by Bridget D. Rea
At just a little over forty minutes long, David Bowie’s final album, “Blackstar,” is a reflection of his life and impact as an artist. The late Bowie, who died on Jan. 10, 2016, was one of the most influential artists of the latter half of the twentieth century.
With his trademark eclectic genius, Bowie’s songs and collaborations create a mixtape of some of the most iconic songs of the late 1900s. From the enigmatic “Space Oddity” to his collaboration with Freddy Mercury in “Under Pressure,” Bowie proved to be a necessity in any playlist.
He traversed through a host of genres, even going so far as to create his own, referred to as “glam rock” or “glitter rock,” and he became a pioneer of popular music as a whole. While glam rock was popular and revolutionized in the ‘70s, “Blackstar” is distinctive in its own right, being labeled as falling under the genres art rock, jazz and experimental rock.
To its core, “Blackstar” is quintessential late Bowie with a twist of finality. The titular song, which leads off the album, has a ghostly chant revolving around lyrics charged with execution scenes, prophesying his imminent end. The track ends with a cacophony of flutes and saxophones and a tripping beat as if we were watching the final moments before the axe was swung.
We move into the second track which has a little more determination and heavy breathing. The beat here is frantic in pace, and we revert back to screaming woodwinds. Here, Bowie paints a picture that makes a lot of sense with the song where he bemoans his romantic escapades in “’Tis a Pity She Was A Whore.” This song also ends with a retreat back into the ghastly groaning that was so prominent in “Blackstar.”
“Lazarus” is the main single from “Blackstar” and is perhaps one of the most haunting. In the song, Bowie sings from heaven about his journey through life as an artist, in that he alludes to his other songs.
In the end, he sings “I’ll be free, ain’t that just like me.” He discusses how the judgment that has been on him all of his life for his style and other personal events won’t matter when he’s gone.
And, finally, in the bridge, those shrill saxophones come back. The percussive strum of the guitar in the last minute is part of his signature style, and once again contributes to how “Lazarus” is somewhat a self-eulogy.
“Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” is a bit more upbeat and driving. One of the cool things about this song is that, like Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” the running saxophone dances from right to left in the speakers as if it’s literally running through your mind.
“Girl Loves Me” begins with a monotonous sort of chant. The lyrics go on to describe how in fits of passion, days disappear. “Dollar Days” starts with a shuffling of paper, most likely money. It discusses how Bowie is working his way toward something, but if he doesn’t make it, it’s okay. By the second chorus, there are more ghostly sounds and we realize that he’s accepting the end of his life.
The final track of the album, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” is a realization that Bowie didn’t get to do everything he wanted to do in his life—everything, in this case, being his music. He discusses the physical aspects of his illness in his verses, which are quite simple and short. To me, this is one of the most poignant songs on the entire album, since it serves as a fitting outro for his musical career.
Release dates are hardly ever accidents. The purpose of this album was clear from the beginning, David Bowie knew that he was very sick when he was making this album. Odds are, he planned to have this released at what he figured was going to be a very late point in his life, and he was successful. It came out on his birthday, two days before he died.
David Bowie was a master musical artist. He had been in the industry for five decades, something that hardly any other popular artist can be credited for, and released over twenty studio albums in his lifetime. Undoubtedly, his legacy will live on long into the future as an icon in the social and entertainment spheres. David Bowie will be sorely missed, but his legacy will live on as long as people are willing to listen.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 6 A&E