Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bowie - Blackstar

AM has a tendency to highlight an LP like Brain Salad Surgery and forget that Love Beach even exists. Some may argue that David Bowie was guilty of a string of unwieldy drivel in the 80s (Tonight, for instance or Never Let Me Down), indeed Never Let Me Down felt like Bowie's Final Cut (yeah, that bad). Yet, like God (see: "Equal Time," November 23), Bowie wasn't done. LPs like Outside and Heathen were solid, beguiling AM7s, certainly not Ziggy or the Thin White Duke, but stellar rock 'n' roll in a rockless era. It wasn't until The Next Day, though, that Bowie again reached the apex of his golden years. 2013's The Next Day was Bowie's best album since Scary Monsters (1980). It built upon all that came before it by turns nostalgic and exploratory. The Next Day didn't seek to be the next Bowie album, but rather an album unto itself, a pinnacle LP, period, urgent and compelling, indeed mesmerizing. Bowie's voice, at 66, though not as rich as it once was, retained nuance in a myriad of shades. There were aching reflections on love and on change, on identity, but mostly, The Next Day was music you wanted to listen to - enjoyable with or without the context of Bowie these past 40 years. The key to the album's success was that Bowie's backdrops remained, as always, diverse; the album rich with musicality, intrigue and controversy; the videos, works of art. And most specifically, "Where Are We Now?" was (and is) an anthem, proof that Bowie is the coolest old man since Henry Miller or Bukowski. "The moment you know you know you know," is lyricism straight from Byron or Yeats.

The follow-up release was the stellar retrospective Nothing Has Changed. It seemed a summation, an exclamation point to an unparalleled career and included new material ("Sue; or In a Season of Crime"), as well as remastered and engineered tracks that reach back to the 60s.  It was an album that suggested (again) that Bowie had packed up and left with a note attached. 

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Understandably, and after ten years without a studio LP, every real Bowie fan was shocked at the news that a new LP was in the works. Before its release The Next Day had remained a well-kept secret with hardly a rumor that there'd be another LP, so why the are we shocked once again when here it comes, Blackstar (stylized simply as ). The 25th studio album from Bowie is scheduled for release on Bowie's 69th birthday, January 8, 2016 (should we even suggest a tour?). The title track was released through iTunes November 20th. 

The surreal ten minute video for "★" was directed by Johan Renck (Breaking Bad) with Bowie's supervision. It's a powerhouse film for a song that makes Diamond Dogs (AM9) seem childlike in comparison. "★" is dark and eerie, rife with disturbing imagery that includes a deceased and bespangled spaceman, crucified scarecrows and Bowie himself taking on multiple personas, in particular, a blindfolded man called "Buttoneyes." "" isn't the first single for the album, though, two others were released since The Next Day, the aforementioned "Sue" and the single's B side, "Tis a Pity She's a Whore." In an interview with Pitchfork, Bowie explained, "[The song] acknowledges the shocking rawness of the First World War...If Vorticists wrote Rock Music it might have sounded like this," he concluded, referring to the early 2oth Century London artists bent on capturing the dynamism of an increasingly scary modern world. 

Can you stand it? December is all about Star Wars. January, it seems, will be all about ★.

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