I was so looking forward to talking about Blackstar for this edition of 7Days, because I’ve been a David Bowie fan for over 20 years. It was going to be just one of the highlights of the column, one thing to touch on in the middle of an array of my popular culture offerings.
And then. And then.
I was absolutely rocked by the news. I walked around in a daze for part of my work day, and broke down crying on more than one occasion. It knocked the wind out of my sails and the one thing that helped me get through it was that local stations CJSR and CKUA basically abandoned their regularly scheduled programming to play Bowie and Bowie-related tracks all day. I just holed up in my cocoon of music and tried to get some work done.
I’m not going to write another long tribute to the man, even though he was one of my musical icons, because there have been enough of them done this week, and if you’re a reader that loves David Bowie you don’t need another one, and if you’re a reader who is indifferent to or dislikes David Bowie then you definitely don’t need another one. (And are deeply, deeply confusing to me, but that’s not the point.)
So. After all that, how is Blackstar? It’s an album with a Herculean task ahead of it, to shoulder the burden of the man’s death and be some kind of creative statement at the end of his incredible career. These are expectations that it would be almost impossible to live up to. But somehow, for me at least, it manages to do just that.
Blackstar is a rock and roll album that dares the listener not to like it. Starting off with the title track, a ten-minute pop-jazz opus with lyrics like a lost mythology and influences of Middle Eastern and folk music, Bowie and the rest of the creative team make a big, bold statement. The video is also startling in its creepy beauty and impenetrability as well. It’s just another piece of evidence of Bowie’s curating of the album as a complete artistic package, and that’s not to underplay the contributions of director Johan Renck. Renck has created something really special, taking notes and ideas from Bowie and making a ten minute short film with imagery that haunts me even as I write this.
There are other standout tracks on the album, too. “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” which has echoes of his work on the underrated Outside, with layers of discordant instruments underneath a repetitive, driving guitar riff and and a hollow, echoed lead vocal. And “I Can’t Give Everything Away” reminds me of Bowie’s late 80s and early 90s work, except that a) it’s good and b) it’s more lush and layered than anything he put out back then. But it’s “Lazarus,” the last single Bowie ever released — and just writing that is making me choke up — that, for better or worse, is the apex of the album. It sounds like one of those timeless David Bowie songs, one that wouldn’t sound out of place in the height of his creative output in the 70s given a little bit of a tweak to the arrangement. It’s been in my head for days and I’m not sure I ever want it to leave.
Ultimately, it’s not possible for me to completely strip away all the psychic baggage that Blackstar is carrying for me and for so many other people who have been touched or influenced by David Bowie. It is, however, a very good album, and worth listening to.
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That’s going to do it for me because putting anything else in this column seems incredibly wrong. Until next week, take care of yourselves, tell the people who are important in your life that you love them, and watch the video for “Lazarus” and try not to cry. Let yourself feel whatever it is you want to feel and do whatever you want to do. Because this guy did, and look how happy he was.
I’ll see you in seven days.