Music That Inspires v.31: David Bowie – Blackstar

David Bowie died on January 10, 2016. I have been a fan of his for some time, although I could not say that I followed all his music. Two of my uncles were fans, so I grew up listening to Bowie’s work. My uncles were almost two decades apart in age. The older one favored Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust work while the older favored what Bowie called his “Phil Collins years.” Those would the mid 1980s, particularly around the album Let’s Dance.

I listened to those songs and loved them, but I somewhat forgot about Bowie until I saw the film Se7en. The film ended his song The Hearts Filthy Lesson, and brought back my interest in Bowie’s music. (Interesting side note: Brian Eno produced this song and the album it came from, Outside. I notice that several of my favorite songs or albums were produced by Eno, including two of my three favorite U2 albums.)

I bought a few albums here and there and again Bowie slipped my mind until 2014. One of my friends mentioned a documentary about Bowie called David Bowie – Five Years. After watching it, I dug up my Bowie cds. It was weird rediscovering music I already had. What made it more enjoyable was my cousin, godson, and my godson’s friends falling in love with the music, particularly the album Young Americans.

My friend and I were talking about Bowie on Saturday, wondering if he would release another album. It took Bowie ten years to release his previous album The Next Day (which I still have not gotten). This is a Sade schedule, so we were having a bit of a laugh about who would release an album first. After the conversation, I checked and noticed not only did Bowie have an album coming out, but he had released two singles.

I bought Blackstar and I knew when I listened to it what it was. Firstly, I knew it was a masterpiece of music. It is so rare to get an album. What I mean is something where each song is cohesive and follows a general theme. This used to be common, but in our increased singles market it is gone. Older artists, both in terms of age or longevity, are more likely to present such an album (U2 and Dr. Dre did this with their last albums). This is what you get from Bowie — seven songs thematically driven by morality, recognition, regret, and good dose of humor.

Secondly, I knew it was Bowie’s last album. The opening song gives that away. But rather than feeling sad, I marveled at Bowie’s talent. Now that I know he was suffering from cancer, I am even more impressed with the quality of music that he produced. This is a perfect album, and it is not the first time he has made one. Yet to make one while battling cancer and to make it fresh and modern and forward-looking while retrospective and introspective is insane.

It is as if Bowie took pieces of all his eras and personas and genres and gave a taste of what should come next. You can hear the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s influences, yet it is never dated or derivative. It is no different than what he did with Young Americans or Let’s Dance. He took those concepts, played with them, and gave us something new from his perspective.

This is Blackstar.

Bowie released the album on his 69th birthday. He also released all the songs on his YouTube page, so now I can share them with you in perfect quality. There are only seven songs on the album (and I have to wonder if he only planned seven or if that was all he could finish), so I will comment on them from my liked to most loved.

‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore

This sounds like something out the 1960s. The title is based off a play by the same name. I love the barely controlled jazzy of this song.

Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)

This one reminds me of The Hearts Filthy Lesson. Oddly enough, when I first heard this, I thought of Final Fantasy 7. I could see this being a battle song.

Blackstar

This was the title track of the album and the first song. It is longest on the album, and bit of genre bender as the music completely changes halfway through. I read that Bowie was partly inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s last album, and you can hear on this song. The song is haunting and the video takes that up at least two notches. I still have no idea what any of the imagery means. That sort of thing has always been outside of my reach, however, it is a fascinating thing to watch.

I Can’t Give Everything Away

In a way, I think this song, the final song on the album, answers my question about whether Bowie intended to add more songs to the album. But I also think it is broader reaching than that. I think he was also saying that he still had plenty to give, but he would keep some for himself, perhaps because we were not ready for it. It is an honest way to end the album.

Dollar Days

This one reminded me a lot of my late uncle. He would have loved this song. I think it is one of the most poignant and personal on this album. It is Bowie reconciling with the fact that he will not live much longer and accepting it while still wanting to live on. You can hear the conflicting emotions, and I find it difficult to put into words what the song makes me feel.

Lazarus

When I heard the first two seconds of this song I knew it was the best song on the album. It is as if Bowie took everything from I Can’t Give Everything Away, Dollar Days, and Blackstar, rolled it into one song, and set it to the darkest jazz riff he could think of. It pulls you in, making you feel all the tension and pain and regret and happiness and relief Bowie must have been going through. And just when you think it could not get any deeper, here comes of a mean saxophone solo that just builds and builds and ends on this perfect haunting guitar riff. The last two minutes of the song you can almost hear every rapper in the world wanting a go it. This is easily one of the best songs I have heard in the last ten years.

Do yourself a favor: buy this album. Even if you are not a David Bowie fan or a fan of avante-garde jazz and art rock, just try it. I promise it is one of the best albums you will ever hear.

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One thought on “Music That Inspires v.31: David Bowie – Blackstar

  1. Thanks for the review. I do plan on picking up that album. Was playing not far from where I live, but for some reason, kept putting off getting tickets for the concert about 10-11 years ago. Don’t take these older artists for granted. Glad I got to see BB King twice and Ringo’s All-Star Band recently plus other classic acts.

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