On the morning of Jan. 10, the world awoke in shock to learn of the death of David Bowie, popular music’s legendary chameleon, fashion icon and fearless innovator. Just two days after the artist’s 69th birthday, Bowie succumbed to an 18-month battle with liver cancer. In his passing, the Starman leaves 25 albums and nearly five decades of music that challenged the beliefs of many and continues to shape the sounds and images of rock music.
The last of those studio releases, “Blackstar,” is an album made even more poignant by Bowie’s passing. Exploring the themes of his own mortality in seven atmospheric tracks, Bowie pushes the boundaries of his glam rock sound in the direction of free jazz and ambient electronica.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the record’s title track. From the beginning of “Blackstar,” the listener is made uneasy by the song’s cold textures, which eventually weave into the luxurious, layered crooning of Bowie’s voice in its second half.
His voice has aged well, and this album as a whole sees Bowie embracing some of its stranger qualities on tracks like “’Tis A Pity She Was a Whore” or the cracked refrain of “Girl Loves Me.”
“Lazarus,” one of “Blackstar’s” singles, also proves to be a highlight. Melding a funky bass line with sultry saxophone, it is the lyrics of this track that are the most striking. “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” Bowie sings, “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” In what may not be a simply fortuitous line, the rock icon seems to be foreshadowing his death to the world.
With “Blackstar” and chance timing of its release just two days before his death, David Bowie has managed the ultimate artistic statement, turning even his death into something stunning and compelling.
The loss of Bowie is not a tragedy because we knew him personally. If anything, “Blackstar” and his countless other masterpieces prove that we shed tears at his death because his music helped us to better know ourselves.
Artist: David Bowie
Release Date: Jan. 8, 2015
Rating: ★★★★½ stars