For some time before the surprise announcement of David Bowie’s 2013 comeback album The Next Day, there had been serious doubts as to whether the enigmatic singer would ever record or play live again after having suffered a heart attack on tour. However, a decade after said heart attack, on his 69th birthday, Bowie returned for the last time and did so by recording what will be remembered as not only one of the most challenging and innovative albums of his entire career, but the last.
While The Next Day was more or less a straightforward commercial Rock n’ Roll album, his new album Blackstar is a highly experimental, thrilling foray into the unknown. After recruiting a contemporary jazz band from New York as his backing band, Bowie has ventured into revolutionary musical territory with Blackstar, possibly on the same level as his classic avant-garde albums Low and Station to Station.
Ahead of the album, Bowie released a video to accompany Blackstar’s title track, which made it clear that the Thin White Duke would not simply be treading over old ground for this album. Originally written as two different songs, “Blackstar” ended up being fused into a single with two distinct parts: the first being a foray into a series of jazz drum-fills layered under haunting synthesizers, in the video these are heard as Bowie delivers some A-list acting as a blind alien entity, which turns out to be an extremely creepy combination. The second half, a melodic synthesizer riff paired with Bowie’s most powerful lyrical and vocal performance in decades, as he delivers a scathing metaphor of contemporary celebrity culture:
“I’m a Blackstar way up on money I’ve got game I see right so wide so open-hearted pain I want Eagles in my daydreams diamonds in my eyes I’m a Blackstar.”
Even influences like Kendrick Lamar are evident on tracks like “Girl Loves Me,” while “Lazarus,” the title track of Bowie’s new off-Broadway play, based on his character in the 1976 film “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” is a flawless exhibition of the cinematic qualities that have always helped his music stand out among other artists grouped under the term “pop star.”
On “Dollar Days” and “Sue (Or In a Season of Crime),” Bowie combines the classic jazz ambiance of Young Americans and the melancholy destitution of Low to create something exceedingly relevant when juxtaposed with the music of contemporary artists. That carries just as much contemporary angst as chart-topping hip-hop artists. Bowie even shows a propensity for modern EDM with “Tis’ A Pity She Was a Whore,” a track that sounds like futuristic jazz combined with flourishes of drum n’ bass.
For a pop star that has been making music for almost 50 years, David Bowie’s Blackstar is just as, if not more, relevant and aggressively experimental than the majority of young artists in the day and age, as well as a sign that Bowie could still think outside the box and produce an exceedingly interesting album with genius musical arrangements after all these years.