David Bowie - Blackstar (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

David Bowie

Blackstar (2016)


It's strange to write a review for a new Bowie album knowing there will be no new one after this. But then it's a record that gains much more significance once you understand it's his eulogy, one he gave to himself. Appropriate for a man who so othered himself and his personality that his own concept album is essentially about being David Bowie. Johnny Cash's eulogy video was one of the closed down Johnny Cash Museum and his own regret and pain. "Lazarus," the bleak, gorgeous music video released only three days ago, features Bowie as both a monster coming out a closet and an old bed-ridden patient, frail and dying. Is that how he saw himself, as man and demon?

Blackstar is an album that gains massive power once you know that Bowie was dying of cancer as he made it, apparently aware it was his last hurrah. But what makes it so good is that it's a "last statement" but also Bowie's own damn statement. Thus the opening title song is a ten minute jazz-hip hop masterpiece of creepy occult-ish lyrics, skittering, stomping beats, and halfway through a segue into sunny/menacing synth-funk with Bowie threatening to take "your passport and shoes, and your sedatives boo/I'm a blackstar." It's as sonically off as anything on Station to Station and utterly arresting.

Not that the rest of the album shrinks either. Recorded by a New York jazz quartet, the entire record sounds superb and oddly intimate, like the deeply aggressive "Tis Pity She Is A Whore," the sax ducking and diving with pounding drums. It's naturally the jazziest of Bowie albums but even then it has more in common with Ornette Coleman or even Bowie's old inspiration the Velvet Underground than Lester Young. If anything the Kendrick Lamar references Visconti made were accurate -- Blackstar aspires to that kind of soulful beauty even if it wants to make you shudder as well. The last songs "Dollar Days" and "I Can't Give Everything Away" are a beautiful one-two punch. "If I never see the English evergreens I'm running to, it's nothing to me," Bowie sings with the earnestness he brought to "Five Years," another song survey where it only becomes clear near the end how much he cares about everything that will be wiped away.

I have to put Bowie in the past tense now, as we all will have to. It's hard to do. He was unparalleled, as this album proves, an alien still trying to make contact in his own strange and honest way.

Notes: The Lori Maddox story has been flying around a lot today on social media. I wish it wasn't true, and I wanted to acknowledge it here. The only thing I can say is that she didn't consider it assault, but that's no excuse for him or Angie Bowie. It was a fucked up thing to do and it's a quiet reminder that there are stories that we don't want to hear and have to. At the least we can still remember his incredible music and the man he was to his family and the fans who loved him.