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David Bowie - Blackstar CD (album) cover

BLACKSTAR

David Bowie

 

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4.47 | 342 ratings

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Lewian
5 stars I am (was?) not a David Bowie fan at all. On previous albums I usually found (at most) one song I really liked, a number that I found "interesting" and the majority would deviate so strongly from how I appreciate music that I couldn't appreciate it at all. I always wondered whether the reason was that so much about Bowie was about being a charismatic star, fashion icon, role model and not about the music, which to me in many places seemed thin and cliched. Then, digging a bit deeper, I actually could see how special his music often was, how versatile in trying out lots of styles, ideas and modifications, but to me it seemed too often deeply flawed, subverting conventional structures in a manner that to me seemed counterintuitive and unmusical. Ultimately, his intuition about music didn't square with mine, I wouldn't get it. In a similar manner, I could appreciate his voice as a very individual and special one, except one that I didn't particularly like.

When he died, I heard the odd bit from Blackstar and became curious, I finally bought the album, and this changed everything. The title track, "Blackstar", is Bowie-style in that it garbles conventional song structures in counterintuitive ways, with surprising turns and very strange drumming, but this time the depth and emotional power grabbed me right from the beginning. I'm not sure to what extent the background knowledge and "Bowie sings about his own death" interpretation contributes to how this song moves me, in any case the song leaves me sucked into the emotional world opened up by its dark atmosphere. I have read that Bowie's voice was no longer at its best on this album, but I find it extremely expressive and I can follow him intuitively through every inflection, and, it seems, through his pain. "'tis a Pity That She Was a Whore" has driving, fast and straight drums and bass over a lot of free jazzy saxophone and piano. The singing again is a very emotional lament. Compositionally there is not much going on here but what is great is the intensity and how it rises. "Lazarus" is most directly about death, probably a goodbye to the world. It's a slow song by and large but recorded in a very dynamical way with a pretty interssting arrangement, again dominated by the emotional voice which conveys some depth that I could hardly find in any other music. "Sue" is the next of the faster drum driven tracks; these tracks on this album are sharper and more direct than anywhere else in Bowie's work. "Sue" is very nervous, dense and vibrating, with the voice raging against the power of the arrangement but always being in control. "Girl Loves Me" is my favourite track together with "Blackstar"; it comes with a punchy powerful mid-tempo rhythm supported by well chosen electronic sounds, a truly haunting voice (actually a number of voices piled up at times all sung by himself) and melody and two very intense moments in which the machinery almost grinds to a halt for then marching on with undiminished force. "Dollar Days" is a sad ballad and another song apparently about death. The chord change in the build up of the chorus makes it interesting and overall it is pretty tasteful and convincing. At the end, "I Can't Give Everything Away" tells the message that Bowie hasn't made peace with his death just yet, "I know something is very wrong" and the title phrase, repeated over and over through the song, yes, you've got to give everything away, sadly, but the clinging to it while powers to revolt are fading has been given a very fitting musical expression. This, again, is very moving and unforgettable, with some final warmth and commitment. Here, like always on this album, we get a proper end, burning out instead of fading away, as should be.

Extremely strong in emotional expression, atmospheric, intense, sharp and powerful, experimental in many details, with some remarkable instrumental contributions particularly on saxophone and drums and a very characteristic deep sound, this is an artistic triumph. For Bowie it is the end, rest in peace, but for me it is an initiation to his music, a starting point. After having got acquaintance with this, I am now in the process of exploring his earlier work more, and the view from the terminus, from Blackstar, helps me to appreciate at least some of his very rich musical world, although I'm pretty sure that this towers head and shoulders above the rest.

Lewian | 5/5 |

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