A review of Bowie’s final album; tribute to the late artist’s legendary career
The influence of David Bowie can be matched by very few. The iconic English songwriter has released 27 albums over his four decade career including timeless classics such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Hunky Dory, Station to Station, Low and Young Americans. With his first top-5 hit in the UK, “Space Oddity,” Bowie introduced the music industry to his eccentric charm, his daring persona and his innovative songwriting. On Jan. 10, 2016, Bowie lost his battle with cancer, leaving the music world in a state of shock and mourning over the loss of one its most treasured sons.
Two days before his death, Bowie released his final studio album, Blackstar, through his own ISO Records label. This follows his surprise return to form in 2013 with The Next Day, a fantastic record that thrust him out of his state of irrelevancy with self-reflective themes.
David Bowie is no stranger to experimentation in his sound, utilizing aspects of krautrock, a German form of rock and electronic music, into some of his work in the 1970s. However, Blackstar shows Bowie tapping even deeper into the fringes of his creative mind.
The title track starts the record off with an unsettling, 10-minute combination of jazz, dark acid-house and blues. Nihilistic proclamations are carried through Bowie’s sinister, strained and ghostly voice.
Bowie’s tragic death adds a deeper context to these tracks and the overall narrative being told. “Look up here, man, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen,” Bowie eerily informs his listeners on the third track “Lazarus.” Death is a common theme to be explored by artists in any medium, but very rarely do we see one facing the topic so closely.
Bowie was literally narrating death as it rapidly approached him. The very human element to this record is harrowing.
“Girl Loves Me” is the closest thing to a straight-forward rock tune on this album. The dissonant, jarring guitar riff floats over this track’s simple, minimalistic song structure. Lyrically, he utilizes elements of Nadsat, a dialect used by the main characters of Anthony Burgess’ highly acclaimed novel A Clockwork Orange. Bowie further explores the themes of time and death, unfortunately foreshadowing events in his own life.
Bowie ends Blackstar with the meditative and hazy “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” On this emotional conclusion, Bowie delivers a passionate vocal performance accompanied by a beautiful saxophone melody and a distant guitar solo. David Bowie is troubled, distressed and mentally occupied with his seeming loss of sanity. Blackstar is a frightening yet beautiful work. Bowie is cynical at times as he reflects on his legacy and role in society. An artist in every sense of the word, David Bowie painted his current state of mind through his music and gave it to us in the most transparent way possible. Blackstar is the perfect swan song to capstone what is the legend of David Bowie. It is not common for such an important musician’s career to end so perfectly.
So thank you David Bowie. Thank you for your timeless songs that spoke to the independent soul within all of us. You made it not only ok to be an outcast, but you made it something to glamorize.
Major Tom, your mission has come to fulfillment. The stars really do look very different today.