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David Bowie - Blackstar CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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4.47 | 463 ratings

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5 stars Few artists have left us with parting gifts as marvellous as David Bowie's Blackstar. Crafted as the legendary singer and songwriter knew he was dying from cancer, the album is a powerful rumination on life, death, fame, and the craft of art itself. It is perhaps unsurprising, given the weighty nature of the album's focus, that Bowie chose to make his most experimental music in a long time, if not of his entire career. The musical content of Blackstar is avant-garde jazz rock that perhaps comes Bowie's closest to being full-on prog since at least Station to Station if not ever. The album also bears unmistakable influence from some of the most forward-thinking hip-hop artists of the modern era; industrial rap oddballs Death Grips and jazz/funk/hip-hop pioneer Kendrick Lamar were cited as particular influences on the album, which is reflected in the album's unusual drumming amongst other elements. Experimental electronic group Boards of Canada were also cited as an influence, which probably comes off most strongly on the album's most avant-garde selection, "Girl Loves Me", in which Bowie adopts Anthony Burgess' Nadsat slang as well as slang from the '70s gay subculture and words of his own invention to create a song that is lyrically and musically like little else previously released.

To perform this unorthodox material, Bowie enlisted a group of New York's finest jazz players including saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who performs some parts Bowie performed on the previously released versions of the two songs on this album that had been previously recorded, "Sue (or in a Season of Crime)" and "'Tis a Pity She's a Whore" (the latter's title inspired by a 17th-century drama by John Ford). Bowie was a smart enough bandleader to allow his performers to take the material in their own direction, and as a result the album flows in a way much modern music has not managed. The ten-minute title track (originally planned to run for longer than eleven minutes, but trimmed due to iTunes' restrictions on single length and Bowie not wanting to confuse listeners with two versions of the same song) is a particular highlight, and probably the most direct stab at progressive rock of Bowie's entire career. Promotional material suggested the song may have been "about ISIS" but the song also directly addresses Bowie's own mortality, a theme reprised several times throughout the album. This theme is addressed again in "Lazarus", the album's second single, and the final two tracks, which also directly address Bowie's thoughts on the process of artistic creation itself. The final song comes full circle by recapitulating elements of Bowie's artistic style from his most prolific period in the '70s, with a direct reprise of a harmonica part from Low's "A New Career in a New Town". It is one of the most satisfying conclusions to a musical career in recorded history.

Blackstar is a monumental album, not merely for being Bowie's final artistic statement, but entirely on its own artistic merits as well, and is likely to stand alongside masterpieces such as Ziggy Stardust, Station to Station, and Low as being one of his most important musical creations. The album was already justifiably being praised as one of his finest works in decades even before his death, but now that its full meaning has become apparent, an entirely new layer of interpretation has been opened up and it has acquired even more artistic relevance. A 5/5 rating is fully justified, and it is entirely possible that this album will end up being the best album of the entire decade. Bowie's death was a tremendous loss for the entire music community, but by giving us this masterpiece to mourn him over, he's mitigated the pain of his passing for us just ever so slightly, and by going out on his own terms, he's managed to make even his death into an artistic triumph.

CassandraLeo | 5/5 |


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