Wednesday 20 January 2016

Review of '★' by David Bowie

I thought he was The Man Who Fell To Earth? I thought he was the Goblin King? Alas, no-one it seems - even the mystical and legendary David Bowie - is immune to dying.

Recorded whilst fully aware that he was terminally ill, Blackstar is a farewell album of sorts from the late idol. Many artists have attempted to confront death in the past. This record is special in that Bowie bravely tackles it head-on. It's a first hand account of the feelings one encounters when faced with the end and hence a very powerful listen.

For the most part its not very explicit in its meaning. Bowie intelligently invites the listener to think deeply about the void by employing metaphors such as the tale of Lazarus and ambiguous statements such as 'I Can't Give Everything Away'. Is the latter a tragic plead to not part with reality? Does Bowie yearn to be reborn?

We will never know the artists' true intentions. This mystery is in some respects the most beautiful part of this album. Of course some idiots will always read too far into things as a result, misinterpreting the broken stars on the album cover to spell out 'death' (they spell out Bowie, by the way) and claiming that Bowie knew he'd die on a Sunday hence the 'Where the fuck did Monday go?' line on 'Girl Loves Me' (I dont' know the true meaning of this line but would like to think it's simply spooky coincidence).

There are other dangers with death, one being that it becomes very hard to write an unbiased and honest review when criticising the parting gift of a dead man. Everyone becomes sympathetic of you when you're no longer alive.

For that reason, I've got to be honest and admit that whilst I did enjoy this album's sentiments and meaning, the album's sound didn't quite have the same effect on me. Blending jazzy horns, atonal guitars and electronica, this may just be Bowie's most experimental album to date, which is saying a lot. However, there are certain tracks such as 'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore' in which the noodling saxophones are so tuneless they're practically obnoxious, made worse by Bowie's odd shrieking delivery.

There were clear signs of Bowie's voice weakening on his last album, The Next Day, and whilst he does try to exploit his vocal fraglility on Blackstar it's not always pleasant on the ear. 'Girl Loves Me' is perhaps the best example of this with its aforementioned hook 'where the fuck did monday go?' yelped like a tortured dog. Or maybe Bowie's just been listening to Young Thug. Either way it isn't particularly pleasant.

Overall, there aren't many of the songs that I care for sonically except the brooding epic and title track 'Blackstar', which has all the grandeur of an expedition through the Egyptian desert punctuated by a brief stop in a sleazy Western saloon. This track feels brillaintly avant-garde without shoving its avant-gardness in the listener's face. Its bold and brilliant and I wish it could have set the tone for the other tracks.