Album Review: David Bowie, “Blackstar”

Rating: A

For those of you that have somehow not learned the sad news, David Bowie died of cancer two days after he turned 69 and released “Blackstar.” This album was not surprising in terms of uniqueness; when listening to any Bowie album you should prepare for your mind to be blown. Although only Bowie himself knew whether or not this would be his last album, the mortality-centered lyrics hint that Bowie’s own death was in the back of his head when recording this album.

The title track of the album, “Blackstar,” features a repetitive, but not annoying hip-hop drum beat sample, setting the tone for what the percussion would be for much of the album. There are many instances where hip-hop clearly influences Bowie on this album, and this comes as no surprise as Bowie said he wanted this album to be his “To Pimp A Butterfly,” referring to Kendrick Lamar’s latest album. Bowie’s voice is melodic as well as melancholy on this track. Donny McCaslin’s saxophone is strong throughout the album (sounding similar to Pink Floyd’s saxophone parts on “Dark Side of the Moon”).

The next song on the album is very similar in the instrumentation as the title track — a wide-range of other jazz instruments and percussion are used. Bowie’s voice is just as strong and addictive as it was on “Let’s Dance,” but with the strong jazzy music in the background, it seems like a new, more modern Bowie.

“Lazarus” continues the album’s recurring biblical themes. This is one of the only “pure” rock songs on this album, but Bowie makes sure to still feature jazzy vibes that complement his edgy guitar riffs. Bowie’s voice whimpers as he sings about his circumstances: drama, New York City and self-disgust. The edginess is continued in Bowie’s next song, “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime),” a fast-paced song once again led by overarching guitar riffs. As Bowie grows more irritated with Sue, or whomever he is writing to, the song grows faster and edgier.

“Girl Loves Me” once again displays a fresh sound. The song is produced well and features a firm, but airy vocal. The lyrics are similar to the very confident rap of Lamar’s and the similarities between Bowie’s new music and rap are continued in his next track, “Dollar Days.” The song has a very nostalgic feel around it, as Bowie repeatedly discusses England and his past years.

“I Can’t Give Everything Away,” the concluding track, features a strong harmonica that is played over soft synthesizers and a hip-hop beat. The song, without looking too in-depth into Bowie’s career, is fitting: Bowie can’t give everything away and “it might just blow our minds.” This song is one of the only tracks with a guitar solo and — though short and somewhat interrupted by Bowie’s singing — is an interesting, rock influenced addition.
David Bowie has always been able to make great classics like “Let’s Dance” and “Changes.” However, what Bowie was able to do even more successfully is make an album that’s songs are able to blend together into a true masterpiece. This is what Bowie did with “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” and is what Bowie was once again able to do even in the final days before his death.

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