Tuesday, February 2, 2016

CD REVIEW - David Bowie's Blackstar

David Bowie goes out on a high note with final opus BLACKSTAR.

It's difficult to describe the feeling of losing as an iconic rockstar the size of David Bowie. A real once in a lifetime artist who transcended music, fashion and pop culture. The man who reinvented himself time and again. The spaceman who created characters and worlds none of us would even think of until he came up with them. How do you sum up a career like that and what's been left behind? I guess, Blackstar.

   Blackstar is the final Bowie album. It's performed and written in an almost hallucinogenic state of being. Death plays the protagonist on this album. Bowie understood how short his time was on this planet and the importance of leaving behind something important for future generations. For older fans of his more popular sound this will probably be an introduction into the more free form and avante garde style he worked on in his later years.

  It is rare that an artist has the awareness or the strength to go toe to toe with his or her mortality. This is a complete album back to front. "Blackstar" begins eerily modern sounding. The off timed percussion and rhythm are uneasy. Bowie's own vocals sound ancient almost on the verge of coming from some type of ghost box. The song eventually transitions into subtle moments of 80's chic bowie. Even in his most difficult moments he still cut a fine "Thin White Duke' stance. Track two, "Lazarus", is a beautifully hip tune that is both somber and driving. The lyrics feel like hand written notes. The classic Bowie vocal strain is touched by age and wear. In it's desperation it sounds like echoes from the heavens and is absolutely what sold me on this album.

  "Tis is a Pity She Was a Whore" is a sexy jazz dance number. I could almost imagine this being played at a night club in limbo. Bowie strains at points to get out the vocals and thanks to a comment I read on youtube, if you listen early into the opening of the track you can hear him taking in deep preparatory breaths. Given that Bowie was many times too weak to make rehearsals for the album, it just goes to show that there were few opportunities to do more than one take. "Sue (or in a season of crime)" as it appears on Blackstar is an alternate version of the same track that originally appeared on a compilation Nothing Has Changed. It showcases the amazing talent of the band he handpicked for this album. Mark Guiliana's frenetic work on drums deserves high praise.

  "Girl loves me" is a strong tune. My favorite lyrics "where the fuck did Monday go" pops up like a mantra. You can almost imagine how quickly the last 18 months of the artists life passed by and this is almost like a subliminal reminder to the listener to make every moment count. It's a much less straightforward tune that still packs a great wallop.

  "Dollar Days" is amalgam of repose and static thoughts. The artist realizes the importance of things he has to do without in order to get the most out of each moment that is left. He is dying and hoping to reverse fate but at the same time realizes how short time really is. The album ends on the track "I can't give everything away". It begins literally with the lyrics "I know somethings wrong" and is probably the easiest track to decipher. Bowie literally spent his dying moments trying to complete his life's work. Friends accounts even say that he may have miscalculated how much time he had at the end. Bowie wished to complete another finished album before his death. He fought to leave everything on the table and given that there may be a final five tracks in some state of completion for the future, I think he succeeded.

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