist of fate. Softly plucked clean guitars accompany a tired Bowie, backed by beautiful brass sections, creating one of the most special moments the album has to offer.
Closing out the final release of David Bowie’s stellar career is the equally gorgeous I Can’t Give Everything Away, which showcases the best vocal performance of the album amongst an incredibly busy backdrop of chaotic instrumentals. The electronic elements of the album really take the fore here, giving the piece a feeling of a jazz-house improve session. It works impeccably well, and rings the album to an end in style.
And so, with Blackstar ends the career, the spellbinding work of David Bowie, and what a fitting final curtain for the man who brought us Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust. Beautiful in it’s absolute darkness, it’s difficult to comprehend the true scope of the record. The album threatens to become a chore in places, almost dull, but remains a treat throughout, a bleak, gorgeous existence to end the lifetime of a man who gave his everything to music. Thank you, David Bowie. 9/10