In 1976 David Bowie released ‘Station To Station’, an album of similar length and track number to ‘Blackstar’, keeping up his genius Seventies streak of a classic album per year. What’s more, in its ten-minute title track STS stormed its Teutonic wonders across Europe and America. It was both of and ahead of its time in rhythm and delivery, every one of its six tracks brilliantly reflecting the spiritual chaos and search of its creator.
Since his marriage to Iman in 1990 Bowie’s albums have been more sporadic, the work rate more befitting of a man who doesn’t have to try so hard anymore either by contract or desire. Less scorched-earth policy than in his insistent youth, he also cherry picks elements that he sees as working from his canon, and utilises them in the next set. Thus his abiding love of drum and bass is sprinkled lightly over Blackstar, but as a natural result of the anxious contents rather than a need to seem relevant (as his 1997 album ‘Earthling’ was deemed by many).
Most critics have pointed to Blackstar being a challenging, avant-garde album; I’d say it’s less strange than the times in which it was made. This time he’s had his twentieth century ruminations fleshed out by a ready-made ensemble, a jazz troupe from New York’s club land. Musically this has made things even more complete and nuanced than 2013’s The Next Day, which was more of a conventionally powerful nu-rock set.
The title track is a slow-burning juggernaut, a splicing of two songs according to secret weapon producer of years Tony Visconti. Its oblique references to Daesh, the Black Lives Matter campaign and bling culture in general reflect Bowie’s long-time fascination with black America, with its accompanying video sitting fabulously alongside the previous album’s The Next Day in the shock-and-awe factor.
Named from the Broadway musical Bowie recently contributed the #Music to, ‘Lazarus’ is a more self-reflective piece, echoing prime The Cure in sound, with Bowie asking the listener whether it’s he or the titular character he’s referring to in the first person. ‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore’ and ‘Sue (In A Season Of Crime)' see the band in jarring free flow, with the former being possibly the most uncompromisingly dense piece of music Bowie’s ever released. Bowie goes Vaporwave, minus the Japanese adverts and elevator music.
‘Dollar Days’ corresponds to a 2.0 image of the expat sitting in his dressing gown and slippers in his SoHo apartment, checking his Bowie Bonds over a cup of herbal tea while reminiscing over a lost English past, and is probably the most accessible thing on display. ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ is almost apologetic in its warm d’n’b, asking for our understanding of his silent enigma in a connected world flooded by artists desperate to be heard above the din.
Despite the thunderous bellow of the title track, it’s the fantastic ‘Girl Loves Me’ that points a bony finger forward. A return to a frantic, questioning, funky and quite barmy Bowie style that he’s visited on the album Heroes, Scary Monsters and even with Tin Machine, GLM is militaristic, desperate, lost and found in the messy sea of desire, its author crying ‘Where the fuck did Monday go?’ as the band respond to the strangest day-list song they’ve ever heard. It’s spooked, contemporary, powerful fun, whatever on earth he’s on about.
It would seem that David Bowie has established his position as the world’s most respected living artist, and his 12-year plus media silence has paid off - he needs do nothing, and every appearance or utterance is descended upon like muesli crumbs swept off an NY dinner table. Blackstar is a return to uncompromising form, as intense as 1. Outside with the sprawling edges trimmed off, and at moments resplendent in his full, Vaudevillian, #Space opera pomp capabilities. Despite its author’s protestations, Bowie is indeed a White Star. #Celebrities