You Picked It! – David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ (2016) – Album Review

Alright…You Picked It! And this one wasn’t even close. The winner had the first vote and got passed, but ended up winning in the end. The winner was David Bowie’s Blackstar which was his last album before he died and one I have never listened to in its entirety. Here are the results.

  1. David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ – 9 votes
  2. Aldo Nova – ‘The Life & Times of Eddie Gage’ – 7 votes
  3. Steve Vai – ‘Passion & Warfare’ – 2 votes
  4. Journey – ‘Raised on Radio’ – 2 Vote
  5. Beyonce – ‘Lemonade’ – Sadly, 0 votes

Thanks to all for participating. The June choices will be up on Saturday!

DAVID BOWIE – ‘BLACKSTAR’:

When I saw this won, I was really worried about reviewing it because Bowie is very intimidating to me. Also, this was a well received album by the critics and fans as well as the fact he died two days after the release of the album which was released on January 8, 2016. David recorded this album in secret and surprised everyone with its release. He knew this was his last album and that makes it a really special album so I don’t want to hate it and bash his last efforts. Thankfully, that was not the case. It did take me a while to warm up to it, but after a couple spins I really started digging this album.

The album had a lot of experimental art rock elements, but the main thing I noticed was that it had a lot of Jazz elements as well and doing research I now know why. The band consisted a lot of New York local jazz musicians including saxophonist Donny McCaslin, pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana; guitarist Ben Monder joined the ensemble for the final sessions, while James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem contributed percussion.  The musicianship on this album is second to none and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

The opening track, “Blackstar”, is a dark and impending song which seems to see Bowie grappling with the terms of his death. An epic song at just under 10 minutes (because more than 10 minutes iTunes wouldn’t sell it as an individual song, so David edited it down to 9:58). The song seems very experimental in parts, but a constant and really cool groove throughout. Bowie sings in such a foreboding manner and the little jazzy horn moments even added a more sinister sound. There are so many tempo changes and interesting elements you can’t grasp it all in one sitting. It takes awhile to sink in, but when it does you will be in awe of its magnificence.

“‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore” was actually recorded as a demo for his prior album ‘The Next Day’ back in 2013. He re-recorded it here and it has a really cool and fascinating beat. The song seems upbeat and happy with more of that jazz horn thrown in for good measure, but the lyrics are not happy and upbeat, they are dark and violent as she punches him a lot. That dichotomy makes for a very interesting track and one of my favorites on the album.

My favorite being “Lazarus” and oh what a song. It feels like he is talking about the fame he’ll have after his death and how spot on he was. The song is sad, yet sensual and David breathes life in to it like only David can. There is this great crunchy guitar riff that is captivating and its timing and placement in the song is perfection. Bowie had nothing left to lose at this point and went for it and found a song that shows his talent as a singer and a songwriter and shows why his career lasted for 50 years. As I listen to the song again while typing this, I get lost in the music all over again, I stopped typing and soaked it in.

“Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” is an interesting song where the instruments are the star and seem to have freedom at doing whatever they want. It seems they are playing different songs, but somehow it all fits together in a wild and crazy world. The drum and bass are the main driver and everyone else follows their lead. The song is a re-recording from his previous album ‘The Next Day’ and this version is stripped down believe it or not. Sometimes Bowie’s songs can be weird and completely other there…well…this is a prime example.

The next track, “Girl Loves Me”, is some strange and trippy ride. And it should as it was inspired by Clockwork Orange. The lyrics at times are bizarre and unintelligible as I ain’t sure they are actual words. But it is also captivating and interesting and it sounds like classic Bowie with rock and jazz elements fighting for the space and making great music in the process. One thing I know for sure is I don’t know where the Fuck Monday went, but I hope one day we find out.

“Dollar Days” is another song that when you listen to it, it is difficult but only because it is Bowie looking back over life (at least that is what I get from it). What must he have been thinking about while he sang this. Vocally, he seems resound to his future death and yet saddened looking back over everything and what is important in life. All that is important is love and I think he had that. The saxophone and piano play a key role and make a beautifully sounding song.

Then we get in to the final song, and oh what a song it is. “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is another heartbreaking song. The sound on this one for some reason, reminds of his album “Let’s Dance” (not the song), I can’t say why, but that is what I thought when I heard it. Bowie is smooth and carries that confidence and sophistication that only he can do. There is an upbeat energy to the song, very uplifting while the lyrics are far from it. That sadness in the lyrics is a punch to the gut, but the song is so beautiful and what a way to go out. A standing ovation is much needed after every listen.

Can you imagine knowing you are going to die and then having the energy and foresight to put together one final album? Bowie has always been a chameleon with his music and you never know what he will bring to the table. This time he went all experimental jazz mixed with rock and gave us such a beautiful swan song of an album. Is it total perfection, no, but it is pretty darn close. The album is sad at times, but it highlights the beauty of love and life and with it everything we love about David Bowie. An artist that doesn’t give a fuck and does whatever the hell he wants and there is a reason he gets away with it…because he was a pure talent and a masterful artist at his craft. “Blackstar” is his final painting and with every stroke of his brush, he paints a scene that is captivating, alluring and mesmerizing and moves you in a way only the best can do. My Overall Score is a 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars. Bowie released this album, dropped the mic and said farewell. And he will be missed forever, but at least we have his music to remember him.

Thanks for stopping by and come back as Saturday, the next picks for the You Pick It Series will be up for your voting pleasure.

26 thoughts on “You Picked It! – David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ (2016) – Album Review

  1. I haven’t listened to this since it was released. I’ll have to give it a spin or two and then come back with some comments. I gotta say though that I’ve never been intimidated to review anything. Now if you ask me to try to play music and live up to the reputation of a Bowie, well NOW I’m intimidated. There’s only one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe intimidated is too strong a word. On the classic artists, I am worried I won’t do them justice that they deserve as so many things have been written about them. I haven’t done a Zeppelin review for that reason.

      Like

      1. Huh. Well, your call. But really, as a reader of your (and other) blogs, I read because I’m interested in your opinion. I doubt if anybody reading it is saying, “Boy that really sucked compared to Rolling Stone.”

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s