David Bowie - Blackstar (B)

Reviewing iconic artists, like David Bowie, is tough. Anytime there can be a legitimate argument to classify you as a genius in your field you automatically carry weight. There is no argument needed for Bowie however, his genius is undeniable. Bowie carries WEIGHT. A well established influence in the direction of artistic culture over the past five decades, the importance of his accomplishments is always at the forefront of your mind. If you don’t enjoy it then you question yourself, “will it reveal itself to me over time or do I just not get it?”, you expect greatness and if greatness seems absent then you assume the problem is with you and not the music. It’s almost enough to force yourself to enjoy it for the sake of your reputation as a fan of music and art. People WANT to understand genius, they WANT to know that they and the rest of the world have the mind to recognize and enjoy.

With aging artists, especially ones who have remained relevant and original for multiple decades, the main question you have to ask yourself is can they still be innovative? Do they still have something to say musically? Are they rehashing old themes, old styles, or legitimately adding to their body of work. To call David Bowie just an innovator would be an insult, to me the man revolutionized music and the culture surrounding it. He cannot be copied, cannot be duplicated. Bowie is Bowie, forever relevant, forever cool. In 2013 he came out with his first album in a decade, the good but not great (though many would disagree) “The Next Day”. He’s expanded on that sound here with Blackstar. Let’s get on with it…

It’s good. Really really really good. It’s complex, though that should come as no surprise. While some albums can force their ambition on you, Blackstar is patient, taking time to establish itself, which is exactly how it should be executed; and just as it takes its time in revealing itself, you should take your time with it as a listener. Don’t think you’ll click play and this gorgeous sound will wash over you. The first listen through was me trying to take it all in, trying to wrap my head around everything. The second listen through was the same. The third is when it hit me. Every listen after that it got (and is getting) better and better. It was never a necessarily tough listen, though at times it strays in and out of an identifiable structure or melody, but when it reels itself back in you appreciate the melody that much more. Bowie and Co. have created a unique atmosphere. It’s moody, engrossing, and quite heavy at times. Though never possessing a true lightness, it also never delves in the dark for too long. Tracks like the opener, “Blackstar” and “Lazerus” have a cinematic approach to them that helps maintain a sort of cohesiveness the way that instrumental interludes do on other albums. Which is probably why...

This album plays better as one long piece of music rather than a grouping of individual songs. As with any record there are songs I prefer over others, but those songs I enjoy wouldn’t have the impact they do without the lead-in of the other track(s). Having said that, if you were to twist my arm I’d say the albums final two tracks are my favorites. The transition between them is phenomenal. “Dollar Days” has hints of classic Bowie only to unfold into a chorus of controlled chaos. The final track starts with a synth beat and drums sporting a faster  tempto, yet he still takes it slow vocally. The contrast is gorgeous. Other than the album's main artist, The Thin White Duke himself, and his long time collaborator/ producer Tony Visconti, there is one more name I need to throw the spotlight onto, Danny McCaslin. Though he plays various instruments on the album, it’s his saxophone work that needs recognizing. He is almost as vital to the greatness of this record as Bowie himself, adding depth, atmosphere, and identity to every track. Spectacular work. 

The best compliment I can give is that if I look at this album from the perspective of a new, young artist releasing it, I would be just as enthralled and excited to see what’s next. The point I’m trying to make is that the man just had his 69th birthday! The fact he can make relevant music and not sound like an old artist TRYING to make relevant music amazes me. He still has the ability to create something new, something great, without sacrificing the ambition that made him such a pillar in the music community. I have no doubt he could write an album of pop hits, easy on the ears, catchy as anything you’ve heard or will hear this year. Instead of that, he chooses to challenge us and himself. Still bent on expanding as a musician and growing as an artist. That is the mark of real passion and true genius. Bow down. 

*Consequence of Sound featured an excellent (and accurate!) ranking of all 28 Bowie albums, which you can check out HERE!*