By Ed Jones
*article written before David Bowie’s sudden death*
I think it’s fair to say that at this point David Bowie could easily retire and no one would judge him for it. With a career spanning 54 years and 25 albums, the man’s been a creative force for long enough. That being said, I’m glad he hasn’t called it a day. With the release of The Next Day in 2013, people were bemoaning that he just sounded like a crazy old man crooning about nothing. I, personally thought the album was quite good, but only quite, however lacking it was in places, it felt like something big was around the corner.
That something is Blackstar, I’m gonna get a lot of stick for this but I honestly believe this is Bowie’s best album since Heroes all the way back in 1977. Kicking things off with lead single and title song Blackstar, the album states its intentions clearly, and those intentions are to mess with your mind and take you down a psychedelic rabbit hole that only Bowie could have created. It’s a staggering achievement to create an album quite as distinctly psychedelic as it is, it’s uniquely disturbing and comforting all at the same time unlike most psyche albums which opt to stay in either or category for the duration. For example, Lazarus, easily my favourite song on the album. It starts off in a mournful, reflective bend, not dissimilar to a Joy Division song, but quickly opens up into something far more complex and disturbing, before winding back down with a guitar hook that I just can’t help but love. It’s a perfect example of a man who’s in complete control of his music even as it seems likes its flying all over the place.
I feel like that’s probably the best way to describe almost all of the songs on this album, they always feel like they’re on the edge of freaking out, quite often histrionically, for example the psychedelic fuzz rock that is Sue (Or in a Season of Crime). Or that saxophone that seems to lurk on the edge of inviting and terrifying on almost every song, it brings you in the kicks you straight back out again with nary a second glance. Even the lyrics often seem to edge towards psychotic warnings without time to process them ‘I’m sitting on the chestnut tree/who the fuck’s gonna mess with me?’ from Girl Loves Me, Bowie sounds like a bird of prey toying with his victims rather than the 69 year old man that he is.
The man himself has aged, you can hear his voice cracking and I will admit he doesn’t sound quite as good as he used to, but none of his charm or mystique have been lost. His lyrics are still as beautiful and bold as they always were, penultimate song Dollar Days reads more as two fingers up to his retirement ‘If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to/It’s nothing to me/ It’s nothing to see/ I’m dying too.’ It’s a bold statement, but in context it’s hard not to sympathize with him, after 56 years of endless creativity and reinvention it seems the only way Bowie will actually retire is when he’s dead.
If I were one for making bold statements, I’d wager that Bowie is one of the last truly great icons of his era. While many of his peers seem to have run out of creative energy and are now just playing the same five songs to admittedly sell out crowds, they’ve lost something, the spark, the energy, whatever it is, it’s gone and now they’re just basking in former glories. The only other artist of Bowie’s generation, albeit one that started later than he did, who’s still as creatively mesmerizing, is Tom Waits, with every new release, no matter how spaced apart they may be I wait with baited breath as I know it will be something new, or if not new, at least interesting.
Bowie may not have reinvented the wheel, he doesn’t need to at this point, but he’s not afraid to give it a good spin and shake things up a bit. If The Next Day was him shaking the dust off, Blackstar is a second coming, it shoots down any suggestion that Bowie’s just an old crazy man talking nonsense. He’s in full control of everything he does and he’s going to drag you kicking and screaming with him if you dare to enter his world. I recommend that you do.
Verdict – WWWWW