What We Talk About When We Talk About David Bowie

A review of Blackstar

by Wesley James Young

1b112d6c195f06bb96e761cab2ce0bc5I am quite certain David Bowie is having a rather good time in heaven right now. He teased a new album a few months back, died before its release, and now his memory permeates a work that fans are examining with their Ziggy Stardust decoder pins. All of this effort for a man who once said in an interview that his songs do not have a deep meaning he wants to project and later praised his fans for telling him what his songs meant because at times he claimed to have no idea what he meant. That is not to say Bowie puts nothing of himself into his work. Like Sauron with the one ring, there is a great deal of himself in his songs. Not just the lyrics but the music. Something he hated seeing in the press was obsessions over the meaning of his lyrics separate from the music. For him it was all about the show. A package of album and personality which was always there to keep us guessing but never existed to give an answer we could trust. Even the name David Bowie was just one more mask for David Robert Jones to give us a multi-decade performance. With all that preamble in mind, let’s talk about Blackstar.

The album, if you go with the 180 gram vinyl edition that I went with, is a black gatefold affair with a black star shape cut in the front to reveal the album encased in a hard plastic sleeve. I do not trust this sleeve for repeat pulling and thus opted for an archival grade translucent sleeve I happen to have. Besides images of Bowie and a star-scape, all the material is glossy black letters and symbols printed on a matte black background—reminiscent of the black spaceship from Restaurant at the End of the Universe. It is cryptic, possibly overwrought, and I would not change a thing.

The first track, which is the title track by the way, is a bold introduction of haunting tones and sax sounds that would not be out of place in a futuristic mega-monastery that shifts to tones that would not be out of place in The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust then shifts again to tones that would not feel wrong on some great late 90’s album that never was. The lyrics meanwhile go from solemn tones about a solitary candle in a villa to jocular phrases of being a flash in a pan and then shifts to themes of death and resurrection. I feel the self-confident smile of a man who knows he still has it and is doing you a favor by telling you he still has it. Similar themes of resurrection can be found in later tracks like Lazarus. The whole album is full of those themes of darkness, sexual ambiguity, and sci-fi that have defined his work. There is also sadness, resurrection, and death as well.

I really don’t want to dig further into the songs and lyrics of this album only because that would invest a meaning into it that you may not share, that you may not come to on your own. Instead I will just recommend that you sit back, put on a good pair of headphone, play this album on the best stereo you can find, and let it possess you as David Bowie takes a final bow before David Robert Jones passes from this Earth.

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