Bowie bows out in style

The new album by DAVID BOWIE: BLACKSTAR.
The new album by DAVID BOWIE: BLACKSTAR.


As news of David Bowie’s passing spread, radio stations everywhere blasted classics such as Starman and Space Oddity in tribute. In terms of his entire career however, these were merely fleeting moments.

He constantly evolved and challenged audiences with mixed results, yet always did what his heart desired. Blackstar, Bowie’s last, may be the perfect example of this.

Considering his 25th album is the first to not feature his image on the sleeve, it’s not surprising how oblique and complex it is. The comparatively straight, krautrock sound from 2013’s The Next Day has mutated and melded with funk, jazz and electronics.

However, much of the intricate sound on Blackstar should be credited to the band, whose expertise perfectly complements Bowie’s creativity.

Hand-picked for their jazz background, and including saxophonist Donny McCaslin, they keep Bowie in check while avoiding any rock cliches. The title track is a 10-minute sprawl of escalating tension, beginning with an unsettling off-beat percussion that eventually gives way to an emotive ballad with Bowie declaring: “I’m not a pop star, I’m not a film star, I’m a blackstar”.

Elsewhere the melancholic Lazarus is a haze of swirling saxophone, with short bursts of fuzz guitar and the poignant opening lyric: “Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars, that can’t be seen”, which has now taken on new meaning as a sort of farewell.

Despite the expansive beginning, the concluding three tracks are back on familiar ground, with the climactic I Can’t Give Everything Away featuring the album’s only real guitar solo, but it ultimately lacks the punch of the first half.

Blackstar stands alongside the Berlin trilogy as an enigmatic and fascinating release, yet bravely omits any killer (and arguably safe) singles.

Instead, we’re left with a rich and organic listening experience, best heard in a single sitting. While it may be tempting to trawl lyrics for clues that Blackstar was a parting gift, it’s far more reassuring to finally hear Bowie at his most comfortable.