When Blackstar was originally released in 2016, no one could have recognized the significance of David Bowie’s latest project; however, before anyone had enough time to tear the album apart with cold skepticism, the streets of London and of the world filled with adoring fans mourning the loss of Brixton’s brightest star. The death of an icon such as Bowie, marked by the mass hysteria following the tragedy, not only reminded us of the significance of David Bowie, but also gave a whole new meaning to the Blackstar album.
Irrelevant from the circumstances under which Blackstar was released, the album is terrifically diverse and electrifying. While the work itself is only composed of seven tracks, the range of emotions is as vast as his instrumentals are unconventional. Bowie, famous for his ability to appreciate all forms of music, once again skips into another corner of music typically untouched by mainstream artists. The first half of the album begins with a very clear jazz influence before it progresses into a more traditional rock aesthetic before landing on “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” a track led by posturing harmonica riffs and synths. The instrumentals on this album are wacky and original, yet it is the musical genius of Bowie that structures an interesting and coherent musical progression around these dissenting instruments and melodies.
While the album stands out as a unique work of a fascinating classic rock-jazz fusion, it is the sensitive yet commanding vocals which make this album quintessentially “Bowie.” His tone effortlessly flips like a switch throughout this project, with harrowing results. He begins “Lazarus” by fearfully whimpering “Look up here man, I’m in danger,” possibly alluding to his fragility in the face of mortality. Only three songs later, however, he seems to be at peace, calmly singing on “Dollar Days,” “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to / it’s nothing to me.” Bowie’s vocal and emotional range paints a colourful and honest picture of facing death, whether it be through defiance, fear, acceptance, or resignation.
Above all else, Blackstar’s legacy cements Bowie as the ultimate showman. Typically artists see some fall from grace or a disappearance into irrelevance. Even the brightest of stars can quickly burn out or meander into mediocrity. Bowie never grew complacent enough to fall from his gracefully established throne. Even under the crippling burden of cancer, he was strong, even electrifying, until the end. He kept us on the edge of our seats and hanging on his every word, with his artistry in the forefront of our minds, before suddenly the curtain closed and he was gone.
"I'm cold to this pig and pug show / I'm sittin' in this chestnut tree / Who the fuck's gonna mess with me?
Somewhere between John Coltraine and Animal Collective