David Bowie’s gloomy ‘Blackstar’ is an extraordinary modern symphony

review by Andrew Malcolm, Never Enough Notes.com

A triumph of songwriting, ‘Blackstar’ is David Bowie at his best.

‘Blackstar’ is an incredibly diverse and extraordinary release, bringing together the essence of Bowie, old and new, to craft a contemplative symphony for the modern era.

David Bowie returns with a brooding, and experimental LP which embraces its avant garde producing a well-formed and exciting album. As Bowie’s 25th release, he’s definitely not lacking in new ideas, cajoling and reminding us of just how good he is.

One of the most celebrated musicians of our time (and time to come), Bowie’s latest was initially announced in October 2015 as being recorded in New York City’s Magic Shop with some local jazz musicians, and follows his 2013’s album ‘The Next Day’, which took 10 years to surface’.

Its opening track and namesake ‘Blackstar’ is a lengthy opus of over 9 minutes. The first half is a musing, shuddering electronic piece swamped in jazz influences, the choir-like vocals guide the listener intriguingly into the album leading into the second half of the song. Instantly recognisable as Bowie, he teases us with his unique style and strange hooks.

The album is not afraid to embrace modern music and is rife with electronic music and synth, this plays off of the jazz and rock influences from the 80s giving the album a distinctively refreshing quality compared to his Bowie’s recent releases. Second single, ‘Lazarus’, is especially retro, but the song is dark and melancholy, a lament on a difficult life. It stands out as a particularly memorable track on the album finishing with a progressively angry, yet elegant crescendo of guitar and sax.

‘Sue (In A Season Of Crime)’ is a testament to Bowie’s prowess with different genres: a perfectly-crafted math rock infused reflection on relationships and fidelity that builds and builds as the vocals preach over the top, before creeping forward to an explosive ending – which burns out into the weird and wonderful ‘Girl Loves Me’. A stand-out track on the album laced with electronic production and vocal effects, it is not entirely clear what the track is actually about. Lyrics seem somewhat arbitrary – the effect is not of confusion but instead creates a particularly important part of the album. Bowie’s blatant disregard for what is commercially acceptable is clear on the track, it’s audacious and brilliant.

Penultimate song and personal favourite, ‘Dollar Days’, is the most politically profound of the album – the lyrics deal with regret and distress at the state of the world with Bowie occupying an unforeseen defeatist position on affairs. A delightful jazz-rock fusion finishing with a classic guitar solo, it’s traditionally Bowie but current and relevant.

‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ immediately changes the pace with an electronic drum beat leading waves of synth through a very pensive and introspective analysis of where Bowie is at in his life. It works perfectly as an album closer, and whilst melancholy the feel is no longer sad, yet oddly optimistic and satisfying.

At an impressive 51 minutes but with only 7 tracks, ‘Blackstar’ is triumphant and glorious, hooking the listener as each track perfectly balanced against the previous. Each listen reveals more and more beyond the dark and gloomy exterior, making it hard to pause. An interesting and intelligent LP, ‘Blackstar’ is definitely worth every minute.