Artist: David Bowie
Release Date: 01/08/2016
At 69 years old, and with over 20 previous studio albums to his credit, one would think that at this stage of his life David Bowie has little left to prove. That’s true. And it’s also why, on the cusp of becoming a septuagenarian, the former Thin White Duke is free to follow his artistic muse down any road it takes him.
Such freedom resulted in the surprise release of his album The Next Day in 2013. And it’s a big factor behind the release of his latest record Blackstar.
Featuring a total of seven songs, including two previously released tracks that were re-recorded for the album, this new disc from Bowie is a challenging listen. The opening title track stretches out to an epic length of nearly 10 minutes, and sounds at times like an eerie collection of voices calling out from a crypt, before transitioning to a free-flowing soundscape that shows off Bowie’s chameleon-like vocal stylings.
The album’s latest single, “Lazarus,” resembles a meditation on mortality. Saxophonist Donny McCaslin accents the song’s slow build with restrained cool, while blasts of guitar distortion respond to Bowie’s lyrics about being “like a bluebird.” The song’s wordless final minutes are like a slow dissolve at the end of a film, the mix becoming sparser until all sound fades completely out.
Noise returns to the forefront on the record’s remaining tracks. Chaotic drums, electronic textures and angular rhythms shape the proceedings to create a constant unsettled feeling. Even when Bowie sings lines like “girl loves me” or “I’ve got no enemies,” the end result is one of foreboding and dread.
If there’s any light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that an artist of Bowie’s stature appears so restless throughout Blackstar’s running time. His urge to create and experiment is evident, yet he’s clearly ready to defend his right to produce his art by his own schedule.
“I can’t give everything away,” he explains on the album’s closing number. But whenever Bowie does decide to share his work with the world, an audience will always be waiting.
– Michael Cimaomo