David Bowie – Blackstar (★) – Review

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Bonkers and beautiful are perhaps the two most apt adjectives to describe David Bowie’s new single. ‘Blackstar’, a majestic 10-minute long epic taken from the upcoming album of the same name, is one of Bowie’s most ‘out-there’ tracks. And yet it is unmistakably him.

‘Blackstar’ would fit in perfectly during Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy era; certainly its avant garde nature would lend it perfectly to the seminal “Heroes” album from 1977. It’s sweeping, broad, and littered with religious iconography, all of which tumbles amid striking instrumental solos which culminates in something instantly timeless. Some won’t ‘get’ or understand this track, but Bowie’s biggest fans will lap it up.

2013’s surprise release The Next Day was perhaps relatively safe in terms of Bowie – that’s not to say it’s a bad album, because it most certainly isn’t (in fact, surprisingly, it’s right up there alongside The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Hunky Dory). But it contained a straightforward take on modern rock.

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‘Blackstar’ (stylised as ‘★’) is set to be very different indeed. Seven tracks will make up Bowie’s next album – The Times describes it as his ‘oddest album yet’, which is most certainly saying something.

Warbling synths that sound remarkably like gunfire from Star Wars take the listener on a journey through religion, much like a lot of Bowie’s past work. ‘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 sings over charged drum-and-bass.

The accompanying video likewise takes the listener on a juddering journey, and it includes a poignant shot of a deceased astronaut bedecked in jewels, widely believed to be the iconic Major Tom. If so it’s a bold move to kick-off his 26th studio album – killing off a cultural icon.

Fragmentary tonal shifts in obtuse lyrics lend little to the overall message of the song, and unalike a lot of Bowie’s songs there is no obvious story connecting the explored themes. But the music video helps to join the dots.

The last we heard of Major Tom he was ‘floating in [his] tin can, far above the Moon.’ But now Bowie is singing about women kneeling and smiling on the day of execution. What if Major Tom was executed – thus a parting shot of Bowie’s past – and ‘somebody else took his place’ as Bowie is reincarnated?

Bowie is synonymous with his characters – the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane (to name but a few). I think it’s safe to say that a new persona has risen from the ashes of Major Tom. Or, perhaps, an old one has been resurrected.

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Time will tell, but Blackstar is coming on 8 January 2016, and if the title track is anything to go by, it’s going to be an instant classic. But it won’t be Bowie experimenting, no. Bowie doesn’t experiment; he defines, and others merely mimic.

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