BlackStar by Bowie

Tuesday 22nd August

Along with most people I was moved by the nature of Bowie’s death.  We all knew he had been unwell, just how unwell was a well-guarded secret.  A year earlier he had released ‘The Next Day’ after a break in recording and touring of several years.  To be honest I wasn’t that impressed by that record.  One or two brilliant tracks, but just a bit too noisy for me.  I got the sense he was trying too hard to be Bowie, the Bowie of old that is.

But last year, just before the announcement of his death came ‘Blackstar’.  And it was and remains the most poignant and apposite of Artistic Statements.  It is literally littered with clues as to his impending death.  Just think about it.  He knew he only had months, or possibly weeks to live, but he was determined to leave us a rare gift, a farewell note.

I deliberately waited over a year before listening to the record.  I had been emotionally moved by the videos of Blackstar and Lazarus, with Bowie looking awful and wrapped in those button eyes.  This was ‘rock n’ roll’ of a different order completely.  Anyway with the distance passed I started listening to Bowie’s latest record.  So, what do I think?  Actually, it is one of his best records.  Forget the circumstances and judge it on its own merits was my idea.  Of course it is almost impossible to forget that this was his last album and recorded in the weeks before he died.  But it really is a very good record.  The opening tack ‘Blackstar’ is really two songs joined together but works really well.  And ‘Lazarus’ is simply brilliant too, with or without the moving video.  But the album is more than just these two semi-familiar songs.  The feel of the album is different too.  Recorded with a New York Jazz band the ‘music’ never overwhelms the voice. And amazingly his voice is still great, and not raddled or gruff like so many of his contemporays, but clear and bright still.  The songs are all pretty good too, especially ‘Dollar Days’ and the final track ‘I can’t give everything away’.   For me, it is more reminiscent of ‘hours’ than any of his other records, a bit quieter, a bit more reflective, a bit more melodic – and all the better for that.

Who knows if his death had been delayed by a decade how this record would have been received.  Maybe he needed the impetus to pull another great album out of the bag.  But it certainly is a very good record.  And brilliantly packaged, even if most of the lyrics are glossy black on matt black and almost impossible to read.

Blackstar by David Bowie (2016-07-28)