Why “Blackstar” must not be remembered as David Bowie’s goodbye album

An exceptional and unique album, just like David Bowie’s life

Why “Blackstar” must not be remembered as David Bowie’s goodbye album

Since the beginning of his career that David Bowie always dared musically more than most artists, perhaps that is one of the motives why it took three albums for achieving a name for himself. Looking back, it seems odd, specially when we listen to albums such as “The Man Who Sold The World”, that was a sales flop, and even by music standards, his first album, the 1967 Baroque-Pop self titled “David Bowie”, it’s much superior to some other commercially successful albums released at the time. It was a long run for Bowie since his 1967 debut until “Blackstar” released in 2016, an artist always ahead of the game, a natural innovator and visionary. Can we appreciate or say every single David Bowie album it’s a masterpiece or at least a good solid album? Maybe not, Bowie himself was highly critical of his 1980’s commercial plastic Pop period, but, even so, in every single album we can all find a David Bowie song that we like, sure one or two songs doesn’t makes a good album, but in Bowie’s case, sometimes some albums are acquired taste. His highly creative period during the 1970’s had as much of a blessing and as much of a curse, when he entered the 1980’s with the flawless “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)”, he maybe had no clue that he was entering a decade where a majority of the commercially successful new artists were influenced by him, the pressure to top every other artist on record sales with a new sound adapted to the decade was not a good combination, in one case in specific he did a whole album merely to help his good friend Iggy Pop, the 1984 “Tonight” that it’s still considered one of his weakest albums, however, features flawless songs such as “Loving The Alien”, “Blue Jean” and “Tonight”, the conclusion we can take? Bowie’s career was guided by one unique feeling: the love for music and to give the best he could. That take us to “Blackstar”, a stunning album and one of his very best. The creativity burst Bowie had during the 2010’s already had brought “The Next Day” in 2014, the first album in ten years and reminiscent of some of his 1970’s sound but not a copy of it, “Heathen” from 2002 it’s a unfairly overlooked album, it is one of the best Bowie albums as well, but “Reality” from 2003 was a harder pill to swallow, it is acquired taste, same thing as the 1999 “Hours”. By 2014 nobody expected Bowie to return with a new album, the world was getting used to his “unannounced” retirement, then he surprised the world, at Bowie’s classical fashion and offered “The Next Day”; there was hope of a real comeback, eventually a new tour.

When in October 2015 the single “Blackstar” was released, again the world reacted in joy and this time differently because it was the real feeling of a Bowie comeback. The album was released on his birthday, on January 8th, 2016, though the title song as well as the video was deeply dark and mysterious, we had no clue of what was coming next. The album package it’s symbolic, black, dark, mysterious, like the title song. It opens with the superior “Blackstar”, a perfectly crafted fusion of Rock, Electronica, Jazz and Pop, the best Bowie did in years? Maybe yes, but the whole album features stunning songs, “Tis A Pitty She Was A Whore” it’s like a fusion of his best 1980’s and early 1990’s songs, the Jazz element it’s present on most of the “Blackstar” songs through the drum beat and saxophone, it’s the album Bowie had to do. “Lazarus”, together with the title track the most somber and dark of all the songs in the album it’s a deep self reflection lyrically and musically, “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” it’s the most jazzy of all songs, Electronic Jazz and a delightful carnival of sounds. “Girl Loves Me”, an unique composition that uses lyrically the language created for the movie “A Clockwork Orange”, one of Bowie’s favorite movies and does features in some parts beats that are similar to the soundtrack of the movie, “Dollar Days” it’s a goodbye song, at the same time, a message he sends to his fans, it’s a smooth Pop song with a beautiful saxophone solo, Bowie sings “I’m Dying Too”, the album closes with the upbeat song “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, but he did it, at his own way he told his fans, he told the world what was happening in his personal life through the album. And at his own unique way, he decided to leave suddenly, just right after making the world happy with the possibility of more albums to come. With “Blackstar” Bowie achieved to recap his whole career, it’s an ensemble of every music style he ever tried, there is a little something from every phase, but, again, it’s not a copy, that’s the perfection of it, it’s an evolution, Bowie achieves with “Blackstar” to jump ahead of the game again, to dictate the trend and not to follow it, because he puts something new on it, as he always did with every album. We were all dreaming and hoping for a comeback tour, more albums, and indeed it seemed that in 2016 Bowie was ready to comeback. It seemed so. “Blackstar” was produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, one of his most valuable collaborators that among other produced his 1969 album “David Bowie” (later “Space Oddity”), “The Man Who Sold The World”, The Berlin trilogy and also all the studio albums he released during the 2000’s.  It is unfair for “Blackstar” to be remembered as the goodbye album, instead, it must remembered as one of the finest Bowie’s, not even one weak track on the whole album, this was how much he still had left to give us.

Side 1
1 “★”
2 “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”
3 “Lazarus”

Side 2
4 “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” (Bowie, Maria Schneider, Paul Bateman, Bob Bharma)
5 “Girl Loves Me”
6 “Dollar Days”
7 “I Can’t Give Everything Away”

All tracks written by David Bowie, except where noted.

David Bowie: vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar(3), harmonica (7)
Donny McCaslin: flute, saxophone, woodwinds
Ben Monder: acoustic and electric guitars
Jason Lindner: keyboards
Mark Guiliana: drums, percussion
Tim Lefebvre: bass guitar
James Murphy: percussion (4 and 5)
Erin Tonkon: backing vocals (2)

Produced by: Tony Visconti and David Bowie
Recorded during: January–March 2015 at The Magic Shop and Human Worldwide Studios in New York City
Released: January 8th, 2016
Label: ISO/RCA/Columbia/Sony

“★” Released: 19 November 2015
“Lazarus” Released: 17 December 2015
“I Can’t Give Everything Away” Released: 6 April 2016

Strongest tracks:

Watch the 2015 David Bowie music video for “Blackstar”

Listen to “Blackstar” on Spotify

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David Warren

David Warren is editor and author for Pop Expresso reach out at david@popexpresso.com

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