By Gareth Matson
Blackstar was released two days before his death, the concept and the lyrics were there, we just failed to notice he was saying goodbye.
It would have been the expectation that if a terminally ill, 69 year old man, was to release an album in their final months, they would fall back on their previous sound and produce a simple and reflective album, throwing in a cover of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ for cliché’s sake. No, no, this is not the way of the Goblin King! Blackstar is as innovative as any of his prior releases, there are inspirations of course, but musically there are no stark similarities to be found, this album is in isolation. This 69 year old has taken inspirations from Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, no more explicitly than on ‘Girl Loves Me’ , where Bowie raps ‘Real Bad Dizzy Snatch/ Making All The Homies Mad’ – David Bowie 2k16.
The canvas of music is bewilderingly diverse, with a saxophone-heavy jazz band at his back you’d expect an older, almost dated sound, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Bowie is known as a chameleon for exactly this reason, this album’s sound is contemporary to the core. In the opening of ‘Lazarus’ you would be forgiven for thinking The XX had just dropped their new single. Producer Tony Visconti said “The goal was to avoid rock & roll”, with the electronica vibes, evocative of his 70s album trilogy, and the contemporary beats laced throughout tracks such as ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’ and ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ it’s goal achieved, Bowie has once again entered a different realm. The atmosphere is not that of content reflection, ‘Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)’ is a prime example, it’s a restless track which nods to his 90s industrial sound displayed on the album ‘Earthlings’, but with the addition of a swirling jazz band to add a new element to the wall of sound, it’s an extremely busy album.
It’s easy to over analyse this now that he has passed, but lyrically, this is a man who knew he was on his way out. After his death the lyrics became bold and explicit, from mentions of clinics and x-rays, to the outright ‘I’m Dying Too’ and the prophesising ‘The Blackout Hearts, The Flowered News,
With Skull Designs Upon My Shoes’, Bowie didn’t hide away from his inevitable fate, but instead harnessed it into his last beautiful and innovative piece of art.
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now