Music Review: Blackstar/David Bowie (Released January 8, 2016)

Five Stars out of Five

by Gargs Allard

Unknown to us all except to David Bowie himself and probably his inner-most circle, his new album Blackstar, released three days ago on January 8, would be his goodbye epitaph.

Bowie, who was battling cancer for the last 18 months, kept his earthly struggles in the vault so well that even the release of his new album three days before his death, chalk full of hints and allusions to his physical demise, didn’t make first listeners think he was preparing to make his exit.

Although, hindsight is reportedly 20-20, one has to wonder what the hell they thought they were listening to. But, then again, David Bowie always liked to keep people guessing.

Because in Black Star, Bowie faces death with a long stare into it’s morbid eyes before declaring in the opening title track, “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, I’m a blackstar);” and “How many times does an angel fall?/How many people lie instead of talking tall?/He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd/(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangster).”

The song is epic Bowie, almost 10 minutes long and worth every second of its place in space.

One remarkable thing about the album is that even though Bowie is dying and at the age 69, the often heavily-layered and sometimes sparse music sounds so cutting edge, with its crazy-jazzy rock ‘n’ roll, that it sounds like it was played by a band of Wrecking Crew ghosts on LSD and today’s most potent weed.

Sometimes Bowie’s voice sounds like a human stopping off at some ghostly realm to converse about the weather on earth before ascending to the heavens to become a god again; other times he sounds very human – one of the wealthiest men on earth whose money couldn’t save him, coming to grips with his own inevitable mortality.

The way the vocals are placed upon the jumpin’ jazz rock of “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” is vintage Bowie and ahead of even 2016 at the same time. The maddening pace and horns to lyrics such as “Black struck the kiss, she kept my cock/ Smote the mistress, drifting on/ ‘Tis a pity she was a whore/ She stole my purse, with rattling speed/ That was patrol/ This is the war/ ‘Tis a pity she was a whore,” twists and challenges the brain in a way that only David Bowie could while revisiting the height of his powers.

“Lazarus” is a prog-jazz-rock number that is as creepy as the Millennial Generation makes the word “creepy” sound and then some. At the same time, it is a song of liberation from the suffering of the physical coil, starting out with the lyrics, “Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen,” and “I’m so high it makes my brain whirl/Dropped my cell phone down below/ Ain’t that just like me?”

The last song on the album, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” appears to be about a profound realization that from the day we are born until our last days, we can never give our loved ones our full self and belongings completely no matter how hard we try. That can be frustrating for someone who wants to express their love in the deepest possible way.

In some of the songs, like “Dollar Days,” Bowie’s singing is absolutely beautiful, tinged with hair-standing goodbyes to earth and opening up to his future realm of existence, which his hope for is clearly evident in his longing voice. In “Dollar Days” he repeats, “I’m dying to…, I’m trying to…”

Enough to make a grown man cry.

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