One of the first albums of 2016 was David Bowies ‘Black Star’ released January 8th 2016
It’s equally surprising and rewarding to find that David Bowie’s 25th studio album in 49 years is of such finesse and cutting edge.
Even though his passing seemed inevitable, there are no signs of letting up on this parting record, conceding to mediocrity or touching on former glories in order to remind you once more of his greatness.
The man who fell to earth has already achieved all of that and now, returning to whence he came, he leaves us with an oddity as wondrous as the records he first touched us with in the 60s.
If previous LP, The Next Day was a melancholic reminiscence of what once was, then Blackstar is a Tarkovsky-styled, peer into the future, built around jazz and haunting morbid-pagan narratives.
The album’s sound is led by jazz quartet saxophonist Donny McCaslin, whose moving oeuvres form a sacrosanct, painful backing to Bowie’s poetic dissonance.
It’s the work of Mark Guiliana –the quartet’s drummer- that builds the album’s epic arches and points of tension. ‘Sue (or in a season of crime)’ is reminiscent of Bowie’s previous collaboration with Goldie on ‘Mother’ (and to some extent Earthling, but we don’t need to talk about that,) and the resulting product is a finely molded and well-executed jazz opus. The musical dialogue between Bowie, McCaslin and Guiliana creates moving patterns and dark shadows of dynamic percussions, with heavy reverbs and poly-rhythmic beats. It’s hard to think of anyone else exacting this kind of style, especially someone with Bowie’s cult status.
These aren’t Bowie’s first forays into jazz. His first instrument was the alto-sax, and Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane were both peppered with sax solos to some degree. Bowie’s half brother, Terry Burns introduced him to the likes of John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. After Burns’ unfortunate suicide, Bowie went on to pay homage with the 1993 record , ‘Jump, they say,’ which featured avant-jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie.
Lead track ‘Blackstar’ is a hard single to pin-down, riddled with references to ‘solitary candles’ and ‘executions’ with other erstwhile pointers to his career-to-date, all in Bowie’s trademark out-of-body character motifs; ‘I’m not a movie star, I’m a blackstar.’ It’s oddly reminiscent of earlier track ‘Station to Station’ in terms of its progression, breakdown and switch in narrative; a trademark that has become instinctively Bowie.
Throughout the record, Bowie plays heavily on his terminality. Final track, ‘I can’t give everything away’ starts off with the line, ‘I knew something was very wrong’ – a song that eventually leads to the Starman crooning the track’s title. It’s alright David, you’ve given enough. Yet, to hear Blackstar drown out to these final utterings, it’s hard not to feel hollow and sad knowing that there really is nothing left to give.
And then there’s the sad parable of ‘Lazarus,’ who won’t be returning from the dead this time. There are contexts and subtexts lying beneath this track’s rumbling echoes. As he talks about death, and all that precedes it in just a few delicate proses, Bowie alludes to this new sense of freedom, that one can only find at the bitter end. ‘Just like that bluebird, oh I’ll be free,’ with a jest and a smile, ‘ain’t that just like me.’ Cutting, even in passing.
Buy Black Star on 12″ Vinyl here
David Bowie was born in South London’s Brixton neighborhood on January 8, 1947. His first hit was the song “Space Oddity” in 1969. The original pop chameleon, Bowie became a fantastical sci-fi character for his breakout Ziggy Stardust album. He later co-wrote “Fame” with Carlos Alomar and John Lennon which became his first American No. 1 single in 1975. An accomplished actor, Bowie starred in The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1976. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Bowie died on January 10, 2016, from cancer at the age of 69.
Known as a musical chameleon for his ever-changing appearance and sound, David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, South London, England, on January 8, 1947.
David showed an interest in music from an early age and began playing the saxophone at age 13. He was greatly influenced by his half-brother Terry, who was nine years older and exposed young David to the worlds of rock music and beat literature.
By early 1969, Bowie had returned full time to music. He signed a deal with Mercury Records and that summer released the single “Space Oddity.” Bowie later said the song came to him after seeing Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “I went stoned out of my mind to see the movie and it really freaked me out, especially the trip passage.”
The song quickly resonated with the public, sparked in large part by the BBC’s use of the single during its coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The song enjoyed later success in the United States, when it was released in 1972 and climbed to number 15 on the charts.
Bowie’s next album, The Man Who Sold the World (1970), further catapulted him to stardom. The record offered up a heavier rock sound than anything Bowie had done before and included the song “All the Madmen,” about his institutionalized brother, Terry. His next work, 1971’s Hunky Dory, featured two hits: the title track that was a tribute to Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan; and “Changes,” which came to embody Bowie himself.
Meet Ziggy Stardust
As Bowie’s celebrity profile increased, so did his desire to keep fans and critics guessing. He claimed he was gay and then introduced the pop world to Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s imagining of a doomed rock star, and his backing group, The Spiders from Mars.
His 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, made him a superstar. Dressed in wild costumes that spoke of some kind of wild future, Bowie, portraying Stardust himself, signaled a new age in rock music, one that seemed to officially announce the end of the 1960s and the Woodstock era.
But just as quickly as Bowie transformed himself into Stardust, he changed again. He leveraged his celebrity and produced albums for Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. In 1973, he disbanded the Spiders and shelved his Stardust persona. Bowie continued on in a similar glam rock style with the album Aladdin Sane (1973), which featured “The Jean Genie” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” his collaboration with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
Around this time he showed his affection for his early days in the English mod scene and released Pin Ups, an album filled with cover songs originally recorded by a host of popular bands, including Pretty Things and Pink Floyd.
By the mid 1970s Bowie had undergone a full-scale makeover. Gone were the outrageous costumes and garish sets. In two short years he released the albums David Live (1974) and Young Americans (1975). The latter album featured backing vocals by a young Luther Vandross and included the song “Fame,” co-written with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar, which became Bowie’s first American number one single.
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Rest in Peace: David Bowie.
The music icon died on January 10, 2016, two days after his 69th birthday. A post on his Facebook page read: “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer.”
He was survived by his wife Iman, his son Duncan Jones and daughter Alexandria, and his step-daughter Zulekha Haywood. Bowie also left behind an impressive musical legacy, which included 26 albums. His producer and friend Tony Visconti wrote on Facebook that his last record, Blackstar, was “his parting gift.”
Friends and fans were heartbroken at his passing. Iggy Pop wrote on Twitter that “David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person.” The Rolling Stones remembered him on Twitter as “a wonderful and kind man” and “a true original.” And even those who didn’t know personally felt the impact of his work. Kanye West tweeted, “David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations.” Madonna posted “This great Artist changed my life!”