David Bowie: Blackstar

18 Jan

Blackstar_album_cover

There’s a famous essay by Roland Barthes about separating an author from his work and on the futility of using the author’s identity to try to derive a single definitive meaning for a text. With Bowie, the persona was always a facet of the work, and an important one, but one that only furthered its enigma. Where some artists seem slaves to such direct analysis of their work, Bowie transcended it.

Bowie’s influence is everywhere, from the obvious trends in music and fashion to the art styles of movies, comics and video games, to even his direct influence in contemporary culture and mainstream acceptance of once-othered groups. Time and time again, Bowie pushed at the boundaries of what human culture had achieved. The world today is a far better place due to his work. His loss is tragic and heartbreaking, but his work and is influence are immortal.

Blackstar, his twenty-fifth and final album, is new territory even for him. This is a jazz album, not rock, and an excellent one at that. The music is challenging and more than deep enough to reward you for it. The variations laid down by his band are deep and interesting. The lyrics are cryptic, but highly evocative. The experience as a whole is direct and unsettling, but distinctly beautiful. His use of the form is deft and innovative, bringing in rock and spacey-electronica into a rich jazz foundation to create a work as claustrophobic as a dungeon and as difficult to escape.

His inversions of the form are fascinating. The sax solo of “Lazarus” centers the album. The slow, mournful chant of “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is cleverly undercut by the whimsical jazz strains underneath it and the guitar solo that provides much of the real variation in the song. The clear horn opening of “Dollar Days” shifts smoothly into a traditional rock ballad. This is an intelligent album and courageous enough to revel in it.

Excellent, challenging and novel, Blackstar is the swan song Bowie’s career deserves. I highly recommend it.

@murthynikhil

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