David bowie: ★ (Blackstar) Review

I hold high regard to those who transcend bounds and limitations placed on anything, especially music.  Going against the current of what's expected or what's popular is a risky move that pays off to those who stay true to their vision.  David Bowie is among those visionaries.  From Ziggy Stardust to the Berlin-era, the Thin White Duke, "Dancing in the Street" with Mick Jagger (I don't care what anyone says, the song and video are great), new wave, industrial collaborations with Trent Reznor and more, Bowie is a man of many musical identities.  With his latest album, Bowie's taking us to where music's never taken anyone before.

Bowie's 25th album, titled "★" or Blackstar (whichever you choose) showcases a journey into the unknown in the only way David Bowie can.  Like his 2013 album "The Next Day", "Blackstar" was recorded secretly at The Magic Shop in New York throughout 2014 and most of 2015.  This 7-song, 40-minute album is among Bowie's strangest, boldest and greatest work of his 54+ year career as a musician.  

The album's opening track "Blackstar" is a near 10-minute journey to a world and sound you've never seen nor heard of, respectively.  Everything from Bowie's vocal delivery to the percussion and saxophone, "Blackstar" is a great introduction into this world and experience Bowie is taking you on.  Around the 4-minute mark is when the song shifts and transforms to something  you've never heard before.  Bowie's never been one to shy away from risks and the album's title track is a clear statement of that.

"'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" despite it's off-putting title picks up the pace from where "Blackstar" left off.  The band assembled to make Bowie's vision come to life is astounding.  The saxophone on this song has me hooked.  Credit to Donny McCaslin for his skills on such a passionate instrument.  The lyrics to "'Tis a Pity" tell of a woman no man would ever want to come across and it's made clear by Bowie when he sings as if he experienced this first hand.

"Lazarus" starts off with a simple drum beat, guitar riff and progresses with a subtle horn section that sounds lovely with a hint of haunting, ominous tones.  "Lazarus" is also featured in Bowie's musical of the same name.  The musical is the sequel to the 1976 film "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and stars actor Michael C. Hall (of "Dexter" fame) who also sings the song in the stage production as the alien millionaire "Thomas Newton" whom Bowie previously portrayed in the 1976 film .  To try and decipher Bowie's lyrics and their meaning is something I can't do.  What I will say is "Lazarus" is easily one of my favorites on "★" .

"Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" was originally released on Bowie's 2014 compilation album "Nothing Has Changed".  The original version was nearly 8 minutes long and paced slower in comparison to the new version featured on "★".   The new album's take on "Sue" features a faster tempo, a driving guitar riff, a pulled back string section and spot-on drumming that musically sounds nothing like it's predecessor.  I'm personally a fan of the original version more than the new one.  Regardless it's a great song with lyrics to match.

"Girl Loves Me" further takes us into the unknown with Bowie's vocals taking the wheel on this nearly 5-minute long song.  With songs ranging from 6-10 minutes, "Girl Loves Me" feels like it was over before it began before easily flowing into "Dollar Days".  Bowie's overdubbed vocal harmonies accompanying the lead is beautiful.  Upon first listen I get a musical vibe of "Space Oddity".  I can't compliment enough the ensemble put together for "★" and how they're just as important as David Bowie is to his own album.

The album's closing track "I Can't Give Everything Away" has a very 80's vibe to it from the synths in the background to the drum machine.  I love the addition of the harmonica to the mix.  What diverts this from being labeled as an 80's song is Bowie's singing.  His vocal performance has evolved over the decades.  In recent years surrounding the creation of "The Next Day" and now "★" I find Bowie's operatic use of vibrato to his singing to be captivating.  It's not forced.  Being a singer, I can say singing like that takes great control.  Bowie makes it sound effortless.  "I Can't Give Everything Away" comes and goes faster than you can say the song's title.  Before you know it, the build up of the band throughout the song and the beautiful guitar solo fall back into oblivion and when the synths fade out you're left in silence, soon replaying the album again and again and again.  At first listen I found myself wondering "is that all?"  The more i listened to the album beginning to end, the more I understood that the amount of songs and time length was just right and that any additional song would be overkill.

The mystery behind David Bowie is something that I always wonder about as a fan and as a musician.  "★" managed to top his last album "The Next Day" and personally stands as one of my favorite albums he's created.  A lot of credit goes to Bowie but this collective work of art would not of been possible without the musicians who helped build and construct this musical journey.  "★" is weird.  It's out there, different and crazy and I think that's why I love it as much as I do.  It reflects who I am as a person.  The fact art in any kind can do that is profound and anyone who can do this transcends beyond the norm and David Bowie truly transcends on "★".

Links for David Bowie