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Blackstar Shines Bright

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The cover art for “Lazarus.”

The cover art for “Lazarus.”

Artwork by Scraben

Artwork by Scraben

The cover art for “Lazarus.”

Leave it to David Bowie to have complete artistic control over his own death. Besides being a startling and dramatic send off to his legacy, “Blackstar,” as a work of its own, still holds up strongly amongst the monumental titles of Bowie’s iconic catalogue. Still, there’s certainly a difference in reviewing an album before as opposed to after the death of its creator, and now that we are all living in the posthumous David Bowie world, this excellent record gains nothing but added value as fans unravel the subject matter of Bowie’s final goodbye.

 

Moving all of the added symbological weight of Bowie’s mortality aside; the songcraft, production, and mood of this record returns Bowie to the  stylistically experimental yet honed sound of his great middle career records like “Station to Station.” We find an artist, still profoundly influenced by the early ‘70s German Krautrock movement, creating grooving, moody, and dark tracks; with songs that although exceed the five minute mark, sound concise with little waste.

 

Take the title track “Blackstar,” which is essentially three movements; over ten minutes it transports the listener through the shifting heavy and occult world of Bowie’s inner anguish. It’s fantastic that, here at the end of decades of records, this song contains an iconic quality about it that easily places the song comfortably amongst a playlist of Bowie’s greatest endeavors. And it does this not in a referential nature, but in a transformative way, a quality that is one of Bowie’s most brilliant traits.

 

In “Girl Loves Me,” the biting groove has a very modern and unique quality. It was reported that Bowie was influenced by Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and such influences are most apparent in the way the electronic rhythm of the drums are hard to distinguish between a drum machine and live player. Bowie’s legacy has always been one of an observer and participant in current music and culture, yet although labeled as a chameleon, Bowie’s unique sound is the absolute pivotal center of his art. These transformations that have been the theme of this life’s work, are also the narrative theme of this album.

 

Which brings me to the subject of this record being Bowie’s send off to the world. David Bowie knew he had liver cancer for 18 months, and conceived of this record understanding his time was limited. It is thus filled with metaphors dealing with death and transformation. In “Lazarus,” Bowie proclaims, “look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.”  This song’s music video features a hospital bedridden Bowie writing his farewell epitaph and  finds lyrical solace in the idea of being transformed into a bluebird.

 

In “Blackstar,” transformation takes central symbolism in the lyrics as well, such as: “The day he died…somebody else took his place;” that person being the Blackstar.
As heavy as that symbolism is, this album does not feel as if it is written as a final statement. Lacking grandiose sentimentality, it explores more complex themes, and does seem contrived to make a statement that encompasses a lifetime. Instead it feels much more like a comeback album, and maybe what is most upsetting is that Bowie’s last record is not a frail redrawing back, but rather a new creative burst of energy that could have reaped something like a “Blackstar” trilogy. But like stars, they often do not go out in a slow fade, but rather in a powerful flash of energy.

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