THERE ARE GOOD reasons for this apparently tardy review.
Porky bought Blackstar on the day it was released, listened to it immediately and scribbled a few words for the blog. But, after Bowie’s death two days later, it was felt best to hang tight as it would be swamped by the millions of obituaries. The following review is generally how I would have posted it on January 8, 2016, without any attempt to read it into the meanings following his death.
Blackstar once again, reveals the marvellously attentive nature of the musical giant, and his frighteningly surreal ability to move one step forward each time. It’s reminiscent of many of his post-Tin Machine albums: beguiling and intriguing, caustically prescient; it pushes the envelope once more.
The ten-minute title track is nothing short of magnificent, not a second overlong, but mightily weighty in its telling of a barbaric action.
Blackstar the track is a two-for-the-price of one bargain; splitting midway, just like Bowie did with Station To Station, also the title track and the opening song of the 1976 album.
Containing just seven tracks, the album requires intense focus, no slippping out of one song onto another. Four tracks clock in at between 4.40 and 4.52, the other three lasting under six minutes, 6.22 and the long title track.
So any duff will tracks has the potential to weigh down the entire project. But that’s not the case. I do have reservations about Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) which was previewed on the mop-up job Nothing Has Changed from late 2014. While it’s been tarted up, it felt back then that it lacked quality to be on a studio album. Girl Loves Me isn’t a stinker but it’s overlong and repetitive.
Much has been made of the free jazz nature of the album and the regular use of saxophone (courtesy of Danny McCaslin) but I feel that’s been overstated. The two tracks that follow Blackstar itself are punishingly taut rock epics. ‘Tis A Pity She Was a Whore (a reference to a John Ford play from the 1630s about an incestuous relationship) is an immensely satisfying divulgence of wrought soul with typical Bowie wordplay.
Black struck the kiss, she kept my cock/ Smote the mistress, drifting on
‘Tis a pity she was a whore/ She stole my purse, with rattling speed.”
Lazarus, meanwhile, is intense and uplifting; it’s not like anything Bowie has done before, though I would opine that there are similarities in this song, and much of the album for that matter, in the little-heard Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack of 1993 and other works around the period.
As with The Next Day, the eternally-dubbed comeback album, Blackstar offers numerous snapshots of Bowie the groundbreaker, the man who changed direction at regular turns. It would be stretching reality to suggest it is a masterpiece, but it has a satisfying feel to it and with every listen offers more intrigue and clarity.
The Man Who Woke Up The World
WITH MILLIONS of words being spilled following Bowie’s death, there seems little need for Porky to add anymore. Nevertheless, I feel it appropriate to add my tuppence worth. I would consider myself a fan without being a disciple, for example I pretty much can’t abide anything after Ashes To Ashes till 1993. He was far better when he patently didn’t give a shit. But not everyone, it seems, thought that. I read one obitchary that rehashed stories such as Bowie’s brief flirtation with fascism, without adding that Bowie helped anti-racist campaigns in the 90s. Among the nonsensical claims were that Bowie was mainstream. Clearly the writer had not heard anything after 1989, nor much before 1981.
By the mid-90s it is safe to say that the Bromley boy had no ambitions whatsoever of keeping radio DJs and marketing managers happy as his videos became art-house mini-features and his albums obtuse. Accusing Bowie of being mainstream can’t explain why he, as well as Roxy Music, were the two most-referenced names by punks and post-punks of their early and mid-70s listening habits. He rejected any of the arcane honours bestowed upon attention-seeking celebrities and worthies by governments. He was hardly a man of the establishment. Outside of music Bowie appeared in some, well, strange films and his artwork veered on the eccentric. Earthling (1997) somehow mangles drum’n’bass and jungle with his trademark wordsmithery – quite an achievement, and it’s one of my favourite albums outwith the lazily-monikered Berlin trilogy. Reality (2003) is a massively understated work that features guitars in all their might; Heathen from the year before is just …. out there. He pushed the boundaries with his androgynous early 1970s incarnations, produced albums in which the second side was all meandering instrumentals, teamed up with ambient superstar Brian Eno, and generally did things that now seem par for the course but at the time were pioneering. I do hope he at least left some outtakes from Blackstar that could be released by his family and management.