A little over a year the world lost a musician who had an unarguably massive effect on popular culture in the last third of the 20th century, David Robert Jones, far better known as David Bowie. Two days before his death, on his 69th birthday, he released his 25th full length album, Blackstar.
Following comparatively hot on the heels of the far poppier The Next Day (released three years previously following a hiatus of a decade) even a year later its hard to escape the sense of farewell and eulogy that runs through Blackstar.
I’ll freely admit that my favourite Bowie period is his far more accessible early 1970s material when he morphed from the dress wearing ‘hippie’ of Hunky Dory into the hyper sexualised alien glam rock god Ziggy Stardust, though other moments throughout his long career have also stood out and if I’m honest even then his work could be exploratory, experimental and against the grain of majority of pop.
Blackstar then is something of a shift of tone as it weaves it way through a dark and rhythmic set of art heavy pop-rock containing hints of jazz and industrial along with surprisingly danceable rhythms and a strong electronic side in the arrangement and production (on which Bowie worked with long time collaborator Tony Visconti).
The title track of the album kicks things off in the style of an epic sci-fi funeral ritual that, over its length, segues into a kind of eulogy then a mortal self-justification and this sets the tone for the album as a whole.
Tis Pity She’s A Whore shows Bowie’s sense of sexuality hasn’t vanished but has changed and his sense of vaudevillian archness that marked his early work (and arguably his whole career) remains strongly intact before Lazarus brings back the autobiographical and prophetic feel.
For me the album’s most enjoyable track comes with the wilful nonsense and linguistic overtones of A Clockwork Orange on Girl Loves Me.
We then get a closing duo that feels like its referencing the past with Dollar Days’ acoustic guitars and saxophones going back to that 70s populist heyday before I Can’t Give Everything Away closes the surprisingly brief record on something of an intentionally incomplete note as it slips away into silence.
As a whole Blackstar is not an album that will be blasting from speakers on a regular basis like Bowie’s more pop oriented material but it is regardless an impressive work of art that I got the feeling was formed exactly as Bowie intended.
All of this, combined with the aforementioned knowledge that Bowie knew this would be his final record, gives Blackstar an odd atmosphere. This combined with a hypnotic quality makes it linger in the back of the mind rather than stand boldly at the forefront, but I can’t help but feel this was exactly the point as like Bowie himself I get the feeling this will never leave my consciousness.