Monday, January 4th, 2016

David Bowie – Blackstar

The inevitable return of the Thin White Duke…


Micha Cavaseno: When Bowie announced his big comeback with “Where Are We Now?” I was fucking gik’d. Few people could have the command presence to do a crooner album of pop despair that sounds bombed-out and scarred, like the fringes of the Berlin we always have to bring up with this guy. That said, David knows I fucking hate when he tries to Rock out, so he gave me a pretty decent Climate of Hunter-era Scott Walker track and a weird jazz influenced reminder of when his ’90s period had him trying to emulate Moving Shadow and Anthony Newly at the same time he was writing weird post-Burroughs concept albums. So now, “Blackstar” is a 9-minute experiment with skittery drums, Bowie sounding like Major Tom convalescing in a retirement community, weird attempts at funk, and details of connection to Lazarus. Its all a beguiling mix, and parts of it seem cool while parts of it are absurd, much like how I feel about Bowie point blank. But it is refreshing that in a world where I’m supposed to give a fuck about how reverent Dave Grohl is to classic rock in such a minuscule sense or how Bruce Springsteen knows about people who break the mold but never has the courage to try something like that, at least one old man of rock has the nerve to try and leave some people in a tailspin wondering not just “What just happened?” but, as well, “Why did I go through this”?

Patrick St. Michel: An essential inclusion in to the “song that sounds pretty wild and amazing that you’ll probably only listen to once” canon. 

Thomas Inskeep: Working with jazz musicians has clearly freed up Bowie; they give him the flexibility to take his music in any direction, which he most definitely does on “Blackstar.” There are snatches of ’70s funk, drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, sax blowing like Andy Mackay’s on golden-era Roxy Music records, interstellar-ish feels and synth pew-pews. Above it all is Bowie’s voice, beautifully recorded and treated by Tony Visconti, as he recently told Rolling Stone: “He sounds really good when we do this effect called ADT, automatic double-tracking. Then we fooled around with some rippling, repeat echoes. They’re all custom-made effects.” Sure, this isn’t a “single” in the traditional sense; it’s 9:57. But it’s pure experimental, boundary-pushing Bowie, on par with his Berlin trilogy. I love that he’s, for the most part, refusing to look back as he enters his seventh decade. This sounds nothing like I expected and everything like I might have hoped for.

Megan Harrington: Expensive sounding, sure, but still mostly a regurgitation of other ideas, some his and some part of the pop culture lexicon for half a century. Cribbing from “I’ll Be There” does not make one a black star, either. 

Jonathan Bogart: Recursiveness is far from a new trick in the old man’s repertoire, but I don’t know that he’s jammed so many of his previous selves into one suit before. The effect is almost that of a jukebox musical, Ziggy-era posturing fading into Station-era plastic funk and Berlin-era texturalism, and even some Mellotronic callbacks to 1969. It’s a shame Kanye West seems to have left behind his prog-rock aspirations; I’d love to see what he would make of it.

Jonathan Bradley: I can’t help it; this sounds like a Radiohead song stitched on to a Flaming Lips song, only with noodly sax bits. With its angels falling and solitary candles, somehow Thom Yorke and Wayne Coyne are less pretentious. Also, I don’t care if it’s meant to be about astronomical phenomena, a 68-year-old white British man singing “I’m a black star/I’m not a gangsta” sounds silly. (The noodly sax bits aren’t bad.)

Brad Shoup: This is, reportedly, two songs stitched together. What those songs are is best left to experts (but if I had to guess, it would be the part that sounds like The Drift and the part that sounds like Young Americans). Whatever infernal scene the first couple verses set is struck by the back half, wherein Bowie hops a plane and avoids any connections. Somewhere between is a fusion take on IDM, with Donny McCaslin’s sax as timid as the nonstop mewl about all the stars David is and is not. It certainly doesn’t cohere: not around the artist, and not around that blighted village. 

Cédric Le Merrer: I once attended Sleep No More in New York. If you ever have, you know it needs a wilful suspension of a certain sense of the ridiculous in order to be appreciated. It’s a choice you have to make when listening to “Blackstar,” while an older epic like Station to Station never asked for any permission to freak you out. But if you play by the rules, this is the ’90s Bowie comeback you didn’t know you wanted, which today’s Bowie’s gnomic persona fits much better than the trend-chasing Outside-era Bowie. Also, it includes no Reeves Gabrels solo. I could have done with a Mike Garson piano freakout though.

David Sheffieck: Spends far too much time avoiding Bowie’s greatest asset, his thin-and-growing-thinner voice, in favor of a vocal delivery and song structure that blatantly retread ground Scott Walker has explored to more experimental and interesting effect over the past couple decades. It’s incoherent atmosphere in search of not just a song but a purpose to attach to; maybe it works as a soundtrack, but it’s got little to offer on its own.

Alfred Soto: When I heard it in November, it reminded me of a “difficult” single like Outside‘s “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” useful as gesture and vestigial as music. This track’s pleasures are less vestigial: Donny McCaslin’s honks, Bowie’s mincing in the second third, the creaky-shutter-in-the-wind brittleness of his voice. But it still sounds like a gesture — a reminder of how he used to purloin sounds from sub-pop spheres without effort.

Reader average: [9] (12 votes)

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4 Responses to “David Bowie – Blackstar”

  1. I liked this a lot. Actually, I liked this more than anything on The Next Day. I like weird people I guess?

  2. rest in peace king. :(

  3. No mention of his passing yesterday? I’m assuming there will be a special feature to come?

  4. There will be. End of this week.