DAVID BOWIE – ★ (Blackstar) (2016)

Review by: Viudas Tormo
Album assigned by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

‘Blackstar’ is and will forever be one of the most interesting, thrilling and emotional experiences of modern music history. Most of this magnitude does not come directly from the music, though, as the context of the album matters a great deal in this case, but it could serve us for deep reflection about what music really means.

David Bowie twenty-fifth studio album was released on January 8th of 2016 and we all know what happened two days after. Just think for a second about all the reviews that came out on the course of those couple of days. Amidst the searchings for hidden meanings, varying from ISIS, ego and relationship with fame, naive reviewers revealed what time after time proves to be the norm in the art of music: we don’t have a clue about the meaning.

It is the same album, but with Bowie’s sad passing, we discover a little bit more of the motivation behind it. In any case, one of the treats that this release by the ever-changing Bowie leaves us is reminding us why music matters. Because the only true meaning of it is the one that has to you, the emotion it conveys to you, and the thoughts that creates in you. 

As I am giving you my two cents on what this album moves inside me, it is hard to separate the art piece from the artist, and his fate. Once we know that Bowie is dead, we can’t stop knowing it. And when the first dark sounds of ‘Blackstar’, the opening track, start to mingle, shivers start going up and down your spine. David Bowie’s vocals are in here more ethereal than ever. The first half of the song feels like an ascension, biblical as it sounds, and the second one as a reflection on his own role and nature in musical heaven.

Heavy drumming and brass instruments are a key feature of this album, especially the latter, as they are, along the vocals, the main conveyor of the album’s tone and emotional core. This is especially notorious on ‘Lazarus’, where one can feel the saxophone sadness through his tone while Bowie recites the first lines of the song. 

Very similar to the tragic news of the artist, ‘Lazarus’ videoclip can’t be unseen once viewed. It is so compelling, and the story it tells fits so perfectly the music and the album’s background that every time you hear the song you can’t help but see Bowie shaking in bed, crying, writing, laughing madly around his room and this feels as one of the most beautiful tales of death of oneself, fear and acceptance that has been ever put into a song.

That is the emotional peak of the album, just when we barely recovered for the broken sighing of Bowie at the beginning of ‘’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’, an amazing tune where he calls life a bitch and we agree so much with him.

What works in the rest of the album fails to engage in the next couple of tracks ’Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)’, where over almost 5 minutes we are hoping for a departure from the simplistic guitar riff and its no-development. ‘Sue’ was featured in “Nothing Has Changed” deluxe edition two years ago and its arrangement was outstanding, far more interesting. It’s revamped in ‘Blackstar’ and together with ‘Girl Loves Me’ (where the drums, played by LCD-Soundsystem’s James Murphy, and guitar keep driving the wheel) are an overall forgettable effort, even though the second one it’s way richer.

Luckily, this is a brief intermission in the emotional flow of this album. ‘Dollar Days’ brings back the languid instrumentation that works so well all over the album, the touching Bowie’s vocals and it features some ‘pinkfloydian’ breaks and bass lines. Donny McCaslin’s sax is back for our delight.

The album closes with ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, a well-rounded groove where everything works to perfection. A very danceable finale that keeps growing as it plays out and it could last forever.

‘Blackstar’ is black indeed, dark, poisoned with crazy amounts of emotion and feels like those dreams where you are dying: fast and slow, erratic, obscure, sad and beautiful. Those are territories where David Bowie had a lot of room to operate, given the context, and boy he did. He delivered a masterpiece, managing to be relevant after 24 studio albums and almost 50 years. 

I wish we were still pushing through the market square, and we still had five years left of this.

Author: tomymostalas


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