Most of the reviews I’ve read of this album were written before David Bowie’s unexpected death. Such was the secrecy surrounding his situation that few if anyone beyond David’s immediate family were aware of his circumstances. And so when the news of his death was broadcast to the world it came as an immediate shock. Even mainstream media reported it, which says something about how important he really was.
Bowie was in the ‘70s what Elvis was in the ‘50s; that is a rebel outsider who didn’t so much as re-invent rock and roll but rather re-shape it in his own image, enough at least to inspire thousands of teenagers around the world to tune in and drop out in their bedrooms after they came home from school, offering refuge from the outside world while providing nourishment for the inner mind.
Now here we are in 2016. Bowie’s ashes were scattered over Bali, no doubt like dust to the wind. And just as the wind, Bowie himself could be unpredictable, ever changing not to mention artistically capricious. All of which leads us to his last will and testament, the appropriately titled Black Star, an album which reads like a tombstone to his genius, knowing now what Bowie himself knew when he recorded it.
Much of the LP has an extremely compressed, almost claustrophobic feel to it. As if David himself was already singing from inside a Pharaoh’s tomb on his way to the underworld. No doubt, there is a disturbing energy which abounds throughout. The title track, “Black Star” is all disconcerting beats and intense rhythms, accentuated by Bowie’s preternatural vocals which float and fade as an Egyptian sunset. There are some interesting moments, especially as the song progresses towards the end, to the extent that if one closed their eyes they could be easily hypnotised and carried away in an unusual state of dystopian pleasure.
On “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”, Bowie’s musicians get to break loose, like a Miles Davis interpretation of Let’s Dance. “Lazarus” is nothing more than a dirge, full of reflection sung obviously by a man standing on the edge of a precipice, looking out at seagulls, knowing he is only a step away from the unknown.
“Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” reminds me of early ‘70s Miles meets Station to Station. Bowie really gives it his all, and when he sings “Soon Goodbye” in that famous croon of his one can’t help but feel a little emotion well up inside.
Depending on one’s taste “Girl Loves Me” has its moments, most notably in the chorus, where David stretches his voice into the upper stratosphere as only he can. “Dollar Days” begins with the sound of Bowie turning a few pages, before a gentle saxophone breezes over the delicate piano introduction. Bowie’s vocals reflects the desperate tones of a man facing the inevitability of his own fate. Instrumentally there are some slight references to Ziggy Stardust and guitarist Mick Ronson, and even Aladdin Sane tossed there into the salad of sound that I can only guess is, or was at least the product of Bowie’s mind.
The last track, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is a bit of modern-electro-rock and not quite my cup of tea, but that’s Bowie for you. Always challenging, always looking for new ways to place that microphone.
If Bowie hadn’t of passed away, one would have taken this LP as a whole new beginning, instead of being the end. And as such, a curtain has finally come down on one of the most original and creative of humans ever to have fallen from Mars and walked this earth. When I think of David Bowie, I will remember him as a man who always encouraged people to be themselves, through his art and his songs, which of course will live on forever. One cannot help but listen to every line he sings on Black Star as if it were his last, which as we know must have been, imbuing it with a morbid beauty. If a death mask could be heard, it would probably sound like this.