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CD of The Week

Week of 1/18/16

    David Bowie - Blackstar (Columbia)

    David Bowie's Blackstar is mysterious but open, slippery yet confrontational. It borrows elements of his past in the service of looking firmly forward. It is paradoxical and kind of amazing. The title track illustrates this explicitly, creating a tense, inscrutable atmosphere with a skittering beat and reverb-laden vocals, before slowing down and lifting the veil as Bowie makes the message as plain as he can. "Something happened on the day he died," he croons. "Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside." The other single, "Lazarus," plays almost like a confessional. "Look up here, man, I'm in danger," he sings over a spare, slow beat, horns blaring in the distance like ambulance sirens. "I've got nothing left to lose."

    Elsewhere, "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" and "Sue (or In a Season of Crime)" seem like intellectual exercises, as if Bowie just wanted to amuse himself by turning a 17th century play into acid jazz and drum-and-bass workouts. Looking back, one could almost confuse them for outtakes from Black Tie, White Noise and Earthling, respectively. And "Girl Loves Me," on its surface, sounds like an opportunity for Bowie to shake out his A Clockwork Orange fascination, blending actual British slang with the fictional Nadsat.

    It's impossible to look at this album in a vacuum though, given the circumstances of its recording. One tends to listen for clues, like the labored breaths on "'Tis a Pity," or Bowie shouting "Where the fuck did Monday go?" on "Girl Loves Me." The last two songs make the message explicit, one a burst of defiance ("Dollar Days"), the other a resignation ("I Can't Give Everything Away").

    On one hand, Blackstar feels like a summation of everything Bowie has done since the '90s, playing around with many of the ideas and continuing the themes of mortality and regret he's largely doubled down on since ...hours (though, to be fair, death has been a running theme his entire career). Unlike his previous album, which felt more like a highlight reel, Blackstar is a much more resolute work, looking ahead to the most uncertain of futures. According to his producer, Bowie wasn't done, even recording demos for another album up to his final days. Blackstar is a perfectly crafted goodbye, that still anticipates all that could have been.
    Review by Andre Bennett

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