David Bowie was an artist to the very end. Since the musician passed away just days after its release, so much has been said and written about Blackstar, the final parting gift from the pioneering figure, that it seems improbable to say anything that hasn’t already been said. I have labelled this a “review”, but really this is an encouragement for you to listen to Blackstar if you haven’t already.
Blackstar is melancholy and haunting, yet experimental and mesmeric at the same time. Bowie has been inverting pop and rock music for decades, using unusual sounds, enlisting help from first-rate musicians and producers such as Brian Eno and Nile Rodgers, and being a receptive deviant of all things artistic.
The title track alone is a genre-spanning, avant-garde masterpiece, opening the album with omission horns and rhythmic zaps reminiscent of an 80s arcade machine, before transforming into a guitar-backed harmony with Bowie painting vivid pictures with his words, just as he has on ‘Life on Mars’ and so many more: “Something happened on the day he died / Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside / Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried / (I’m a blackstar)”.
The weight of Bowie’s death hangs over much of the album. But it is not all doom and gloom. As with 2013’s The Next Day, Bowie does plenty of self-reflecting (‘Girl Loves Me’, ‘Dollar Days’) and even sums up the digital desensitisation (“seeing more and feeling less”) the world is experiencing on rousing closing track ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’. It’s tough to say how you’ll come out of Blackstar feeling. It might be delight at the sheer musicality and emotion on show. Or it could be despair at the cold truth to some of Bowie’s words. Whatever the result, Blackstar is nothing if not impactful.
Bowie’s last studio album will be remembered as the final, spectacular work of art that it is. It’s vivid, mesmeric and extraordinary. The Starman touched down one last time to share his story and, between the music and his execution, it is something that nobody will ever forget.
Blackstar is out now on RCA/Columbia Records.
Have you listened to this album? If so, what did you think of it? Tweet me @aarnlee.
Image: Jimmy King/PR