David Bowie – Blackstar
The first impression of Blackstar, David Bowie’s latest installment for his disciples, is one of imminent rapture with a certain Occultist nuance. Fans of the first season of True Detective will recognize the eponymous concept in relation to Carcosa, The Yellow King and the supernatural fiction of Robert Chambers, but those unfamiliar should know that it’s probably about to get weird.
And while there are no further references to the above, either on the titular track or the rest of the record, weirdness abounds. Thankfully, that is the best possible outcome. Seven tracks of considerable length melt together, concocting a broth thick with freeform jazz influences, staccato bass lines and the sense of a depraved transposition of 80s heist show soundtracks; although it shouldn’t, it nevertheless leaves an immensely satisfying taste on the palette. Donny McCaslin’s searing sax leads act as the point of reference on most of the songs, but it is Mark Guiliana’s cut-up drums that steal the show, expertly recorded and produced by Tony Visconti.
The influence of New York jazz certainly maintain its presence throughout, and there are instrumental breakdowns on the radically reworked Sue that could be pended by Tyondai or Anthony Braxton. At the other end of the album, Lazarus starts with a scratchy, minor-melodic guitar line that sounds not dissimilar to Turn on the Bright Lights-era Interpol, before the bass and drums pick up the pace and casually transmute into a Mars Volta-esque breakdown that serves as the foundation for the verse. At this point it becomes clear that, while sax solos and synth pads paint an extraordinarily vivid and complex picture, Blackstar is essentially a Trojan horse pop record – there are verses and catchy, sing-along choruses, and Bowie’s voice still carries the same crackling emotion.
When, on Girl Loves Me, the opening bars of echoing spoken-word Nadsat imbue a sense of maybe this has all gone a bit too far, attention is wrestled back as the “Where the fuck did Monday go?” refrain reflects the eagerly anticipated Kendrick Lamar inspiration. The final track, I Can’t Give Everything Away, is a beautifully understated number (also the best example of Bowie’s vocal skills, which are still going strong at 69) and its open-road aesthetic provides a fitting détente to an album that shows an icon of reinvention at the very top of his game.
Blackstar is released on 8th January 2016, for further information or to pre-order the album visit here.
Watch the video for Blackstar here:
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