Review: Blackstar by David Bowie

Blackstar by David BowieMusic used to come to us in a vacuum, a bunch of words set to layers of melodies, frozen in time. These days, though – maybe it’s because of the Internet; maybe it’s because we demand more of our musicians – we yearn to learn of the context behind the music. Context, they say, is everything: it’s, for one, what turned Coldplay’s Ghost Stories from a trip back to the band’s roots to a break-up album. David Bowie – whose career began at a time when musicians were mystical, almost mythical – managed to allure without providing context; in the past decade he was pretty much quiet, before suddenly announcing The Next Day in 2013. His follow-up to that, Blackstar, also had the sheen of obscurity, but more because of its warmer, jazz-biased sound and its elusive lyrics. And as it is, it’s a great album. But his death two days after its release gives it a whole new meaning – the context, if you will; the context we have demanded lately. The lyrics now read like a farewell, with oblique references to his battle with cancer, one that was going on as he produced the album. Tony Visconti, who co-produced Blackstar, said that the album was a “parting gift” and added that “this was the way it would be”. It’s now eerie listening again to Blackstar – an album shorn of obvious hits, or even callbacks to the most stories parts of Bowie’s past – knowing all this. It’s just not how it usually is. It’s just not how it should be. But perhaps that is the point: for his swan song, a music legend, who traded on embracing different identities, reveals just a little bit more of who he truly is, without being all obtuse about it for a change. Context, they say, is everything. [NB]4/5

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