David Bowie Blackstar review

Ben Smith expands on how Bowie adds a whole new chapter to his sonic-shifting back-catalogue with this dark and expansive electro-jazz record.

Ben Smith

Last updated: 24th Mar 2016

Image: David Bowie 

Bowie's never stood still as an artist. Even as he turns 69 today, he's never settled for nesting on his back-catalogue and making high profile festival appearances. Still as elusive as ever, he's clearly more content in the studio and this album signifies that. It's post-modern; it's progressive and sculpts a whole new chapter in his ever-shifting timeline. 

Guitars are sparse on this record. Instead Bowie adopts for an industrious use of speak-easy jazz and ethereal electronics that float eerily and without mass across the album. There's also an intriguing use of rhythmic electronic drums peppered over songs like ten minute-long title track 'Blackstar' and a nod to drum n' bass on 'Sue(Or In A Season Of Crime).

It's clear that the vision of David Bowie and a seamless synergy was shared between him and the electro-acoustic quartet he worked with on the album. Led by Donny McClaslin, the set of musicians are known to cover the Scottish electronic duo Boards Of Canada which is reflective through the album's expansive atmospherics.

McClaslin also references inspiration from abrasive rap outfit Death Grips. Subtleties from their hell raising hip hop arise,  incurring explanation for the aforementioned drum rhythms and free-roaming drones which dash the crooning of undecipherable lyrics that tease the subjective process of interpretation.  

It's plausible that we'll never figure the whole meaning of the album, although 'Lazarus' does reference the biblical tale of Jesus  resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. While explicit to the listener, the motive of its usage is unknown. 'I Can't Give Everything Away' perhaps alludes to the mysteries of this largely doom struck and reflective record. 

What comes next remains to be seen, although the optimal scenario would be for Bowie to relinquish his elusive live presence and cast the album to the world. For now, it's imperative to revel in another mythical chapter of one of pop music's most polished and forward-thinking stars and let its complexities unravel. 

Read: Ten albums we can't wait to hear in 2016