David Bowie - Blackstar (Columbia / RCA / ISO) 2016
Legacy buys you many things. Fame, fortune, stability and a place in many memories for many, many years. If you are an artist – be it musician, actor, poet or painter – Legacy is important. Legacy is key. David Bowie leaves behind a legacy that is huge. Monolithic. Astronomical. And his talent has bought him many things – his fame secured him much. But. What it has never bought or given him is a free pass for his music. He has always been measured by the same yardstick and always been held to the same standard as anyone of his stature and his ability.
So… though the sad events that transpired two days after this album’s release will always lend a certain amount of affection to this album. It would always have had to stand alone on its own merits to gain critical raves, something which – putting Bowies death to one side – I can happily attest to, that it deserves every single positive word written, every single raving word spread from mouth to ear about its brilliance and its lingering, haunting genius.
Blackstar is a revelation of mood, emotion, honesty and musicianship. Its lyrics are a searing peephole into the mind of a man who knew he had little time left, had come completely to peace with his illness, and he poured his all into this incredible album.
From the ten minute odyssey of the title track, that spirals and twists and contorts in fantastical dark ways, from backward synth to muted and phased guitars, through to Bowies bitten, sometimes bordering on screeched vocals to the lynchpin track “Lazarus” which employs a clearer rock sensibility, and is closer to Bowie of old – touching upon the HEATHEN sound, or even that of the Berlin trilogy. It’s my favourite track on the album, among eight songs which could at any time be my favourite.
“Girl Loves Me” is an angry, scattershot across the bough that is one part lyrical fever dream – with Bowie narrating a week through robotic vocal recalling things in muddled and confused manner, forgetting Monday – unable to recall what happened nor where it has gone. It reads like a man struggling with his own mind, unable to agree with himself, unable to trust his own memory. It’s a song of subtle and rousing power. It is, in many ways, the beating heart of the album.
Blackstar concludes with Bowie wagging his finger to the fans – smiling at them coyly, but telling them that – with as much as he has given away on this record, as much as he has confessed, as much as he has allowed them into his mind – he always has the ability to draw the line, close the door and tell them clearly I CAN’T GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY. A subtle, impish finale to an album full of gentle and evocative moments.
If The Next Day was – as I suspect – the record of a man who has found he is unwell, and coming to terms with who he is to himself, to his fans and to his family. Coming to terms with his life and his legacy – and his own past – Blackstar feels like the record of a man who realizes he has everything and nothing to lose. A man at ease with who he is and has always been. A man who knows his own path and mind, and who has decided to roll the dice one last time – knowing the game is fixed – and yet still gets to walk away with the whole pot.
An absolutely stunning and jaw-dropping album. Far and away from the loss of the mastermind behind it, Blackstar is a fitting end – a fitting full stop – to the legend, legacy and career of one of the planets most defining artists. Every bit as good as his most famous work, every bit deserving of being the album that we recall when we remember him.