Whilst The Next Day shocked fans back in 2013 simply due to its release ten years after David Bowie’s last record, Blackstar (or ★, if you prefer) will no doubt shock fans due to its creativity. Every song is a masterpiece, hidden beneath a code of obtuse lyrics that are quite hard to comprehend or understand. But that is very much a part of Bowie’s appeal; nobody can, or will, ever understand him completely.
On Bowie’s 69th birthday we deliver to you a track-by-track exploration of Blackstar. Expect dodgy interpretations of many of his lyrics.
Sweeping and broad, bonkers and brilliant, ‘Blackstar’ is compellingly Bowie. Taking the listener on a majestic exploration through rock, jazz and electronic, Bowie sings about religion.
‘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.’
Quite what he means by this remains to be seen, but Bowie is synonymous with obtuse lyrics, and ‘Blackstar’ incorporates some of his most out-there imagery. But ‘Blackstar’ is unmistakably Bowie, a song that no other artist could create, and for that it should be applauded.
‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore
In ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ Bowie discusses war and the emancipation of femininity – maybe. The titular whore is most certainly masculinised, as he sings that she ‘Struck the kiss, she kept my cock,’ and that she later ‘punched me like a dude’. Whatever the case, this new rendition of a two-year-old track has added inflections of jazz, which elevates it to new heights.
Slow and mournful, ‘Lazarus’ explicitly discusses the death of Bowie – or rather, the death of his ideas. ‘Everybody knows me now,’ he laments at the close of the first verse and it’s quite a stunning statement to make.
Nobody really knows Bowie. He is hidden beneath a vortex of personas so much that they are almost as famous as his music. And if Blackstar does anything as a whole it certainly shakes up what we’d expect to hear from Bowie – it couldn’t be any different to his last album The Next Day.
But on a more literal sense ‘Lazarus’ explores Bowie reincarnate, much like the biblical character of the same name (more religious iconography there!).
‘By the time I got to New York / I was living like a king,’ Bowie declares over crooning jazz and strung out percussion beats. He’s achieved everything he’s ever wanted to achieve – he only continues making music because he has a renewed sense of creativity.
‘Oh, I’ll be free / Ain’t that just like me?’ he questions at the close, and the unanimous answer is no. No, it ain’t just like you. Because nobody knows who Bowie is. 49 years since the release of his debut album, Bowie is continuing to amaze and surprise fans.
Sue (Or A Season Of Crime)
Another rerecorded track, ‘Sue’ is an enigma. He’s clearly singing to Sue, whoever she is, but what Bowie is singing about remains to be seen.
‘Sue / I’ve got the job / We’ll buy the house / You’ll need to rest / But now we’ll make it,’ he declares in the opening of a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on his second album, because Bowie has most definitely made it now.
But this new version, which incorporates an agitated bass that revs in the background, sound much more compelling than its predecessor, and for that it’s a welcome inclusion.
Girl Loves Me
‘Where the fuck did Monday go?’ Bowie repeatedly asks over ‘Girl Loves Me’, a song that sounds almost rap-like. Kendrick Lamar has been cited as an influence on Blackstar, and its never shown more explicitly than in ‘Girl Loves Me’.
Much like ‘1984’ payed homage to the Orwell novel of the same name, ‘Girl Loves Me’ pays homage to A Clockwork Orange. ‘Choodesny with the red rot / Libbilubbing litso-fitso,’ Bowie hisses at one point, appropriating the fictional Nadsat register created for the Burgess novel.
‘Girl Loves Me’ is Bowie at his most avant grade – there’s a militaristic beat undercutting every line he spews that helps keep everything ordered, even if the lyrics are hard to fathom.
The most straightforward ballad on Blackstar, ‘Dollar Days’ is emotive in its deliverance.
‘I’m dying to / Push their backs against the grain / And fool them all again and again,’ Bowie laments in the chorus in what could be described as a followup to ‘Lazarus’.
Here Bowie is once more discussing his creative output. He’s going against the grain most certainly on Blackstar.
Whilst there isn’t a hit along the lines of ‘Fame’ or ‘Space Oddity’, Blackstar is no less compelling. In fact, it’s probably Bowie’s greatest work in a long time – most definitely since 1983’s Let’s Dance.
I Can’t Give Everything Away
‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ is perhaps the easiest Blackstar song to pick apart. ‘This is all I ever meant / That’s the message that I sent / I can’t give everything away,’ Bowie sings midway through, and he’s clearly saying that he can never deliver every idea he has. Somethings have to remain for him alone.
But, beneath the maelstrom of synthesises and guitar riffs, perhaps Bowie is hinting at a creative end? ‘The post returns for prodigal songs / The blackout harks with flowered muse / With skull designs upon my shoes,’ Bowie sings in the bridge, hinting at an end of his muse.
After the exhausting exploration of Bowie’s 26th studio album, I most certainly hope Bowie has more to offer. His career has spanned almost 50 years, but his ideas are undying.