Album Reviews

“Blackstar” by David Bowie

Final rating: 9.2/10

“Where the fuck did Monday go?”

It’s Monday, and it’s been stripped away knowing that the world has lost a music legend. David Bowie passed away from a hidden battle with cancer. He left us Blackstar two days before his death. It was released on his 69th birthday. He lived long enough for his swan song to be released. Always a showman, Bowie pieced together this dark album during the last stages of his life. The album felt like a character’s story, but now it’s making all too much sense. It’s heartbreaking. It’s Bowie’s Closer; The album that contains an artist’s farewell. I enjoyed this album for merely days until seeing the truth behind it.

I enjoy it even more now.

Bowie started making music as a teenager, and he worked on writing songs, being a fashion revisionist, a quirky actor and just being a terrific lad all together for his entire life. In his astral travels, Bowie sang about the sky being seemingly different once space was explored. He talked about the achievement of aiming high and reaching it. He showed that solar system travel was capable before we even landed on the moon. Blackstar, now, carries on this sentimentality. Bowie has passed on, and his place in the sky has disappeared. The star is now shrouded. The title also plays on Bowie’s place in the industry, as he was always someone who stuck out very sharply. Without his face on the front, but just the five pointed symbol dressed in noir, Bowie has waved his hand at us. 

But he isn’t gone. Lazarus came back from the dead, and so has Bowie through his legacy. The night sky may be missing a star, but he’s still up there soaring amongst the galaxies he lovingly told us about. This album was confirmed by Bowie’s publicist and producer as being a plotted finale. You can hear it in every line, whether they be about blue birds flying, death encroaching or farewells to loved ones both superficial and sorrowful. Blackstar is a jazz-dance freak out with, easily, the best writing Bowie has had in decades. It’s Let’s Dance catchy and Heathen depressing. The whole album feels like the musky midnight hours on New York streets, the very kind Tom Waits would try to shelter you from as it rained with his torn umbrella. David Bowie lays down in the street and screams, though. The music caves you in like the tall skyscrapers erecting each corner of the intersection around you.

Blackstar is parts narrative and parts personal. David Bowie, always playing a character, puts on a mask one final time as he dives in and out of what is seemingly a comatose state. In Lazarus, he is in his hospital bed claiming about how high he is, presumably on medication to ease his pain. He then drifts into Sue (Or In a Season of Crime), which was released as a solo single before but is now shortened and changed up to fit on the album (warning: it’s even better now). Sue is full of betrayal and hurt, and Bowie is left by himself as his loved on has scurried off without him. 

The bass line fluctuates between rhythms but keeps this frantic album on track. The drums will freak out without warning at times. The saxophone will wail like a wounded animal. You need something to anchor everything down, and the bass does just that. It is the calm voice that says “this will all work out” while David Bowie himself talks out loud and panics. It is the assurance that makes such a heartbreaking release cope-able. The album is nearly industrial at times, with electronic whirls suffocating the free form attack like foam blocking bees from their hive. 

So much about Blackstar is an internal struggle, and Bowie has contained his final time on planet Earth the best way he could. He has gone on to explore better parts of the universe, but this rock star has left many years of loving music behind. Blackstar was his way of communicating with us all. Only close people knew the real story with Bowie these last eighteen months; Even his close friend Brian Eno merely had a cryptic email bidding farewell and thanks days before his death. He had hugged all of us when we were isolated with the rest of his albums, and now it was time to guarantee that we were taken care of one last time. Blackstar is a triumph, and it was one before we knew the truth behind the icon. Now that we do know, we can realize just how blessed we truly were.

David Bowie was an artist until the very end. Blackstar is the start of chapter 2: The mythology we are destined to carry on. So, where did Monday go? It went to the stars above. Every piece of social media is decorated in David Bowie memories, and it only makes this unfortunate day all the more special. Blackstar ends abruptly, because life ends suddenly. We can only remember its moments: The moving saxophone in Dollar Days, the confessions in the title track and everything in between. We are all blackstars (or are destined to be eventually). We will all be together in the dark sky whether the alive can see us or not.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.