Thursday, January 07, 2016
Album Review :: David Bowie - Blackstar
January 8 2016 (RCA)
Words: Alison Mack
As far as birthdays go there are not many who can celebrate with the release of an album, and a 26th one to boot. As David Bowie hits the age of 69 he is releasing a work as experimental and eccentric as anything he has ever produced, taking in elements of rock, hip hop, folk-pop and abstract jazz.
His first release since he returned after the long absence in 2013 with ‘The Next Day’, and produced with longtime collaborator Tony Visconti and a small contingent of New York jazz musicians, including sax player Donny McCaslin, is 42 minutes of just seven songs, which take in a changed version of the jazz-infused 'Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)' - which first appeared as a bonus track on Bowie's 2014 'best of' compilation 'Nothing Has Changed' - and ''Tis a Pity She Was A Whore', both filled with the avant-garde, from the funk-infusion of the former upon which LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy plays percussion, to the 70s-styled soul/drum ’n’ bass improvisation of the latter.
The ten-minute long title track (possibly about ISIS, or possibly not about ISIS. Although McCaslin told Rolling Stone that Bowie had said that was what the song was about, it has since been disputed) is deep, dark and epic with McCaslin's sax adding a chill to the eeriness of vocal harmonies snd impressively statuesque synths: "Something happened on the day he died/ Spirit rose a meter, then stepped aside/ Somebody else took his place and bravely cried: I'm a blackstar."
The down-tempo, anthemic 'Lazarus', with standout bass and the ever-present sax hooks, sees Bowie take on the perspective of Newton, the homesick alien character he portrayed in ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’. 'Dollar Days' is largely piano and strummed acoustic guitar, with a hint of languid sax, as he sings: “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to/it’s nothing to me, it’s nothing to see,"; while ‘Girl Loves Me’ is a broodingly militaristic tattoo that that has Bowie rapping, “Where the fuck did Monday go?”
'I Can’t Give Everything Away' with its strains of floating sax and an electric guitar break, closes the album that shows David Bowie gas lost none of his flair for reinvention - and still not giving everything away.