4. Blackstar – David Bowie
David Bowie’s private battle with liver cancer unfortunately ended earlier this year, but not before he released his parting gift to the world, ironically, on his own birthday: Blackstar.
Blackstar features arguably the most gripping narrative of all Bowie’s albums. This album isn’t about Major Tom, or Ziggy Stardust, or Aladdin Sane, or the Thin White Duke, or even about David Bowie; our protagonist is David Robert Jones, a man staring death in the face, on the journey to acceptance of his fate.
The album garners a more visceral response than even the likes of Cannibal Corpse or Cattle Decapitation, but through very different means. While death metal bands draw upon grotesque descriptions of viscera and torture, Bowie takes his legendary capacity to create, and uses it to plant us inside him. The varied tempos are sudden pangs of panic, the minimalistic production on ‘Lazarus’ is the world around him fading into unimportance, the glitchy intro to the title track are the surreal perceptions of a man given a diagnosis which sounds more like a death sentence. The vocals reach higher in pitch as fear overwhelms, each slight voice crack a swallowed sob, until the album fades out, the life leaving Bowie’s bones, his spirit drifting off towards another realm.
That the album incorporates one of the widest arrays of instruments of any of Bowie’s is only fitting as a celebration of his artistry, culminating in a sample of “A New Career in a New Town”, from his critically acclaimed and ironically named 1977 album, Low, as Jones steps into the great unknown. Sonically journeying through avant-garde jazz on the title track and ‘Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)’, dance balladry on ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, lounge-tinged rock on ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’ and even including electronically modulated orchestral track in ‘Girl Loves Me’, the album is a compilation of Bowie’s greatest sounds. Majestic in all forms, no words can do justice to this album’s story.
The album doesn’t so much guide its listeners down the path of acceptance as it does drag them, kicking and screaming, up the emotional Everest of the end, from denial to death, making sure to not skip over all the turmoil in between. Oddly though, the album’s tone isn’t angry or brutal, but feels a bizarre combination of vulnerable and confident; repeated listens have, in actual fact, made me more comfortable with the notion of dying, and in some small way dull the sharp fear that generally accompanies the thought, and in so doing, is the ultimate send-off for one of the most acclaimed artists of the last century. David Jones may be dead, but David Bowie will live on forever.
Favourite Track: Lazarus
Text by Aidan Lindsay
Featured image by Jonathan W. Espiritu and Donna Darafshian.