(Note: as of today, January 11th 2016 David Bowie has died after suffering with cancer for the last 18 months. The following review was written last weekend when the world remained a little more colourful than it does right now. Instead of completely changing up the review of Blackstar, I have decided to keep it as it was pre-goodbye Bowie so it retains the initial reaction I had towards the record.
This is certainly an album that was aware of it’s own mortality, and with all the context revealed it’s definitely one that looks to say goodbye. David Bowie managed to retain a lot of his qualities while preparing to enter his tin can in the sky. Thank you David Bowie, RIP.)
David Bowie is now 69 years old and as a treat he has released Blackstar, his twenty-fifth studio album. Certainly the biggest record of the year so far, David Bowie has delivered what is yet another attempt at heading down a new direction, this time heading into a sound that’s full of elements of jazz, electronica and psychedelica – resulting into yet another reason why this guy is one of the most celebrated and decorated artists of all time.
Lead single Blackstar kicks off the record with a 10 minute journey of atmospheric exploration. The first half is complete with off kilter drums and ominous horns forming an introduction that could habitat any wandering traveller in a lonely desert, making way for some synthesisers to contribute a riff that adds in a subtle funk edge to the instrumental before making way for some horns to noodle away into the night sky. This is a very vast, expansive intro that actually comes off as very well layered and surprisingly catchy in parts. What follows is a wonderful, more straight forward finale which is dominated by angelic synthesisers that flood the speakers with an uplifting sound, turning Blackstar into a piece of thematic glory of epic proportions. An excellent, excellent track.
This then makes way for Tis Pity She Was A Whorewhich features an instrumental that is absolutely sexy to justify it’s Shakespeare-inspired title. An energetic drumbeat collides with some wandering horns before Bowie’s crooning vocals delivers a deep-rooted performance that’s accompanied by some sweet vocal harmonies against a solid backdrop of more horn noodling.
Sue (Or In A Season of Crime) is a track that stutters along the dancefloor with a guitar riff that grooves and twitches on repeat as frantic drums and echoed synthesisers combine together to create an atmosphere that could easily appear on a Swans record. Bowie delivers a voice-break hook on the other danceable track Girl Loves Me, and Dollar Days offers up a much more sombre, emotive walk down a path that’s lit up with sad trombones and some wonderful lyricism.
I Can’t Give Everything Away rounds up Blackstar with a delightful performance that fully encapsulates everything great about the material we’ve heard so far and gives it a distinctive “closer” feel. Bowie offers up a simple but effective vocal hook which sticks right into the heartstrings and the lush synthesiser-heavy instrumentation blooms alongside it to really open up that wound and let all the emotions run free. It’s a delightful way to close out an album that has been terrific from start to finish. Blackstar is definitely David Bowie’s least immediate sounding record yet and excels at introducing a new sound that is nurtured through steady progression and is allowed to fully encapsulate the eardrums and the result is a captivated listener. Blackstar is now 2016’s benchmark album, and it’s going to take a lot for it to be beaten. For more reviews, interviews and good music check out Exploding Head Syndrome on Facebook and Twitter.