Monday, 11 January 2016

Blackstar by David Bowie (RIP)

The sudden death of one of my greatest heroes comes at a time when I have also lost a personal friend so the loss  of the one only makes the loss of the other more poignant. Rather than dwell on someone whose life has given me such joy, such pleasure I would rather talk of his last act as an artist whilst raising two fingers to the hideous disease that took him from us. David Bowie gave me so much and here, with this new album does so again.

One Facebook critic described this new Bowie release as being as good as 'Low' "a bit of a shock after 30 years of rubbish and mediocrity and the occasional nice track." A sentiment I understand even if it is one I don't entirely share. One thing for sure though, unlike the last album this one, this 'Blackstar' really is a new day.

Where 'New Day' had presented us with a collection of songs all of which could have come from a variety of different Bowie periods, this album draws its influence from a more singular source. There is still that beautifully melodic voice, still the haunting melodies that we have come to expect but added to the mix is a jazz band. This does not make 'Blackstar' a jazz album. What Bowie has done, as he has many times before, is to ditch the usual group of musicians to replace them with a group unused to playing rock. Think not of some Miles Davis sound-a-like. This bunch have muscle, invention and more than that the sheer desire to experiment, to go places they are unaccustomed to. The end result is shift again to unchartered waters.
The eponymous nine minute plus track with its lyrical ambiguity contains what is possibly three songs linked. It is a standout piece made good by Bowies willingness to write in an entirely different manner. Gone is the narrative flourishes of "The Cygnet Committee" or "Five Years;" gone is the cut and paste Bill Burroughs style as heard on "Low" and "Heroes," in its place is a cinematic, almost impressionistic tone. In fact the lyrics could even be meaningless. After all life often seems to have little or no meaning whatsoever and perhaps Bowie is reflecting that.
That cinematic reflex, certainly with an eye or ear on the lyrics is evident on "Girl Loves Me" which punctuates the song with a series of made up words, Orwellian almost, that give a terrifying glimpse into something alien, something distinctly unheard before.

"Where the fuck did Monday go?"

I often ask that question myself.

"Lazarus" is the new single. I doubt it will make the top ten. Notwithstanding that it is another longish track filled with saxophone, some growling guitar and tight drumming. The video is as alarming as its predecessor.

Each track is infused with a progressive slant edged by the instruments of jazz which add to the funky flavour of the songs.
This album really has an urgency about it unheard for some while. It prefers to experiment rather than garner dignity as the years pass. Comparisons to Scott Walker are rhetorical. Bowie has long had affection for the former Walker Brother naming him among his favourite vocalists. As for Bowie having been musically influenced by the American on 'Blackstar' then I think both men can own up to having been influenced by each other during their careers.

The more I think on it the more convinced I am that Bowie announced his return with a well written, stock-in-trade album that showed the world he was still around. It did the job and sold well then, a very short time after he returned to the studio and made "Blackstar." According to Tony Visconti, Bowies long time associate and producer, it has been virtually ready for a year. 
I find the whole album, at only some forty one minutes, a very satisfying experience. Sadly there will be no more to follow.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.


Cara H said...

I was shocked to learn of Bowie's death. I didn't even know he was ill. I'm listening to "Heroes" right now. He was an amazing talent and a unique human being.
A lot of the good ones are dying off. It's a sad thing.

Cara H said...

A silly tribute to Bowie here:

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog

A Utility Fish Shed Blog