Review: David Bowie – Blackstar

Ollie Smith 12 January 2016

David Bowie’s 25th studio album, 'Blackstar'  confirms the suspicion that – remarkably enough, given the frequency with which he has reinvented his image and sound throughout his career – there is still fresh ground aplenty left for this titan to tread. His latest offering is the perfect foil to 2013’s ten-year-awaited comeback 'The Next Day', which saw Bowie drawing upon the art and glam rock influences that he played with so brilliantly in the ‘70s and early ‘80s: liberated by that triumphant revisiting of old stomping grounds, he can explore new horizons here with reckless abandon.

The name of the game this time is avant-garde jazz, and if Bowie himself is the star of the show, Donny McCaslin’s saxophone is a worthy supporting actor. To the melancholic Lazarus it lends everything from brooding, velvety interludes to a raucous, spiralling outro that reflects the plaintive desperation of the song’s lyrics; elsewhere it can freewheel wildly through the stomping tumult of highlight ‘Tis Pity She Was a Whore'. It represents just one element of the rich layering that characterises almost every song on this album, and makes repeated listens of them so rewarding (the sole exception being the touch too repetitive slow funk of 'Girl Loves Me'). What unites the various sounds and themes is the album’s mood, which is generally one of gloom and poignancy: 'Sue' (Or 'In a Season of Crime') unfurls a horror story of violence and rejection over chugging guitars, whilst the largely acoustic ballad Dollar Days meditates mournfully on restlessness and alienation.

All in all, though, the album's strengths are perhaps best encapsulated by its majestic title track. There is a moment halfway through ten-minute-long 'Blackstar' – which starts as it ends, with Bowie detailing the sinister practices of a mysterious religion over skittish beats, all recounted in the style of Gregorian chant – where the fog suddenly clears, synth strings swell, his voice loses thirty years of age in thirty seconds, and a glorious pop ballad cuts through the darkness. It is mad, incomparable, brilliant and utterly Bowie, who is not so much raging against the dying of the light with this album as burning brighter than ever.