Blackstar - David Bowie
By Benjamin Irons
Inundated with themes of death, ugly musings and thought-provoking beauty, Blackstar acts as an anguished, swan-song effort, attempting to "avoid rock & roll" Bowie and replenish the avant-garde, "Berlin-Trilogy" style expressionism of 40 years previous, but eventually sees the 69 year old stripped down to a state of wounded sincerity. And with Bowie's passing coming just a couple of days after its release, mortality - unwittingly - becomes the eventual elephant in the room.
Artwork by British graphic designer, typographer and film maker, Jonathan Barnbrook
Though, he does not show himself to be totally disillusioned by illness on Blackstar; through the recruitment of long-time producer (and collaborator) Tony Visconti and the enlisted help of a first-rate jazz quartet, Bowie's ill-starred sentence is restrained. This notion is noticed on "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore"; plump with drums apace and an excitable saxophone, this is a perfect distraction from the mesmerically blue, 10-minute title-track, "Blackstar" - "I see so white, so open-heart it's pain / I want eagles in my daydreams, diamonds in my eyes". The aforementioned "'Tis a Pity..." served as part of a compilation, with "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" as a B-side of a single - both resurfacing from their debut appearances back in 2014. The latter offering up a similarly jazzy orchestration of scatty rhythms and sweeping percussion.Similarly to opener "Blackstar", "Lazarus" croons a cradle song of blissfully haunting jazz, lullabied by a distressed vocal mourning from a thin-skinned Bowie, painstakingly overwhelmed by his long grapple with cancer - "Look up here, man, I'm in danger / Oh I'll be free, just like that bluebird".
Bowie's 50 years of smoke-and-mirrors are strengthened on the appropriately titled "I Can't Give Everything Away", once again keeping fans of his mystique and shrewdness - both on and off stage - marvelling for answers only the man himself could reveal. But with his passing just days after the release, maybe it was for the best that he took those secrets with him to the grave - even after such sudden circumstances, for Bowie was not just anyone, but a someone, that always kept us guessing and wanting. Rest in peace.