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David Bowie Blackstar album cover
4.48 | 462 ratings | 24 reviews | 56% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
rock music

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Studio Album, released in 2016

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Blackstar (9:56)
2. 'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore (4:45)
3. Lazarus (6:23)
4. Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) (4:35)
5. Girl Loves Me (4:53)
6. Dollar Days (4:36)
7. I Can't Give Everything Away (5:41)

Total Time: 40:49

Line-up / Musicians

- David Bowie / vocals, electric (3) & acoustic guitars, string arrangements (1), co-producer

- Ben Monder / guitar
- Jason Lindner / piano, Wurlitzer organ, keyboards
- Donny McCaslin / flute, saxophone, woodwind
- Tony Visconti / strings (1), co-producer
- Tim Lefebvre / bass
- Mark Guiliana / drums, percussion
- James Murphy / percussion (4,5)
- Erin Tonkon / backing vocals (2)

Releases information

Artwork: Jonathan Barnbrook

CD Columbia ‎- 88875173862 (2016, Europe) Released on 8 January 2016, Bowie's 69th birthday.

Thanks to Hazy7868 for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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DAVID BOWIE Blackstar ratings distribution

(462 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(56%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(30%)
Good, but non-essential (9%)
Collectors/fans only (3%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

DAVID BOWIE Blackstar reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by lucas
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars For his new offering, the english chameleon returns to the eclecticism that grabbed our attention in 'Outside'

When I read that jazz musicians are involved and that hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar was a major source of inspiration, I wondered what 'Blackstar', which was planned for issue on the day of the white star's 69th birthday, would sound like. Unclassifiable musician, the legendary vocalist and multi-instrumentalist already accustomed us, at the heights of his popularity, namely in the seventies, to musical changes from an album to the other and from one character to the other. He deserves all the more respect that he reached his goal while keeping the same line- up from an album to the other (the two Mick, Ronson and Woodmansey). When it comes to change musical orientations, it is indeed hard to avoid tensions in the band. Visionary who knew how to federate his bandmates in his eclectic choices, Bowie can be raised as a model to refer to in discussions about tolerance and harmony among nations, all the more that his music is appreciated worlwide.

Let's focus more specifically on the twenty-fifth record of the multi-faceted singer. First, the above-mentioned jazz flows from the liquorous spring of the saxophone and escapes from the flute to regain the freedom of Herbie Mann. Regarding hip-hop, it bursts in the languid rhythm and the hallucinated flow of the verses to "Girl Loves Me", even if dissolved in the very personal universe of our child of Albion. From a general standpoint though, the climates are covered in very art-pop outfits, switching from reflectivity to swinging rhythms. In fact, on one hand, let's note the introspective "image freezes" (the bipolarity in "Lazarus", a track that is both comforting and troubling, and again in "Dollar Days", when dawn and twilight meet). On the other hand, bathing in the misty symphonicism of keyboards, we are invited to join the dancefloors (the breakbeat of "Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)", the electro-pop of "I Can't Give Everything", the funk incursions in the title-track). At the crossroads of Black music, electronica and pop, the varied approach to the atmospheres depicted brings us back to the times of 'Outside'. This parallel is further enhanced by a penchant for strangeness and repulsion in the videoclip to "Blackstar". In other words, this is the Bowie album we were waiting for to succeed to a record that was as unfathomable as the track "I'm Deranged". Our english citizen encourages the limbs of his bandmates to swim in varied musical waters, but his own voice is also involved in this endeavour. In fact, where a haunted choir supports the pleading mysticism of "Blackstar", it's on the reverse ethereal choirs reminiscent of doo-wop bands of the fifities like Platters that back the theatrical manierism of "'Tis A Pity She Was A whore" and its "chuckling" bass! The tone of glam rock star's voice doesn't seem to be altered by time, maybe it's the welcome effect of a regular consumption of Evian water, which he once recommended in a commercial of the brand!

Surrounded by little known jazz musicians and looking for the inspiration in the music of a worldwide known hip- hop artist, David Bowie turns his compositions towards the future while covering them with the elegance of the past. A black star that will dazzle us as much as 'Outside' did : this is another milestone in the extensive discography of the english chameleon.

Review by Warthur
5 stars Bowie followed up his art rock return to form The Next Day by diving deeper into the "art" side of the equation, trusting the rock to take care of itself. His secret weapon this time around is sax, flute, and woodwind specialist Donny McCaslin, who adds an air of seedy underground jazz to proceedings. With twitchy, synthetic drums and sharp backing performances all around (with guitarist Ben Monder channeling a little "Heroes"-era Robert Fripp right towards the end), Bowie takes us on a disquieting journey in which dark and disturbing things are contrasted against some of the prettiest pop music he's turned out since Space Oddity.

Sue (Or In a Season of Crime), located right at the centre of the album, is a particular case in point - somehow, it manages to sound like an extract from Outside, if you'd sucked the mid-1990s industrial rock out of Outside and made that album a thousand times weirder than it actually was, finally yielding a sound worthy of the offbeat artcrime universe of that album. Even more unconcerned with marching to anyone else's drum than The Next Day was, Blackstar finds Bowie serving up a sinister poison in decidedly sweet servings.

Review by LearsFool
5 stars Words can't describe how hyped I was for this. First the title track was dropped, an ethereal, dour, yet hopeful mini- epic through jazz and strings that made everyone drool. Then came the deluge of information: Tony Visconti would bring his prowess to the production side. James Murphy slunk into the studio to throw all sorts of crazy ideas around and do some percussion work. A couple of previously released jazzy tracks that were the embryo for the album would be rerecorded, and, yes, this would be very much a sideways, artful jazz and rock affair. The band was taking protips from Kendrick Lamar's jazzy, off the wall hip hop instant classic "To Pimp A Butterfly". So does "Blackstar" live up to the hype?

Absolutely. The strange, dark atmosphere permeates every track through strings, vocals, winds, and dashes of electronics. The record is driven by energetic and bittersweet rock, especially through the drums and percussion. The jazz work is weirdly beautiful and ever brilliant. The proggy structure of the title track didn't really carry on through the work, but the more simplistic structures we see instead are made to work by the powerful instrumentation. And Bowie himself brings that darkly angelic voice of his to bear on every track, between mysticism and Tom Waits style stories from the gutters of olden times. The entire album is perfect, with unique highlights in the title track and the one-two punch of "Dollar Days" and "I Can't Give Everything Away", with the former ending in an electronic beat that ends up driving and forming the centre of the latter to close this dim, gorgeous, out there, uncompromising work. Album of the year material to start off 2016.

Review by DamoXt7942
FORUM & SITE ADMIN GROUP Avant/Cross/Neo/Post Teams
5 stars Let me say that David should have exerted "British Invasion" and "British Innovation" upon people all over the world, and this album "Blackstar" should be called as a real rock one. Like everybody around me, I cannot believe his eternal travel to Heaven, with the album, such a goodbye gift. Unbelievable for me to purchase the album just before getting the sad news, too ... Upon January 11, 2016, I was in no mood to listen to this album because of his regretful passing away, but once the album was set in a CD player ...

From the beginning "Blackstar" I've got immersed in his unbelievably enthusiastic dramatic dreammare-tic rock star. Pretty dark and catastrophic but somewhat competitive and superlative ... cannot express enough for this title track. Quite superb is the vibe of time and space upon the blackstar turf. This track sounds like his verdict against the real world drenched in musical (especially rock) aridity. It might be my fancy, however, he gives me some heartwarming starshine via his magnificent rock energy and life force, with such an inorganic voice electronika. What a novelty, cannot avoid, honest to say.

"'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore" should never let us say safe and sound. Such a madness really. A mass of simply rhythmic footprints are something like a liar. Would David attempt an attack of temptation? Not lyrical but logical rock theatre. As if he would shout this MUST be the British Innovation. As well, his tough intention for the real rock, a spirit of defiance to popularity, can be heard via the following "Lazarus" featuring Donny's hard-edged wind instrument sound bombs. He's in Heaven but in danger, restricted like a king but free like a bluebird ... a colourful song like a delightful hell in a bucket.

One of the most depressive, repressive words for me "Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)" ... Sue, wonder who you were ... the melody is quite innovative but suppressive (the rhythm sections' quakes and saxophone blows are remarkably vivid and realistic with multi-characteristic shots), and I'm afraid Sue might be a terrible stuff for him, I cannot say in details though. "Girl Loves Me" sounds quite insincere for me. Suggest the scape might be such an irony through his creation. A tad danceable like "Let's Dance" (maybe he would get upset, sorry) but actually the content would show his painful mindscape, I imagine?

Wonder why I feel more of pathos via "Dollar Days", that features lots of "dying" words. David dragged his fragile voices along in this song, via that I cannot help feeling sorrowful, regardless of his death itself. The last "I Can't Give Everything Away" is another pop gem for us. His transparent voice as if forced out of his lips would make us weep. His lyrics are heavy and smokey ... I guess he might raise an important musical warning for younger artists who are wandering around soundscape strategies. "Not wander but walk strictly upon the way you should walk."

Finally let me say again, David is, and will be alive in our "rock" mind forever ... never like to say I'm sad to miss him. Thanks!

Review by Angelo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars When I ordered David Bowie's Blackstar at the end of 2015, I was excited - looking forward to reviewing the album, as my first review of 2016. I was never a big fan of Bowie, until just over a year ago, and it was magical to discover his first 14 albums while getting the announcements of a new album that was 'going to be different than anything he'd done before'. The video for the title track, and the audio track for Lazarus, which only got video added the day before the album was released, certainly showed that Bowie was up to something very new. Electronic music, with a jazzy, avant garde feel to it, and weird images of a blind folded Bowie in the video - indeed things he had never done before.

After getting to hear his 80s work, which I didn't like at all at the time, and discovering his 60s and 70s releases 30 years later, I can only confirm the obvious: Bowie was a chameleon, and very eclectic artist. Writing in past tense here, only a week after the release of Blackstar gives me the shivers. I've never been witness to something as unexpected as Bowie's death, two days after releasing this magical album. Magical, and obviously created by a man who was aware of what was going to happen, but not ready to stop exploiting his own brilliant creativity.

With a lot of things in the world going bad, a lot of discussion was happening about the meaning of Blackstar, when the video was first released. Was it about IS, or about aliens, or something else? Either way, it is dark, electronic track, opening with haunting, twisted vocals in the first part, and a sound that is almost threatening. The switch to a more 'classical' Bowie vocal half way for a few minutes is just fitting, as well as the bit of saxophone at the end. Title track, and opening track to a short musical journey.

'Tis A Pity She Was a Whore, also released as a single earlier is more upbeat, and has the saxophone sound in it from the beginning. With a title like this, it's pretty clear that despite his distinguished looks off late, Bowie was never part of the politically correct establishment - always a rebel. This track is good old Bowie on moderne electronic jazz with a beat, and with his typical knack for lyrics. The almost out of tune sax work is ear catching once again.

On par in terms of darkness and thread with Blackstar, is Lazarus. A slow track that opens with sax, keys and a characteristic bass line. As became clear in the past week, this track was a farewell message from David Bowie to his listeners. Slow, musical and with Bowie's emotional vocals, it gets the message across. His life, his ambitions, his goodby - packed again in typical Bowie lyrical style:

"This way or no way You know, I'll be free Just like that bluebird Now ain't that just like me"

The dark, haunting beat with occasional riffs at the end, with no vocals, makes the listener feel the gap of Bowie being gone.

The opening riff of Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) which follows is a little more rocky, but is soon followed again by the electronic jazz sounds of Donny McLaslin's quartet, a band selected and hired by Bowie for this album. Slow and dark, with an almost danceable pulse, the music carries Bowie's vocal. Singing about a Sue, who has disappeared - without ever getting it clear whether she died or went to another man.

After the closing notes of Sue, Bowie comes in singing something that sounds like a hysterical children's rhyme at first, as a slow beat kicks in. This is Girl Loves Me, which has an almost industrial feel to the music, also due to the vocal effects. After January 10th, the repeating closing line 'Where the [%*!#] did Monday go' is burned in my brain.

Dollar Days is a song that could've fit on one of his 70s albums, it has a great feel to it and features a wonderful saxophone solo by Donny McCaslin. Lyrically, it covers everything gone wrong in the world, if one is prepared to 'listen through the lines'.

The follower I Can't Give Everything Away is possibly another hint at what was going to happen, Bowie singing about something being wrong and not being able to say more. Initially, the music very brielfy hints Tonight, due to the beat, but the saxophone and guitar change it back to fit with the style of the rest of the album. A mesmerising, hypnotic track to close a great album.

David Bowie was a very special artist. He changed styles more often than some people change underwear you could say, and most of it worked. Some artists go on and burn out, a lot go on for too long. Bowie never stopped, just started taking his time, and following time. This time, he managed to show how music can still progress, by mixing electronics, jazz, hip-hop and a hint of his own 70s work. If an artist has to go out on a high, delivering a master piece, David Bowie has shown how to do it here. May he rest in peace and be with us forever.

Dedicated to the memory of David Bowie, a great artist. With a special thank you to my good friend Sonia Mota, possibly his biggest fan ever, for introducing me to his early works, 30 years late.

Also published on my blog

Review by admireArt
3 stars The Rock world lost one of its truest epitomes.

Besides the obvious reasons to consider this a final masterpiece or an essential part of your collection, I could hardly think of it in neither of those terms, in the same way "The Buddha of Suburbia" or "Black Tie White Noise" both 1993 and "Outside"-1995, are not considered as such, according to the PA's ratings 23 +- years ago . These 3 past David Bowie's works share a common link, music/ style wise, with this "Blackstar", 2016.

The incidental Jazzy/Bowie feel is emminent as in those past albums. In this one his lyrics hold a premonitory poetry which is both detached and personal and music experimentation is reduced to some specific sections, opposite to "The Next Day"-2013, his previous work.

Anyway, in terms of life achievements (in my book, of course), my favorite Bowie releases still remain the same. "Hunky Dory"-1971, "Station to Station"-1976, "LOW"-1977, "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)"-1980 and his highly underrated "Let's Dance"-1983.

So it is not irrespect for his passing away, I simply can not overrate this album just because of the obvious reasons. The Rock world lost one of its truest epitomes, on that I do agree!

***3 PA stars.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars With David Bowie's passing the day after this album was released, one is tempted to let emotion rule, and raise the rating for sentimental reasons. However, I left this disc in my CD player, and after many spins, I feel I can step back and give it a less clouded review.

The album to me sounds unfinished. Every track sounds hollow. There is a rhythm track, with drums and bass, and Bowie's vocals. There are some guitars, keyboards and horns, but overall, the production is very empty. My gut tells me that the album was pushed out this way to get it out while the artist was still alive. I compare the sound to any other Bowie album, with rich, lush texturing, and I find it hard to believe that this album's bare sound was the intended result.

The songs themselves are good. Bowie's lyrics are about as dark as they can be (Do you blame him, given the circumstances?). The drums sound out of place, often much too frenetic for the music they are supporting. Again, it makes me feel that the wildness of the drums were meant to support some additional instrumentation that never was completed.

Bowie himself sounds weaker than usual, but had written his parts so that his failing voice could handle the task. And his moaning backing tracks add a lot of eeriness, helped along by splashes of dissonance by the horns, guitars, and string synths.

This is an interesting album. Not great, but not bad. Get it if you like Bowie, or if you just what to honor his memory.

Review by Dobermensch
5 stars Stricken with grief, it took me three weeks before I could bring myself to listen to this after hearing of Bowie's death. How is it possible to feel so sad about the death of someone you've never met or even spoken to?

What makes it all the more painful is that this is far better than any album he's released since 1995's 'Outside' with which 'Blackstar' holds many similarities. It's almost an extension of that recording without Brian Eno twiddling knobs and pushing buttons. After 5 listens I have to admit that 'Blackstar' is a masterpiece. Bowie's 'Abbey Road' if you like.

Being very excited towards the end of last year with the release of the bizarre 'Blackstar' video I couldn't wait for more of this experimental Bowie. Everything was just great - the bandaged face - the scarecrows - the quirky, odd and frankly downright weird tune left me desperate for more.

January 10th 2016... The sky fell down...

A whole new perspective on those 2 videos hit me like a hammer blow. How couldn't I see the wardrobe door as a coffin?, Major Tom's skull? The lyrics should have been obvious enough. The real giveaway were the buttons on the eyes similar to coins on the eyes of the dead who crossed the river Styx with a payment to Charon, the ferryman of Hades, in order that their souls don't haunt the living.

This has made listening to 'Blackstar' a very difficult experience. In a year's time I'm sure I'll look back and say that it was the most brilliant artistic departure anyone has made in music. Art in death. Death in art. Right now it hurts.

'Blackstar' is like a hammered together collection of tunes that vary in sound and emotion. From the very upsetting yet superb opener we move on to 'Tis a Pity she was a Whore' - which could almost be a missing track from 'Let's Dance' When I heard there were saxophones on this album I shuddered. Thankfully they are used tastefully. Bowie's voice is in fine fettle considering he could barely speak during those last months. I guess it was recorded early last year.

'Lazarus' sounds like a missing track lifted from 'Heathen' which is no bad thing at all. The deeply grim lyrics are enough to make a grown man burst into tears. Like the previous two tracks there's very little connection in sound - almost as though they were recorded for different albums. Surprisingly it works really well.

Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) really gets things going with a stomping, frantic beat and excellent vocals. Quite similar in fact to the vastly underrated 'Earthling' from '97. It gets louder than war itself the nearer it reaches the end.

The undoubted highlight for me is the underwhelmingly named 'Girl Loves me'. This sounds like it was recorded for the middle segment of 'Outside' from '95. The expletives are all the more unsettling in that he passed away on Sunday whilst singing 'Where the f*ck did Monday go. This tune is a million miles away from anything on 'The Next Day' which in hindsight just appears to be a clearing of the decks for what was to follow.

'Dollar Days' displays that pastoral green fields of England thing that Floyd did so well in the early 70's. It's a lovely tune with Bowie crooning away just like in the good old days.

There's a harmonica intro in 'I Can't Give Everything Away' that has been directly lifted from "A New Career in a New Town' in '77's 'Low'. It doesn't matter- the tune is beautiful. An almost perfect sendoff that could have been lifted from 'Black Tie White Noise' but in a far more subtle manner.

Believe me - I don't give out 5 stars lightly. If an album deserves to be blown to pieces by a Howitzer, Im the man to do it. 'Blackstar' exceeded my expectations enormously. After the 'painting by numbers' 'The Next Day', this follow up is just experimental enough to not alienate listeners. It's an album which displays an invention and creativity amidst a world of music that has come to bore me senseless during this decade. It's a thing of beauty that I just wish he'd recorded 20 years earlier.

Review by 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.

Review by friso
5 stars David Bowie ? Blackstar (2016)

I was impressed by the dark video clip of Blackstar at first glance and like many others I though of it as artistic, rather then foreboding. Before buying the vinyl myself the news came out of his death and the Blackstar record, which had already caused a buzz, really started to reveal its definitive significance. This is a record made by man who knew he was going to die.

Strangely enough, this might just be Bowie's most experimental record in his long career. Opening with one of his darkest songs, going through modern rhythms played acoustically by the brilliant drummer Mark Guiliana, the album goes through frenzies of emotions. Both the raw fact of death and the process of looking back on an interesting life are present. Eventually the album ends with two lighter tracks, thus ending the road towards death in a rather peaceful, consolidating mood. The lyrics reveal a lot about Bowie's inner life, yet I also sense he seized the hour to create a unique artistic vibe that surpasses his own troubles. A bit like a once in a lifetime opportunity to relate to this subject in a way that was not possible before.

During this album, which is about as intense a ride as Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom, almost all tracks are really good in their own unique way. The title track is a great progressive milestone in his career, with a dark & brooming beginning and end. The middle section shows Bowie's endless talent for pop sensibilities that sound modern (and will probably remain so). 't Is a Pitty she was a Whore is a psychedelic track with a modern drumbeat, some eighties pop sounds and fusion like chord buildups. On all tacks we here jazzy wind instruments that often touch the light side of avant-garde jazz. Lazarus is a ballad and perhaps the lyrical crux of this record. Beautiful, sad and deep. On side two, Sue (Or in Season of Crime) is another rhythmical tracks with a dark funky rhythm and nightmarish vocals and lyrics. Girl Loves Me has more pop sensibilities, but drags on a bit. My least favorite song. Dollar Days is a surprisingly light follow up ballad, that reminds us of how Bowie could write these artistic songs suited for radio. Some symphonic touches on this one. On the last track, I can't Give Everything Away, Bowie makes his final statement. An epitaph. A light symphonic and soulful track with a Thieleman's type harmonica in the background and some great wind leads. The title alone would have made it an interesting track.

Conclusion. This album will end up being one of the rare records all music geeks will agree upon; a classic. Among the most memorable of 2016. An artistic milestone in its own right, deepened by the circumstances of his death and the retrospection on the many fruits of his career. Having said that, the record does require at least five plays to really unfold itself. For a classic it is surprisingly complex and moody in a sophisticated way. I can give this the full score. Also recommended to listeners who never cared that much for Bowie before, like me.

Review by tarkus1980
5 stars I never thought that David Bowie's death would affect me as much as it did. The timeline of the release of this album (January 8, 2016) relative to his death (January 10, 2016) would have impacted me under any circumstances, but I had an additional circumstance at the time that added significant leverage to my emotional state; my second son was due on January 10 and would be born in the early morning of January 12. I went to bed early on January 10 and slept deeply, not knowing how the following day would go, and as I came to early in the morning of the 11th my (very pregnant and uncomfortable) wife let me know that David Bowie had died. Over the course of the day, as I made attempts to work from home as best as I could, I took part in the communal mourning that swept through social media, and I felt some fascination at all of the different reasons that people had for feeling sad about his passing. For every music nerd like me who felt the need to mourn the loss of somebody who had made such a tremendous impact on the history of rock and pop music, there were people who had grown up loving him specifically because of the Ziggy era, or people who had fallen in love with him for "Space Oddity," or people who loved him because of the 80s MTV era, or people who loved him because they had known him first as Jareth the Goblin King. The day drew on and on, and by the end of it I was emotionally drained, which was a problem given that I knew that my son's birth was imminent, and I would have to be mentally and emotionally ready for my wife and son.

In the midst of all of this emotional upheaval, the one thing that I refused to do on the 11th was give my first listen to what was then David Bowie's brand new album (I had also refused to listen to any of the pre-album releases of various songs or watch the music videos slowly coming out); I just couldn't spare that much of my emotional reserves for what I suspected could be a grueling experience. Early the next morning, my son was born, and by early afternoon I had come home to take care of my older son and to get a little rest. That evening, after getting my older son fed and put to bed, I decided that now was the time to indulge myself and that, as my final music listen on my stereo for a little while, I would put on Blackstar for my initial listen. In retrospect, this was somewhat of a mistake; I was far too drained and tired to put on an album that was clearly tapping into a combination of creative and emotional intensity that had not been typical of Bowie in the past, and the album made little lasting impression on me from that first listen. The only thing that I retained between that listen and the next one (which was not for some time) was that the repeated angry guitar lick in the coda of "Lazarus" seemed like the emotional equivalent of getting hit in the face by a 2x4 over and over again; beyond that I couldn't sort through the album at all.

Eventually, once enough time had passed from my son's birth and my initial listen so that I could have some chance to approach this album apart from the tangled mess of emotions that accompanied the time around its release, I took the opportunity to dive back into this album, and by listen three overall I was totally sold on it. Due to the circumstances of how Bowie (and a small number of others, though not including his backing band) knew he was dying during the sessions and would likely be dead sometime around when the album came out (though I really doubt he had planned for the gap between the two to be so small), the easy comparison for this album in terms of narrative would be Closer (by Joy Division), but I don't think that's quite right. The issue I've always had with the narrative of Closer as the band's big symbolic swan-song is that Ian Curtis, as important as he might have been as the band's front-man, was only one of the people helping to write music for Joy Division, and none of the others had any inkling that this would be their last Joy Division album. A better comparison might be Brainwashed, the album that George Harrison worked on near the end of his life as he died of lung cancer. Then again, though, that comparison suffers somewhat as well, given that the album had been left unfinished when he died, and one can reasonably debate how much the final product resembled what Harrison had envisioned (thanks to Jeff Lynne doing Jeff Lynne things for better or for worse). Among albums released by major performers in the world of rock music, this album is unique (there might be some minor performer that disproves this but I genuinely can't think of one); it's the only case I can think of where a major rock star had the chance to exercise complete creative control over his own requiem.

Given the knowledge that he would likely never again get to make music, it's interesting to observe Bowie's preferences regarding the approach taken on this album. Whereas The Next Day showed Bowie embracing hard rock to a greater degree than at any other point in his career, this album shows an almost complete rejection of rock and pop music in favor of a bizarre blend of art rock, jazz, electronic music, hip hop, and who knows what else (including elements of Gregorian chant music). In addition to showcasing the genre-smooshing version of Bowie (my favorite version of Bowie) throughout, though, this album also demonstrates a level of emotional intensity that he had sometimes flashed but had never sustained at this level for such long stretches (I guess if dying wasn't going to make him open up a bit then nothing would). The skill shown by Bowie on this album in integrating his experimental side with this new-found emotional openness is somewhat terrifying, and the only album in his career that I can think of to come close to this one in regards to this integration is "Heroes" (that doesn't mean it's my first or second favorite Bowie album, but it does help explain why it's so high in my rankings).

The first half, consisting of three tracks, is definitely one of the very best halves of any Bowie album. The middle track, "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" (whose name is inspired by a 17th century John Ford play called "'Tis a Pity She's a Whore") is an energetic blast of "Aladdin Sane" (in the sparse "song" parts) turned happy, filtered through mid-70s Roxy Music and updated to 40 years later, featuring a rousingly discordant sax part (there's a lot in the way of great sax work on this album) over a great drum beat and jazzy piano, and the overall effect is fantastic. It's also an absolutely necessary respite from the sheer emotional terror that surrounds it. The inevitable comparison for the opening title track, in terms of scope (it's 10 minutes!!!), is "Station to Station," but where that one was full of guitar- heavy futuristic sci-fi honky-tonk cool, this one is full of mournful sax and chant-like melodies and tense, jittery drumming. A brief stretch of a softer, lovelier tune emerges for a little while, but this gets replaced with a tense strut (which contains one of the best Bowie lyrics ever, "You're a flash in the pan / I'm the great I Am") that carries things before the chant aspects return in full force. Everything about the song is deeply unsettling and funereal, and by the time the song dissolves into a synth drone at the very end, it's clear that something is terribly wrong in Bowie's life.

The keystone to the album, of course, is the side-closing "Lazarus," which starts with Bowie intoning "Look up here, I'm in heaven" over a bassline and an unsettling drum part that together immediately conjure up a sense of desolation and fear. This is Bowie's artistic commentary on his own death, alternately built around descending sax and guitar lines (with a creepy ascending synth here and there), eventually building into passionate yearning for a time when he can be free of his pain and fear. The build in intensity through the song is terrifying, climaxing with an orgasmic release of emotional sax wailing that suddenly disappears and gives into the sheer agony of those two growling guitar notes over and over and over again over that bass and those drums. The last two minutes of the song inevitably make me think of the amazing passages in War in Peace where Tolstoy describes the slow process of Prince Andre's death, in particular the portion where he's not quite dead but no longer in the land of the living either, and that's close to the highest compliment I can give a song. I can't think of any way to keep this song out of a list of Bowie's ten best songs.

The second half doesn't quite live up to the first half, but neither does it try to; there's still plenty of emotional intensity, but it's presented in a manner that allows for a lot more light than the darkness that started and ended it. "Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)" is a throwback to Outside, but with saxophone to bounce off of the industrial aspects of the sound (in the drums and guitars used for texture), and the lyrics, telling the story of a guy who had a relationship with a woman that ended when she left because he was kind of a jerk, provide a fascinating amount of detail while still remaining little more than a sketch. I should note that this song (as well as "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore") had originally been written and recorded prior to this album, though "Sue" was re-recorded in the sessions for this album; it's somewhat for this reason that these two songs feel different from much of the rest of the album, but then again they provide some emotional diversity, so I won't complain too much. "Girl Loves Me," then, is probably my least favorite track on the album, but hell, something had to be my least favorite track, and it's still quite interesting; it's a fascinating bit of artsy post-punkish swagger, with Bowie making use of British slang that would be gibberish to somebody unfamiliar with it (like I was at first). The fact that Bowie died on a Sunday, when the track repeatedly contains the phrase "Where the [%*!#] did Monday go," adds it an additional level of poignancy as well.

While the especially emotionally intense tracks of the first side focused on the more despairing aspects of human existence (and the end thereof), the especially emotionally intense tracks that finish the second side are far more uplifting. "Dollar Days" completely eluded me the first couple of listens, but part of what made the album click so well for me was just how much I came to love this one. The lyrics are a little opaque, but the vibe and the position on the album make it fairly clear to me that this track is about Bowie trying to emotionally reconcile himself to all of the things he'll have to say goodbye to as he passes on. The lines "If I never see the English evergreens I'm running to/It's nothing to me/It's nothing to see" and "Don't believe for just one second I'm forgetting you/I'm trying to/I'm dying to" seem oh so much like the lines of somebody trying to convince themselves of their truth (but not really meaning it), and the pleasant tranquility of the music (before building into an incredibly uplifting instrumental finish) speaks to me of somebody who has chosen, in considering these things he'll miss, to focus on gratitude rather than resentment. In this track, I hear an incredible level of complex emotional transparency and vulnerability, and for a moment it feels like I can see right into the very center of Bowie's soul ...

... and then, it's as if Bowie knows that he's opened up just a bit too much, and with a smile and a wink the final track, "I Can't Give Everything Away," comes to take us home. The heart of the song is the following verse: "Seeing more and feeling less / Saying no but meaning yes / This is all I ever meant / That's the message that I sent / I can't give everything / I can't give everything away." Yes, he's on the verge of death, and he's opened up himself a good deal at the very end, but dagnabbit, he's still David Bowie, and that means he has an obligation to hold something back of himself, and to misdirect, and to obfuscate, because that's just what he does. It's such a happy and snappy song, and such a seemingly incongruous way to end an album that serves as his own requiem, but even in the superficial happiness, there are still layers to be unfolded. Case in point: the repeated sample of the harmonica from "A New Career in a New Town" seems at first like just a fun self-referential nod that fits in well with the uplifting vibe, but if you think about it, the phrase "A New Career in a New Town" is a perfect metaphor to describe settling into an existence beyond the bounds of this life, whatever it might be. Between that sample, and the way the guitar parts eventually seem ready to break into "Teenage Wildlife" at any given moment, I have to see this song as a metaphor for the whole process of Bowie bothering to make an album with this much care as he was dying, and it's impossible for me not to hear the final chords as the dying moment when he was bathed in white light.

For all of the emotional power I feel from this album, both in relation to external circumstances (both generally felt and personal to me), I'm still not inclined to mark this as Bowie's best nor as an absolutely top-level album in my collection. Bowie's career was already set just fine before he made this album, and the overall impact of albums like Ziggy, Station to Station and "Heroes" on my overall listening experience is greater than that of Blackstar, not least because they stand largely on their own merits without reliance on something as emotionally manipulative as Bowie's own death. Plus, in another context, I could potentially see myself getting kinda annoyed with "Girl Loves Me" (if it had been on The Next Day, for instance, I probably would have just ignored it or somewhat disliked it), so that hurts a little. Regardless, while there are parts of me that recognize that it's a little cheap for an album to be tied so closely with somebody's death, this is largely offset by my amazement that Bowie could actually leverage his own death for creative inspiration. This is a late-period triumph from somebody for whom I'd given up the idea of late-period triumphs (the closest he had come was Heathen but this one is significantly better than Heathen), and a must own for all Bowie fans. Hell, on a gut level, I'd probably rate it #3, behind "Heroes" and Station to Station but just ahead of Ziggy, and if that's blasphemous then so be it.

Review by tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Mournfully woeful, the Bowie star slowly fades into dark matter, a final testimony to his art and his rather unique place in the musical constellation. Going over all his chameleon-like alterations/variations would be pedant and utterly boring, definitely not urban chic, a trait David owned in spades. Personally, I deeply enjoyed the decidedly prog-rock leanings of '1.Outside', an anti-pop testament from a pop artist who ruled this contradiction with few rivals! Blackstar shimmers in shivering galactic sheen, before evolving into a tortuous interstellar dirge, complete with Nik Turner-like sax squawks, bubbly synths and a vocal that transcends space oddity and hunky dory time. Major Tom in a NASA capsule.

The man who sold the world lands back on earth and wanders straight into some futuristic bordello, screaming 'saxual' bondage and whiplash beat, surrounded by pin ups and diamond dogs, your typical distorted young American masquerading as a lad somewhat insane. 'Tis a pity she was a whore' is not a misogynist statement but rather a personally profound regret, perhaps for having lived a life full of scary monsters and low heroes (Ziggy, Duke, Sane, Earthling etc..) and indulging in transgender exploration, bending rules and preconceived notions.

'Lazarus' is quite the 21st century ballad, a lovely song coated in alleged sweetness but really more menacing and bittersweet, just barely below the surface. It hit me quite quickly how much it has a spiritual resemblance to Porcupine Tree's classic song of the same name, Prog-pop songs that exude feeling and 'scars that can't be seen', a tremendous lullaby of magnificence and despair. David's vocal is transcending, egged along by a poignant saxophone spread, courtesy of Donny McCaslin. The moody outro is pure gold, gentle and exalted.

Hey, let's dance a bit with 'Sue' because David of Suburbia will never let you down, even if he is the only DJ, but tonight it's in a decadent, dissonant and a paranoid club, where everyone is wearing black ties but have no faces, surrounded by white noise and an absolutely wicked percussive back beat. Intense, corrosive, ashen, the arrangement is a musical Polaroid of instant gratification (they do something in the weeds), a dizzying palette of oddity that somehow makes the skin crawl, as he intones 'soon goodbye'. Eerie! This is not Donna Summer but Sue.

Kindergarten-like recitation appears with obsessive 'Girl Loves Me', another swirling, drum-punched, bass sweltered and echo-laden voice masterpiece. Ding-ding! Troubling material, Heathen reality. Just like the next day offers a new sun, sweeping relief comes with the symphonic 'Dollar Days', a gorgeously orchestrated and lovingly sung track that expresses David's sweet side, 'never seeing the English evergreens' as Donny does his finest Andy Mackay tribute on sax, blowing mighty and sweaty. This segues straight into the last song, the finale 'I Can't Give Everything' , a perfect cover to consider for Bryan Ferry, Martin Fry, David Gahan, Jim Kerr, Bono and the hundreds of emotional singers out there.

Finally, the drum work here really stands out, a brazen blend of rock pummeling and jazzy twists, giving very track a pulse, a beat, perhaps knowing full well that the motor will soon pause into park. Mark Guiliana is a stellar stick man. Freddie and Davie can now sing Ashes to Ashes without sounding prophetic or feeling Under Pressure. Legends live on eternal . RIP

5 'toiles noires

Latest members reviews

5 stars As most everybody knows David Bowie completed this album in the last year of his life. The album was assembled using a talented group of jazz musicians with Bowie's long time producer Tony Visconti to lay down the 7 tracks and 40 minutes of music. Bowie is not only a musician/ songwriter but als ... (read more)

Report this review (#2374254) | Posted by iluvmarillion | Saturday, April 25, 2020 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Some 19 years after his last challenging/progressive album (Earthling), Bowie hits the winning pace and lets all drop their jaws by creating this masterpiece that had been quietly cooked in the studio when he already knew it would be his last one. This swan song is one of the most unexpected a ... (read more)

Report this review (#2312135) | Posted by sgtpepper | Sunday, February 2, 2020 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The swan song of one of the greatest artists of the last 50 years is a magnificent album, whose architecture closely resembles that of another iconic album, Station to Station (1976): both of them have only 40 minutes long, few songs (7, half of the number of tracks of 2013's The Next Day; StS had o ... (read more)

Report this review (#2266449) | Posted by kaiofelipe | Saturday, October 5, 2019 | Review Permanlink

4 stars 4.25: The final album by Bowie, was intended to be the swan song (a belief that the swan before die they sing a beautiful song, and in this context will be the last effort and gesture for the fans by Bowie) before his dead, as he described it would be nothing that he have done previously and it c ... (read more)

Report this review (#2118341) | Posted by mariorockprog | Monday, January 14, 2019 | Review Permanlink

4 stars 4.25 stars. The video for the title track took me by surprise, at first noticing the length of the video I was watching and then the startling visuals and dynamic music the following ten or so minutes would contain. It wasn't even close to what one would have expected from a Bowie single in in the l ... (read more)

Report this review (#1694458) | Posted by Corcoranw687 | Sunday, February 19, 2017 | Review Permanlink

4 stars It has been such a bad year having lost so many of these visionaries. Bowie was one for me. This album is clearly a milestone again. The content is great, not the best he has done of course but I doubt there are many who could have pulled this off in the health he was in while making it. It does ... (read more)

Report this review (#1672707) | Posted by Mingo | Monday, December 26, 2016 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Boy what a ride! The first time I listened through this album the time past in the blink of an eye, which is surprising as usually in prog there requires a lot of thought put into the music by the listener before the genius is seen. It's tough to put into words exactly how I feel about this al ... (read more)

Report this review (#1612209) | Posted by RainingStigmata | Saturday, September 17, 2016 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This may be one of the darkest, most depressing, and layered albums of all time. I love David Bowie, I always have, and like many I waited for months for this album to be released, and when Bowie released Blackstar as a single, my mind was blown. A space jazz/funk/symphonic epic? I thought it was ... (read more)

Report this review (#1536374) | Posted by jazz2896 | Sunday, March 6, 2016 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Finally listened to _*_ for the first time. It's a good latter day David Bowie album: Interesting and adventurous, dark and somehow pleasantly hopeful, but still very, very, very much a latter day Bowie album. I've seen reviews and such claiming it for jazz, but this is no more a jazz album than ... (read more)

Report this review (#1512534) | Posted by TerryDactyl | Saturday, January 16, 2016 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I very rarely think an album is worth 5 stars, so bear with me here. I bought this CD the morning of its release. I was excited to listen to it as I liked the title track which came out in November. I quite disliked The Next Day (I thought it was very forgettable), so I was really hoping for some ... (read more)

Report this review (#1510322) | Posted by sheadvt | Monday, January 11, 2016 | Review Permanlink

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 natu ... (read more)

Report this review (#1509232) | Posted by CassandraLeo | Saturday, January 9, 2016 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Today's news gives this album a whole new meaning. This may just be the greatest last hurrah of any artist that I have come across. Every song now reeks of foreboding and an acceptance of what's to come. To my ears, there isn't a week track here and for that reason alone it is the first album Bowie ... (read more)

Report this review (#1508621) | Posted by 201101454 | Thursday, January 7, 2016 | Review Permanlink

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