Review by Nick Erickson, Staff writer
All good things must come to an end. The life of rock legend David Bowie abruptly came to a tragic end due to cancer on Jan. 10 of this year, shortly after his 69th birthday. Millions mourned Bowie’s passing as the news swept the planet. Fortunately, and quite bittersweet, the world is left with Bowie’s final musical work. Only two days before his death, Bowie released his last album, “Blackstar.”
This album stands on it’s own as a beautiful testament and musical goodbye to a beloved icon.
If one must pinpoint one thing Bowie did best in his work, it would be his versatility. Known for his distinctive vocal techniques, Bowie seamlessly mashed different aspects of music in his own. On “Blackstar,” Bowie managed to form a concoction of genres and influences. Whether it was the melancholic, saxophone-infused jazz, intense drum’n’bass, or gritty electric guitars, this record has many colors. Even with only seven tracks on the album, Bowie, along with a handful of notable studio musicians, created some of the most memorable material out of his 25-album catalog, which spans more than five decades.
Opening up the album is the title track, “Blackstar.” This song stands out as being significantly longer than the other six tracks, clocking in at an impressive 10 minutes long; it begins with eerie, clean guitar arpeggios, a layer of haunting vocal harmonies joins the mix, backed with a groovy drumbeat. There are enough electronic sounds deep in the background to give the track a feeling like this could be featured on a sci-fi horror flick soundtrack. Bowie’s lyricism on this track brings the unsettling, dark atmosphere of the music to the forefront. Touching on execution, death and a subtle reference to Christianity, Bowie’s low crooning could make anyone’s hair stand on end.
“Something happened on the day he died.
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside.
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried; I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar.’”
Lead single from the record, “Lazarus,” brings the atmosphere of being at a relaxed club on a rainy Friday night. A saxophone plays a sorrowful melody, while an upright bass and drum duo keep the beat going. Filled to the brim with emotion as he sings of the past, Bowie unleashes a breathtaking performance, bound to bring a tear to listeners everywhere. “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen,” Bowie sings.
Album closer, “Dollar Days,” was a genius choice to end on. Beginning with the sound of the turning of pages, this track encompasses the beauty of the entire record. Somber piano chords, trumpet and a groovy bass line carry the track, unveiling a mesmerizing saxophone solo about halfway through the song, followed by a delicate wall of guitars and string as the song fades out. Bowie makes a call to his impending death from his cancer, his fans and the music industry on this powerful ending to an album. “Cash girls suffer me, I’ve got no enemies,” Bowie cries out.
Bowie undoubtedly inspired musicians over the last several decades, from Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance to Charlie Puth. “Blackstar,” without a doubt, will prove just as influential to future generations of musicians as Bowie’s past work has. The talent to be found within the record, from Bowie’s smooth vocals, to ingenious instrumentation and genres infused into the seven tracks, is very evident. Bowie might be gone, but his mark he’s left on the world with his art will be cherished forever, and “Blackstar” is no exception.