David Bowie— Blackstar Review

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David Bowie’s final studio album, Blackstar, released on January 8, 2016, is far from what we consider to be “pop” music today. With every song on the album being five minutes long or longer, and lyrics with more depth than some of us care to think about, Blackstar definitely isn’t mainstream. Blackstar seems to be Bowie’s final goodbye to the world, after being diagnosed with liver cancer in 2014. The song “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” specifically seem to be an elegy. With that idea, it may be safe to assume that many people don’t necessarily enjoy listening to the songs because it deals with deeper subjects than just the sound, the beat, or the tune. 

The name “Blackstar” itself raises a few questions. A black star refers to a cancer lesion. At the time of release, only people in Bowie’s personal life knew he had cancer, so it is possible to suggest that “Blackstar” was meant to inform Bowie’s fans of the situation. The song starts with a chilling mantra, “in the villa of Ormen/stands a solitary candle.” For about four minutes, this mantra repeats, reminiscent of ancient religious hymns, such as songs one would hear at a Catholic church in medieval times. After about half of the song, it seems to go back to what Bowie was known for — a kind of unconventional rock.    

With the song “Lazarus,” as well as the video, things become more apparent. “Lazarus” is a foreshadow of Bowie’s death. The title is also a reference to Lazarus of Bethany, who was referenced in the Bible, and who was risen back to life after four days by Jesus. The video depicts Bowie as a man suffering on a hospital bed, then dancing and writing passionately before closing himself into a wardrobe, which signifies a coffin. “Lazarus” was a goodbye to his fans, a final moving performance before his death. 

David Bowie famously experimented with his music. Not just his music, but he also experimented with his appearance. Take his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust for example— he set a precedent for glam rock, electronic music, as well as jazz fusion, which inspired artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Mick Ronson. 

As Bowie’s producer wrote, “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way.” In the late 60’s Bowie’s debut album did horribly commercially. However, as time went on, the album showed his true brilliance. Bowie’s music was ahead of its time, and Blackstar is no different. People may look at Blackstar now, and pass it off as weird, inharmonious, and sad, but in the future, it may be consumed as mainstream media. 

The album is a masterpiece, but it may be hard to see why now. Personally, I do not enjoy listening to the songs, and yet at the same time I know that the reason I don’t like it is because I don’t understand it. In about twenty years, show Blackstar to children. You may be surprised to see how taste in music differs between generations. Blackstar poses a lot of questions, discussion, and predictions for the future, but two things are universally true about David Bowie and his music: it is everlasting, and it will forever be in our culture.

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