After less than a couple of hours to reflect on the majesty that was David Bowie, to be sat here typing a review. This was Bowie’s final release in his lifetime (by 2 days) Blackstar, and it’s intriguing to note how poignant and deceptively brilliant it is.
What’s even more interesting is how David incorporated his mortality into the work and title and we all didn’t see it coming. There’s some natural lyrics that jump out but the layers can definitely be peeled back even further. The clues were there all along, we just didn’t see them.
Blackstar can be viewed as a star that has gone out, it’s black, it cannot be seen any more, it’s mortality has come to an end. The title track itself has a slight maudlin quality to it, although wrapped up in Jewish/Arabic scale. In the middle of the song there’s even more startling references to a man aware of his impending end, especially as it starts to reminisce with moments sounding a bit similar to Life On Mars. The music video appears to show a dead astronaut, one formally laid to rest?
Lazarus is a crudely ironic track in retrospect. Lazarus is often used to depict a ‘returning’ or ‘restoration’ after death, yet here there’s a cruel mockery with it being the final release in Bowie’s lifetime. The accompanying video shows Bowie predominantly as the ‘button’ character lying on a deathbed. At the end Bowie climbs into the wardrobe and is gone. Harrowing lyrics of ‘scars that can’t be seen’ reveal how we as the public had no knowledge of the cancer that eventually took him. The second verse says ‘Look up here, I’m in danger man, I’ve got nothing left to lose…’ It’s interesting to think of both being in danger and yet completely free from it all. The music is even more final with the end guitar phrase chugging away like a bell toll chiming, the music stoic.
Aside from the morose moments, there are frantic pieces with Sue (Or a Season in Crime) and Tis a Pity She Was a Whore. The frantic drum and bass rhythms of Sue, hark back to some of Bowie’s 90s work and even harks to Aphex Twins Druqs and Squarepusher. The jazz elements work well with the hard rock guitar, schizophrenic sax panning wildly. There’s something slightly laid back in the mixing, everything kind of feels slack and open.
Girl Love Me would also make a great single. It’s heavy hitting, it’s odd vocal lyrics using Nadsat and other languages gleam with a weird out of phase sound. There’s more Arabic sounding elements, with delayed vocal lines, muted guitars and plucked synths hidden against the hollow bass.
Dollar Days is the sound of a Ziggy era track if made today. The acoustic guitars are rhythm to the pads, strings and pianos that lie in the foreground. A tender vocal performance in his upper register, a slightly pastoral track in some ways. It fades away into the final track I Can’t Give Everything Away. The electronic drum sound, harmonica, string chords, all underpin a false sense of security. This song was deliberately chosen as the final song on what he thought would be his final album. With lines like ‘This is all I ever meant…’ reflect a man who has always thought deeply about his music and art, daring, expressing, and being.
A duke tilts his head and bows, his final curtain call.