CD REVIEW: DAVID BOWIE – Blackstar
8 January, 2016
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
In hindsight, David Bowie’s 25th and final studio album is more than a piece of art incorporating his death, it’s his own, self-written epitaph.
Recorded quietly with producer and long-time collaborator Tony Visconti and featuring Donny McCaslin and a ban of New York jazz cats, it’s an astonishing piece of work, doubly so given what we now know about its creation.
Whilst engaged in an eighteen-month battle against cancer, Bowie – who suffered no less than six heart attacks in the past few years, and had largely withdrawn from public life – threw himself into his work for his final masterpiece.
After a career of shape-shifting innovation and faced with the end of his days, he had time for one last reinvention, and Blackstar is a prog-jazz ops of the kind you’d never normally hear in the charts.
It’s impossible to gauge whether Blackstar would have sold as many copies and been so popular had Bowie not died a mere three days after its release on his 69th birthday – one has to assume not, especially in light of the album selling out at many physical retailers whilst Sony scrambled to press more copies. Many of his older titles started selling again too. Commercially, as with many others, death agreed with Bowie: we never appreciate what we have until it’s gone.
What is most important – and surprising, considering how ill he was when writing and making it – Blackstar is a stunning work, full of sublime melodies that insidiously overtake the listener, much as Bowie’s cancer overtook his own body.
Lyrically as opaque as always, references to illness and death abound. Second single Lazarus – with its chilling video, too raw for some fans to watch even now – opens with the line, “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” before insisting, “oh, I’ll be free, just like that bluebird, oh I’ll be free.” Closing track I Can’t Give Everything Away acts as a final wry, darkly cheeky quip from rock and pop’s ultimate chameleon: “I know something’s very wrong… seeing more and feeling less, saying no and meaning yes.” We were never meant to understand the meaning of every lyric.
Bowie remains the master of character-driven pop rock songs, an actor singing a part, but on Blackstar the part he’s playing seems to finally be the real him: David Robert Jones, reflecting not so much on a stellar career, but on his impending death itself. As usual, the man who was once Ziggy Stardust with “screwed up eyes and screw down hairdo,” was ahead of his time, even when considering his own passing.
May he Rest In Peace.
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