David Bowie
Blackstar


5.0
classic

Review

by Thompson D. Gerhart STAFF
January 17th, 2016 | 1129 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: David Bowie the artist, at his finest, portrays David Bowie the man.

Before the recent death of its creator, I wasn't sure if Blackstar was worthy of a "perfect" 5, as our system dictates. I was certain that "Blackstar," the titular track that I'd heard months prior to the album's release, was worthy of as much adulation as could be thrown its way, most especially from my humble camp. And before even hearing the body of work it was to be a part of, I felt certain that it would be equally as worthy of praise. Yet in the very small space between the moment my cosmic expectations were set by this quirky, devilish beast of a track and the moment I heard the gospel of its disciple tracks, I must confess I was a bit disappointed.

"'Tis a Pity She Was A Whore" is no suitable follow-up to the ominous "Blackstar." Lyrically, it's antithetical - so empty and vapid, compared to the rife-for-interpretation title track. Sure, "Lazarus" carried the spirit on, but not to such the same obscene degree of perfect strangeness that embodied the title track, leaving it feeling like a ghost of its predecessor. The frenetic back beat and industrial lows of "Sue" reminded me of a modern interpretation of "I'm Afraid of Americans" made ghastly by Bowie's drawn out and ephemeral vocals on the track, but there was an energy that didn't quite fit the epic landscape "Blackstar" had laid out for me. The sing-songy nonsense of "Girl Loves Me" interspersed with an easy-to-get-behind mantra of "Where the fuck did Monday go?" caught on all too easily, but again failed to complement this all-encompassing mother track imprinted on the back of my mind.

Without delving into "Dollar Days" and "I Can't Give Everything Away," you get the idea. The lengthy "Blackstar" track and its rather intricate music video companion had given me the notion that Blackstar the album would somehow be a comprehensive epic that pulled everything back into the bleak vortex of this mad prophet with the bandaged and buttoned eyes and his cult of macabre skull-worshiping gypsies and gyrating Amish folk. The failure of the majority of the rest of the album to deliver on what I saw as a promise hit hard - for a while, at least. Again, for perspective, this was the reaction of a reviewer who knew nothing of David Bowie's 18 month long struggle with cancer. Someone with no idea that Blackstar was a final farewell to the world from one of its premier performers.

Somehow, putting things in proper perspective - one we weren't meant to know until January 11th, 2016 - has made a difference. Knowing that the songs on Blackstar are David Bowie's last and knowing that Bowie, himself, penned them as his swansong, affects meaning on every syllable and inflection. Within moments of the announcement of his death, music publications began insisting to the world that "He was telling us, warning us, preparing us - for his death." And with lyrics about spirits rising and stepping aside, death and execution, being free as a bluebird, and giving everything away (or at least attempting to), there's almost no doubt that he was. Even the somber tone of Blackstar seems telling in the wake... But who of us would have seen it to begin with?

Instead, we fell for the ruse fed to Rolling Stone that "Blackstar" was written about ISIS and said "boy, David Bowie's starting to show his age here a little, huh?" Personally, I take it as a cheeky parting shot from Bowie and company, and one to which I say bravo.

But for whatever intention, the carefully guarded secret of David Bowie's ill health kept the bleak symmetry of the joys and laments of a man in his darkest hour from the vantage of my initial listening. Only by placing the music in the context of David Bowie's death has that roadblock been removed - something I'm quite certain was deliberate on the part of the artist, as musical context so often is. And once that context is realized, so is the dark beauty of Blackstar.

I still believe, however, that the title track sets itself aside in its own realm. Whether or not it was penned about ISIS (as reported by Danny McCaslin) or if it's simply meant to keep the public off-guard while Bowie tells the grand tale of his own death and prophecies his successor ("Somebody else took his place and bravely cried (I'm a Blackstar, I'm a Blackstar") is all speculative at this point, but a mystery that remains important to the mystique of the track and album as a whole. But the track itself carries its own inimitable style and swagger, leaving the rest of the album to proudly march in its shadow. A long and unavoidable shadow at that, considering that the title track appears to tell the heroic story of David Bowie the artist while the rest of the album articulates the tragic tale of the fall of David Bowie the man.

Rather than being empty and vapid, "Sue" and "'Tis a Pity" are tone setters in the wake of David's passing. Uptempo and jazzy, they guide the album into a blended light and dark tonal space and, despite their lyrical content, become occasional rays of sunlight that keep the album from collapsing into the decay that surrounds "Blackstar" and "Lazarus." Because David Bowie, even at his worst, was more than decay.

"Girl Loves Me" strikes me as a ballad of love, confusion, and a drive to reclaim time that's simply slipping away. Though I can't claim to begin to understand the lion's share of its lyrics, there's a definite saccharine taste to the way Bowie articulates "viddy viddy at the cheena," though the overall flavor of the song is unquestionably enigmatic, with the squeak of fear at the rising inflection at the end of each "Where the fuck did Monday go?" Time and joy were slipping away. Even David Bowie was afraid in the shadow of death.

But through that fear, we got "Dollar Days," the song of struggle, "falling down," "trying to" and "dying to," married to the bluesy lament of "I Can't Give Everything Away." At the end, Bowie was still trying to find more of himself to give. And at the end, maybe even David Bowie wanted more of life, even as he was stumbling and fighting through it to complete Blackstar.

Yes, when contextualized, the other half of Blackstar portrays David Bowie as a very human person with a very human fear: death. In coming to see David Bowie the man finally portrayed by David Bowie the artist, he not only affirms our natural human hopes and fears, but realizes his own in his final hours. The artist lowers his mask and takes a bow. And the audience applauds.

Isn't there something magical about that?



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user ratings (1326)
Chart.
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
AtomicWaste
Moderator
January 17th 2016


2673 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Probably far too long and far too late, but with everything that happened around this album, if I didn't get this out as it is, I never would have gotten it out.



RIP David Bowie.

AngryChristian
January 17th 2016


105 Comments


This feels more like a research paper or something about the album that a proper review, and along with it, it is very hard to read.

Frippertronics
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2016


12630 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

"Instead, we fell for the ruse fed to Rolling Stone that "Blackstar" was written about ISIS"



literally nobody fell for this

Digging: David Bowie - Cracked Actor

ArsMoriendi
January 17th 2016


20543 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah I read this full review and think either Fripp's review or Arcade's eulogy should still be the flagged review.





Digging: Mercury Rev - Yerself Is Steam

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
January 17th 2016


38307 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

first order of business: penis size

Frippertronics
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2016


12630 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Had I know that when he sung "You're a flash in the pan/I'm the great I am" that it was about radical terrorists, I would've never guessed you know what I mean, Heppers?

Frippertronics
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2016


12630 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

""Girl Loves Me" strikes me as both a ballad of love, confusion, and a drive to reclaim time that's simply slipping away."



the song is literally just nadsat and polari shit he's been playing around with since Ziggy; it's british oddball shit that he's had an aptitude for ever since stuff like She's Got Medals and Please Mr. Gravedigger on his 1967 debut

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2016


12311 Comments


so is this album really gonna be sput's AOTY?

wtferrothorn
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2016


5472 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

it's only two weeks into the year so making claims like that would be pretty lame, but it's gonna be up there

Digging: Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2016


12311 Comments


true but a 4.4 rating with over 450 ratings? thats gonna be pretty damn tough to beat. highest for 2015 was a 4.4 and no album over 100 ratings came close to that

wtferrothorn
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2016


5472 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

you never know, kanye could come out with MBDTF 2.0 with 'Swish'















lol jk its prob gonna be like a 3-3.5

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2016


12311 Comments


kanye better release a killer album with all the hype behind that thing. Pusha T calling it "god-like rapping"...i expect something great

BlacKapes
January 17th 2016


1821 Comments


oh come on this album is not that good when taken out of context, if he hadnt died this would probably be around a 3.2 average

ArsMoriendi
January 17th 2016


20543 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"if he hadnt died this would probably be around a 3.2 average"



It had a 4.1 before he died.



It's about worth a 4-4.1 anyway.

Tunaboy45
January 17th 2016


14437 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

so is this album really gonna be sput's AOTY?



probably



Digging: Kendrick Lamar - NATION.

Gwyn.
January 17th 2016


16975 Comments


Unless some other legendary musician who revolutionized mainstream media and is seen as a worldwide icon dies and also happens to make a soundtrack for his death, probably yeah

Tunaboy45
January 17th 2016


14437 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Keith Richards will probably die this year but Crosseyed Heart isn't exactly a gem



PS, not saying I want him to die, just saying there's a good chance he will

KILL
January 17th 2016


80224 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

album ruled before he died album rules now wow

Arcade
Staff Reviewer
January 17th 2016


8210 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this isn't a bad review at all



like it could do with some work like all writing but jc can we settle down with the hysterical outbursts

Digging: Gas - Narkopop

Tunaboy45
January 17th 2016


14437 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thought this was just a user review at first, that structure where you start a paragraph with a song title makes it really tedious to read man.



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