David Bowie Blackstar Columbia Records
Something happened on the day Bowie died. Blackstar, which was released only days before, was relieved of all the confused drama surrounding it. Finally, we could solve Bowie’s enigma machine. For Blackstar is not just ‘a parting gift’ for fans, as longtime co-producer Tony Visconti had disclosed. Blackstar is Bowie reviewing his own existence, auditing his cultural footprint, and falling to his knees in the finality of his own death. It’s a record of maddening scope and invention where every moment feels like the final breath is drawn before closing its eyes forever.
There’s a finite dexterity to Blackstar, one that separates itself from 2013’s wistfully sentimental The Next Day, and resuscitates the jazz-fused electronic breadth of Bowie’s Thin White Duke-era output. Saxophone has been a close companion throughout his canon of work. Here, it squawks and trills almost mockingly against Bowie’s trembling, Scott Walker-invoking warbles. In Tis A Pity She Was A Whore; a title refer- encing John Ford’s 17th century theatrical tragedy on death and incest, modern jazz saxophonist Donny McCaslin corrals a quartet of brass players and aggressively blurts over Bowie. At times, Bowie seemingly plays a victim, giving consent for the instruments to overstep their constrictions. Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) gallops with industrious cymbal snaps while simple guitar work is obscured by sheer electronic noise. Lazarus’s Bohren Und Der Club Of Gore-style dream jazz concentrates on a weepy brass that mopes between Bowie’s withering vocals.
Sonically, Blackstar ignores form. As we are boisterously schlepped between realms, from free-jazz to industrial to progressive rock, Bowie’s lyrics become a thematic arc. Here, we’re not only able to deduce the meaning behind the words but are physically forced to accept the somber reality of them. “Look up here, I’m in Heaven”, “Where the fuck did Monday go?”, “I’m trying to, I’m dying to…”, This is the morbid memorandum of an artist all too aware of his impending fate.
Through his multifarious onstage personas, Bowie had always portrayed a sense of invincibility, so listening to him welcome an infinite dark- ness and silence is overwhelming. When his Ziggy Stardust character bid the Hammersmith crowd farewell in 1972, many thought Bowie had retired from music for good. Four radical decades on, and we remain enamoured by the art he has gifted us with. And this, Blackstar, his ‘parting gift’, is the ghost of Bowie’s past that promises to haunt us for decades to come.