David Bowie- Blackstar
David Bowie was an artist. You look at his ability to change musical styles, personas and guise with every record and you barely scratched the surface of his artistic talent. I myself had never really got into his wide canon of music until quite recently, with his tragic, untimely passing. From great songs like ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’, the Starman really has always been able to stand out in the pop artist canon because he always has been so unique. Can you actually think of any other artist today, or from decades gone by, who is like David Bowie?
Many musicians and artists often experience surges in creativity from life experiences (whether they be good or bad), often leading to the creation of some of their best works that resonate most with listeners. Look at Adele’s 21. Or Bob Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks. Or most of The Beatles canon. Music is often reflected on where the artist is in that point in time, and David Bowie is no exception to this (such as with his “Berlin Trilogy” of albums he recorded that focused on minimalist, ambient musical styles). In retrospect, since its release Blackstar has rocked the core of many listeners, because of what it explores: the threshold of death. This ‘parting gift’ that Bowie has released is one of the most intense musical experiences I have ever had, especially with the hindsight knowledge of Bowie’s long battle with liver cancer. That puts this album into a completely unique context.
Musically, Bowie provides plenty of strong pop percussion and electronic beats, however also infuses the music with plenty of guitar, bass and piano, as well as harmonicas, woodwind instruments and string sections. This gives the music an organised, yet organic feel; and offers experimental deviation from Bowie’s tried-and-tested pop formula. This album does not push a commercial sound, but instead is eerie and haunting.
However, the real punch of Blackstar comes from its multi-faceted, brutally honest lyrics. The entire album shines with great songs, but to name a few highlights are the ten-minute title track ‘Blackstar’, the haunting ballad ‘Lazarus’, where Bowie describes himself as having scars that cannot be seen, being “free and up in heaven”, the psychedelic and occasionally vulgar ‘Dollar Days’ with its haunting “I’m dying too” chorus, and the closer ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ that feels like a tearful, final goodbye. This album feels like David Bowie is sending a message from heaven itself, and within the seven tracks on this album, he becomes Lazarus and is alive again.
It would be an artist like Bowie, who has made his life about music, to make his death a musical art project. This album reflects how much he appreciated life, and also how he must come to grips with his own mortality. This is something we all as human beings can relate to, whether it be in losing loved ones in our lives, or by the fact that one day we all ourselves will go the same way. With that in mind, Blackstar is more than just about the music, and it would have been even if Bowie had lived. In the end, what it achieves is something only an artist like Bowie could do. His star may have finally gone black, but his ‘parting gift’ will shine on for many years to come.
Rest in peace, Starman.
David Bowie- 'Blackstar'
David Bowie- 'Lazarus'