In death, the definition of life becomes simplified. Superficiality and everyday woes become benign and are replaced in thought by lamentations of a life’s expanse in the creations it leaves behind and the love it accumulates and thus, disperses. In a life so colossal as that of David Bowie, his message in death to many is simple and the inspiration he left behind like the explosive trail from a departing space shuttle is clear to see. But for those who wish to look deeper at the life, death and conviction of the sprawling, creative genius that he was, there is Blackstar. Bowie’s final, artistic breath and his loving farewell to fans and friends alike is as harrowing as it is breathtaking. Blackstar presents like an asteroid hurling its gargantuan body through expanses no human would dare to go.
Blackstar is every bit as poignant, meaningful, sombre and celebratory as we’d expect from the final artistic breath from David Bowie – a stunning farewell.
In the opening bars of the symphonic epic that is the title track, the tone of the ensuing onslaught is set. With pulsating strings and an ethereal mantra repeated in Bowie’s ageing but ever-distinctive bellow, the track opens out and blossoms like a shimmering flower, crowned in thorns. Like a symphony, the title track weaves effortlessly into different movements yet, bears the unmistakable hallmark of Bowie’s relentlessly modern charm.
In many ways, Blackstar is a song of acceptance for David Bowie, exclaiming his notions of isolation from the norm, not in the sense of alienation, but in his unique perspective. Bowie expands on his reflection of life and death in the album’s current single Lazarus. Bowie bleeds silver blood into the, now much publicized lyric of Lazarus, predicting his demise in a state of acceptance but in glorious technicolour.
In many ways, the cuts from Blackstar that muse on life and death are equal parts philosophical and pedagogical; an insight is offered by Bowie at his most vulnerable as he allows you to crawl between his ribs and dissect his heart to lay it bare for either the whole world or for your eyes only. The work is not only appealing on a global existential scale, it is also intensely personal; the listener feels almost intrusive by receiving the emotional information on offer.
The LP in its entirety is not, however, sombre. With a shining diamond hammer, Bowie crushes a lesson in riffage deep into your skull in Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) while maintaining the darkness that hangs eerily over the entire track list. Bowie taps into his trademark satire in ’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, a title derived from a play by 17th century dramatist John Ford. Throughout the album, one can’t help but notice the schizophrenic, sporadic thunderstorm drums that drive each song into a blazing ferocity. Bowie’s voice sounds worn and tired but this only seems to add to its power since, after all, the power of the entire record lies in its vulnerability.
Coming in at just over 40 minutes, Blackstar is rather short-lived but it is so full and so vibrant in its blacks and whites that it feels vast and elaborate despite a minimalist approach to production. Closing track, I Can’t Give Everything Away is a broken ship floating endlessly, majestically until it fades from view as a final statement, it hits hard and to a listener with any understanding of Bowie’s impact in life and in death, makes complete sense somehow.
David Bowie’s 25th and final studio album is every bit as durable, entertaining, boundary pushing and exciting as its predecessors while being relentlessly ahead of its time. Blackstar is dark and grotesque, but it is truthful and personal. It is inveterately Bowie, and it will live as vibrant a life as the man himself. While the world mourns the death of a man who gave his life to art that would inspire hoards of wandering souls, Blackstar is a reminder of the gifts he left behind and the true impact of his legacy. It is haunting in its bareness and is yet another reminder that there is no substitute for authenticity and originality. For this, the world will forever thank David Bowie.