A man who never seemed of this Earth. A gender bender. A game changer in the music industry. A mastermind of creativity. These all describe the incomparable David Bowie. For decades he bedazzled audiences with his unforgettable hits and numerous personas. Whether he was calling out to Major Tom or entering the room as his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was born to entertain. In January, he sadly left our planet too soon, but he left us a parting gift: “Blackstar” is Bowie’s 25th and final album. It was released on his 69th birthday, just two days before his death. “Blackstar” contains a mere seven songs (two of which are remastered versions of previously released songs), but the passion that Bowie put into all of his musical endeavors is evident here.
Our final journey inside the bizarre and imaginative mind of David Bowie begins with the titular “Blackstar.” This nearly 10-minute song tells the story of an untimely death (sound familiar?). In fact, it contains almost prophetic lyrics: “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.’” Bowie insists throughout the song that life is a cycle, even incorporating multiple transitions by starting in the genre of art rock and then transforming into bluesy jazztronica, and all coming together by the end. It is the perfect way to musically describe a life’s evolution.
The next song, “’Tis Pity She Was a Whore,” is one of the two that have been remastered. The original was an explosion of loud cannons and an obnoxious ’80s-style score. Although war was the focus, it sounded like an old Super Mario video game. I could barely hear Bowie sing the chorus beneath the distractions. This new version still has some ’80s hidden in it, but it has more of an all-around rock sound. Banging drums and blaring trumpets seem to cry as Bowie sings with a haunting yet angelic voice. This gives new purpose to the tale of betrayal by a woman in a time of tragedy.
The next song, “Lazarus,” has a jazzy style but if carefully examined, it also gives listeners eerie hints that Bowie is dying. It’s as if he is writing his own obituary. He tells listeners about his career in a race against time. He is struggling to write his final work as disease overtakes him.
The second remastered song is “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).” The original was like an old mystery noir set in the middle of city life, which complimented the crime premise in the song. The newer version has more rock ’n’ roll but now sounds like a fast-paced action movie. Is that a problem? Not at all. It brings a stronger interpretation to the song’s meaning. It sharpens Bowie’s accusation that his lover betrayed him and intensifies his mission to get her back.
A refreshing taste of Bowie returns with “Girl Loves Me.” The artist was well-known for his out-of-this-world artistic style, and this song is no exception. It’s a futuristic ecstasy filled with echoes and lyrics that can’t be put into a proper language. However, that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. In fact, it’s like the language in “A Clockwork Orange.” Like the iconic novel, “Girl Loves Me” is an entertaining, avant-garde masterpiece. It contains amorous feelings and enough energy for listeners to be moved.
The crisp sound of crinkling dollars starts “Dollar Days.” The bluesy piano and saxophone make the listener imagine that Bowie is at an open mic in a coffee house. It’s a sad song in which Bowie contemplates his successes and regrets.
The album’s journey concludes with “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” The song has an end-of-the-journey feel. The score is rock meets new age with a hint of harmonica. It’s like a trip down memory lane. Bowie is trying to say good-bye with lyrics such as “I know something is very wrong/The pulse returns for prodigal sons/The blackout’s hearts with flowered news/With skull designs upon my shoes.” He is very ill and death is calling, but he’s not willing to share it with the public yet. He is saying that whatever happens, happens. He needs privacy so he can have the peace that he deserves in his final days.
“Blackstar” is the cherry on top of Bowie’s long and flavorful artistic journey. This album is a celebration of a beautiful life. Bowie considers what is to become of him while incorporating some old favorites along the way. I recommend “Blackstar” to longtime fans and music lovers in general. David Bowie is a legend who must never be forgotten. He inspired others not only to pursue music but to understand that it’s good to be different. He will surely be missed.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.