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Review: Blackstar – David Bowie

A natural-born innovator, David Bowie always found a way to blur the lines between life and art. Unsurprisingly, yet impressively, it seems his death has taken the same route, Max Beckett reviews Blackstar…

British pop singer David Bowie in concert at Earl’s Court, London during his 1978 world tour. from- Evening Standard

Blackstar is more than just an album. As artistically proficient as Bowie has ever been, he has gifted us a 41-minute farewell to the world, but in no way do we ever notice a flicker of sadness on the LP. This album is one giant middle finger in the face of cancer, and Bowie’s head stays high throughout.

from standard

Blackstar kicks off with the brooding, progressive, borderline satanic title track of the same name. Ten minutes long and accompanied by a horror film of a music video, the first single definitely set the tone of the LP when it was released back in November. We’re treated to demonic vocals reminiscent of Swans’ To Be Kind and moody brass instrumentation similar to Radiohead’s Kid A. With this, there are ambiguous metaphors (“The Villa of Ormen” near-enough translating to “The Lover of Iman”, his widow) and a surprising change of pace halfway through. Suddenly, as Bowie exclaims “something happened on the day he died”, he effortlessly snaps us straight back to the early/mid ‘70s, with a refrain that could have been plucked straight out of Hunky Dory. It’s not only a poignant moment so early on, but it instantly makes you reflect on the incredible life this man led.

bowie blackstar from vice

“Look up here, I’m in heaven”, Bowie almost-smugly opens with in the album’s second single Lazarus. Sixty-eight and riddled with sickness at the time, it’s clear his voice is in its dying embers, but it still conveys heavy flickers of his typical Bowie personality. He’s able to emulate this persona in ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore and Dollar Days, and for the most part maintains this constantly through the album which, accompanied by some excellent groovy, jazzy experimental rock, makes for a very satisfying listen, regardless of the emotional context that surrounds it.

Musically, Bowie evolved consistently in a career that spanned half a century, and Blackstar is no different. It may not be his most accessible, but it is no less groundbreaking than his most prolific work, and the fact that he worked his own death into its story makes it all the more impressive.

Blackstar was released on 8th January 2016 under The Magic Shop and Human Worldwide Studios, and is available on iTunes, and in all stores worldwide.

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