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Album of the Month

Album: Blackstar
Artist: David Bowie
Release Date: Aug 1, 2016
Label: ISO Records

As appeared in the NDSU Spectrum


Review by Darren Schneibel

Blackstar is a surprisingly relevant report from one of pop music’s most proficient artists living on the edge of human experience.  David Bowie’s shadowy 25th studio album is overshadowed by his death, which stunned fans two days after the record’s release on January 8th, his 69th birthday. David Bowie maintained unparalleled artistic relevance and innovation for half a century.  His signature style personified the fluid experience of expression and identity.  Its likely only months before we hear Blackstar-inspired releases and Bowie tributes, and I’m looking forward to it.  I’ll admit I’m anticipating the eventual Hollywood bio-flick. 
 
The reclusive New York inhabitant kept his 18-month struggle against cancer private while recording Blackstar.  Though weathering chemotherapy, Bowie starred in videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” looking well and playful.
 
 
In brief, Blackstar combines spooky crooning and galloping rhythms to create a jazz-fusion sound.  The shocking real world context and larger than life content initially overpower the sound itself, but Bowie’s collaborative experience leads.  Accompanied by first class jazz musicians and with the help of legendary producer Tony Visconti, Bowie expertly samples his vast repertoire creating a transcending new age sound that is laid back and piercing. 
 
In characteristic fashion Bowie intimately dances around his theme, death.  On Lazarus, he anxiously calls, “look up here, I’m in heaven”.  Bowie’s cryptic lyrics, when lucid, offer indifference and casual disillusionment.  While lacking in literal clarity, his voice maintains absolute authenticity.  Nimble emotive vocals, scattered driving rhythms, and soulful jazz give this album a reluctantly organic feel.  Expect it to hit the spot when you’re feeling low key dead.  Cynicism lingers, Bowie laments in Dollar Days: “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to/It’s nothing to me/It’s nothing to see”. We all deal with death, but it has perhaps never been so intimately experienced and expressed by such a skilled artist.  Blackstar is a masterwork, a swan song like none before, absolutely suspending Bowie fans between tears of joy and grief.