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Music Review: Blackstar

January 22, 2016

 

JOHN SADLER 

Photo courtesy of Columbia Records

Photo courtesy of Columbia Records

Features Editor| jts040@ latech.edu

 

On Jan. 10, the world lost David Bowie.

 

Known by his many alternate personas and his always shifting stance on popular music, many fans online immediately began to feel a Bowie-sized hole in the music scene.

 

Before he left, however, he released “Blackstar,” an ominous goodbye letter to his fans with tinges of melancholia and semi-occult references.

 

The album, which consists of seven tracks of varying length, is very absorbed in the death Bowie knew was coming.

 

The album’s second single, “Lazarus,” begins with the lines “look up here, I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.”

 

It’s a self-written epitaph. Bowie, in keeping with his and wife Iman’s public policy of privacy, had let no news about his cancer slip until after his death.

 

It doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch to assume The Thin White Duke wished the album’s topic to be kept secret.

 

Bowie was never one to spell things out for his fans. Stronger and more intense that 2013’s “The Next Day,” “Blackstar” is an album with little to no reprieve from the darkness.

 

Title track “Blackstar” is two songs in one. The beginning of the track is decidedly anti-pop, with Bowie moaning maybe-occult references (In the villa of Ormen / there stands a solitary candle) over a minimal drum beat.

 

The middle of the song veers into more standard (if such a word can be applied to Bowie) territory, with Bowie finishing his verses with the distorted cry “I am a blackstar.”

 

Some of the best lyrics of the album are in this segment, such as “You’re a flash in the pan / I’m the great I am.” Other stand out songs include “Girl Loves Me,” which is sung halfway in Nadsat, the fictional language from Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange.”

 

It also contains words from Polari, an invented language popular with gay crowds in 1970s London.

 

In “Dollar Days,” Bowie addresses the fans directly, claiming that while he doesn’t care about the “oligarchs” of the music industry, he is “dying to” give his fans what they want.

 

He repeats “dying to” multiple times throughout the song, like a mantra. Listened to after his death, the album seems like he is begging us to realize what’s happening without addressing it directly.

 

The album has also recently been confirmed as Bowie’s first album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and it’s a distinction that it deserves.

 

“Blackstar” is a tremendous farewell from one of the most important musicians to come out of the 20th century.

 

While we might have lost Ziggy Stardust, we’ll always have “Blackstar” and his phenomenal discography to get us through darker times.

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